Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Language choices in the intercultural classroom

Rounded Rectangle: Fahmi Reza Alfani/105110101111035/C classLanguage choices in the intercultural classroom: considering possibilities for communication and learning.


Intercultural language learning gives a place to the use of both the target language and the learners' first and/or other language(s). There is a need to develop a balance, however, as each language contributes differently to learning. The purpose of thinking about language use in the classroom is to develop an informed approach to using as much of the learners' language repertoire as is needed to enhance learning. The balance in the use of each language will differ
 according to the features of individual classrooms, but the use of each language is not random, relating rather to issues such as learning focus, modes of communication, degree of creativity, and participants. Both languages can be used in combination to achieve a range of communicative aims. 


Intercultural language learning, choice of languages, role of first language in language learning.


The choice of which languages to use in language classrooms for communication and for learning is a controversial issue.
 Communicative language teaching (CLT) has typically argued for language classrooms to be monolingual target language environments on the basis that language learning is directly determined by the amount of target language input (Carroll, 1975; Chambers, 1991; Krashen, 1987). However, this monolingual view has been questioned by research in a range of language-learning contexts, with researchers identifying a useful role for the learners' first language in learning additional languages (e.g. Anton& DeCamilla, 1998; Behan & Turnbull, I997; Brooks & Donato, 1994; Carless, 2007; Cook, 2001; Macaro, 2005; Rodriguez Juarez & Oxbrow, 2008; Swain & Lapkin, 2000). These studies have shown a range of positive functions for the first language of learners in second language learning. Behan and Turnbull (1997), for example, argue that in bilingual immersion programs '[first language] use can both support and enhance [second language] development, functioning simultaneously as an effective tool for dealing with cognitively demanding content' (p. 41). Swain and Lapkin (2000) have shown that the first language is not simply important for cognition but 'also for developing and maintaining social relationships, i.e. the first language is important for promoting learning and for developing a learning culture. Other studies show that use of the first language enhances second language acquisition by focusing on the particular functions that learners use their first language to perform (Anton& DeCamilla, 1998; Brooks & Donato, 1994; Rodriguez Juarez & Oxbrow, 2008). These studies all show that first language use can be purposeful and enhance learning opportunities. Rodriguez Juarez & Oxbrow (2008), however, also argue that use of the first language needs to be judicious and oriented towards pedagogical goals. Macaro (2005) argues that the ideal proportion of first to second language use is not something that can be fixed, but rather depends on the needs of individual learners. He argues that the amount of first language use needed will diminish as learners' language proficiency increases and they are more able to use their second language for cognitively demanding activities. Collectively, these studies show that the use of the learners' first language promotes certain types of learning that are important for language acquisition, but more importantly, such learning can be limited (or even prevented) if classrooms are too rigidly monolingual target language environments. 

Language teaching has in fact always involved the use of both the target language and the language of the learners, but different approaches to language teaching have viewed the use of these languages in different ways. Many versions of CLT (the teaching method that has informed most contemporary language teaching) have emphasised the need to use only the target language (Cook, 2001). This requirement seems problematic for teachers who want to engage their students in deeper reflection about language and culture (Macaro, 2005). In theories underlying CLT, a distinction has been made between 'acquisition' and 'learning' (Krashen, 1981). Acquisition is understood as an unconscious process by which language learners develop hypotheses about language based on the meaningful input they receive. It occurs when learners understand a message in the new language that is just beyond their current level of proficiency. Some researchers (e.g. Swain, i993) have also argued that there is a role for meaningful output in developing proficiency, i.e. producing language that is comprehended helps learners to test and re-evaluate their hypotheses about the target language. Conversely, learning is considered to be a conscious process of memory, understanding, and thinking about language. This view suggests a heavily cognitive rather than a social view of language. Other researchers believe that only acquisition is relevant for language learning but that learning never contributes to acquisition (Krashen, i981, i987; Krashen & Terrell, i983). If acquisition is the driving force of languages education, then the task of the teacher is to maximise the amount of input that learners experience and so, ideally, everything should be done in the target language. In reality, except in some monolingual
 ESL classes, CLT has rarely ever been this 'pure' in its approach to the processes of languages education, and learning has continued to play a role in classroom practice (Lucas & Katz, 1994) 

There are three key problems with the idea that language learning is a process of acquisition based solely on understanding input and producing output. The first is that acquisition and learning are not separate processes with no
 interrelationship. More recent research has shown that learning (i.e. conscious attention to language) is important for developing accuracy in language use, while acquisition develops fluency (Chandler, 2003; Loewen, 2005; Pienemann, 1989). Ideally, learners need to be accurate and fluent and to manage increasing complexity (Skeehan, 1998), so they need rich input (hearing and reading the language), opportunities for output (participation in interaction), and explicit teaching. The second problem is that the view of language learning adopted by CLT is based on the idea that learners develop towards a (monolingual) native-speaker norm, i.e. the native speaker is the measure of the learners' performance in the language. The reality of language learning is, however, that learners become bilinguals, people with two (or more) languages and cultures that they bring to every interaction. The language learner does not need to know how to become a monolingual native speaker, but rather a person who can interact, negotiate meanings, and establish interpersonal relationships between languages and cultures (Kramsch, i999). The third problem is the idea that language learning is only about gaining communicative proficiency in a language, i.e. grammar and vocabulary together with rides for using these appropriately, such as awareness of register, politeness conventions, etc. (Bachman, 1990; Canale & Swain, 1981). Such constructions of proficiency do not regularly consider deeper conceptual and reflective learning relating to language awareness, intercultural understanding, the relationship between language and identity, values, emotions, etc., and using one's learning to participate in a linguistically and culturally diverse world (Liddicoat, Papademetre, Searino, & Kohler, 2003). 


