You know, something has been bothering me for many years.
In the late 70s, my newly acquired MA in TESOL/Applied Linguistics in hand, I went to Barcelona, Spain, to teach English. I found employment at a business college.
My first semester there I didn’t speak Spanish. However, while I was teaching beginning- level English in the evening (until 10 or 11 PM, remember, this was Spain), I was studying Spanish in the mornings. Intensively. The teachers were fantastic, the classes were tiny – 2- 5 other extranjeros with me, and the context was there - I was living and working in Spain, I knew what I had to learn, My English students avidly embraced the concept that I couldn't speak Spanish with them and we communicated only in English. They made good progress, and the atmosphere in the classroom was good. They were proud of our ability to communicate.Other teachers (they were all fluent in Castilian (Spanish) and most were fluent in the local langauge, Catalan, as well) remarked on how my students the first semester would talk to them in English when doing real tasks like registering, taking standardized tests, and so on
By the end of that first 12 or so week session I could get by in Spanish. That was good, of course, for me. However, what was not good was that my students in the second semester class knew I could communicate in Spanish and relied on me to do so whenever they had questions. Actually, they wanted me pretty much to just translate everything. ( I didn’t). However, I did probably provide too much in Spanish because in fact they didn’t learn English as well as my first semester class had. These students - also beginning level learners - were much less motivated to use English with anyone – because they didn’t have to.
This has bothered me because I do believe in using the native language when appropriate. I think the issue is that, in fact, with beginning level students who are educated in their native language, perhaps they need to be pushed to use the target language more. Maybe the use of the native language with them can be detrimental.
What do you think? When is it appropriate to use the native language? When isn’t it? Is it ever appropriate with highly educated beginningn level learners?
Hope to hear your thoughts on this,
Miriam Burt (SME, Adult ELL CoP)