Intercultural language learning seeks to develop both proficiency in the target language and deeper cultural, linguistic, and personal knowledge, and so it requires a different approach to questions of language (Liddicoat et al., 2003). The ways in which language is used in the classroom need to support and develop language 'learning' as a broadly conceived goal. The development of language proficiency requires a maximum exposure to the target language and maximum opportunities to use the target language meaningfully.
 Most importantly, language learning is a deeper, conceptual activity that involves explicit discussion and analysis of language, culture, and learning--it is a process of dialogue and reflection based on language and the culture that is embedded in it and communicated through it. Conceptual and reflective learning requires learners to formulate, articulate, and respond to complex ideas, using language that is beyond their level of capability in the target language. Moreover, conceptual learning cannot be delayed until learners have become proficient in the vocabulary and grammar of the language, but must begin at the beginning of their language learning. Conceptual learning will therefore involve opportunities to use the learners' own language. The vital question in planning language use in the classroom is to achieve a purposeful balance between the languages used, ensuring richness of input and output, but not inhibiting conceptual learning. 

The nature of the balance between languages will vary from classroom to classroom. The variations relate to individual variables such as cognitive development, language proficiency, learning purpose, personality, etc. However, there seem to be some basic dimensions for consideration that underlie the planning of language use in the classroom. These are discussed below.

Learning focus

Where the focus is on the language itself, then maximum use of the target language is desirable for both teacher and learners to allow for rich input and output. Where the learning is focused on conceptual development and reflection and analysis, then there is a legitimate role for the first language to be used to enable learners to formulate and express ideas and to say what they need to say. Nonetheless, this conceptual development needs to be based on the target language itself, and the stimuli, the texts, and the talk that give rise to this thinking need to be in the target language. The teacher can also use the target language to express his or her own ideas and can introduce learners to some of the language they need to express their own ideas. 

Modes of communication

Written language should normally be in the target language, as the processes of reading and writing allow opportunities for monitoring, adjusting, and reflecting on the text, although in the case of reflective journals it may be necessary for students to use their first language in order to express their insights and analyses. Spoken language has greater restrictions. Listening is linguistically and cognitively easier than speaking (Burling, 2005, p. 5) and so ideally can be done with the target language, although talk about more complex issues, such as identity, attitudes, etc., may need to be supported by the students' own language. Speaking, when it involves active creation of ideas and meanings, may need to draw more heavily on the learners' existing language resources. 

Degree of creativity

Routine language use is less demanding than developing and communicating new and original ideas. Language that is used frequently, e.g. for classroom organisation, should be in the target language. Moreover, commonly used questions may also be asked in the target language, even where the answers are likely to be complex. When learners express conceptually complex ideas, however, they may need to do this in their first language. At the same time, there is also learning involved in knowing how to express complex ideas in simple language, so the students' first language should not be the immediate default for expressing complex ideas but rather be seen as one option.


It is important for the teacher to maintain target language use as much as possible to create an environment that legitimates and supports the expression of meanings in the target language. Learners, however, may need to use their first language in order to engage in learning. Teachers may also need to use the students' own language when the discussion is more elaborated and complex (issues of culture, identity, etc. require a lot of expressive talking through, and experimenting with ideas), and while the teacher can still use the target language for routine responses (agreeing, confirming, questioning, applauding, etc.), they too will need to express more elaborated ideas that learners may not be able to understand in the target language. The driver for language choice is the depth and richness of discussion and the learning that needs to be achieved, considered within the context of learners' overall proficiency in the target language. 

A further issue for consideration is the idea that interactions in the classroom need to occur in either the 'target language or in the learners' first language. In reality, this isn't the way bilingual people use language. One of the most notable features of interactions between people who share two or more languages is that they use their whole language repertoire creatively for communicating. This is also a possible approach in the language classroom. In bilingual interactions,
linguists often use the term 'matrix language' to describe the main language used in an interaction into which words, phrases, or sentences of another, shared language are introduced for communicative effect. In the classroom context, it would seem desirable to establish the target language as the matrix language and allow learners to enrich their communication in this language and use of the whole of their linguistic repertoire in a creative manner in constructing and communicating meaning, rather than insisting on 'purity' of language use. 


Decisions about which languages to use in a language classroom are pedagogical decisions that form a central part of teachers' practice and influence the sorts of learning that can be achieved. This means two things for deciding which language to use and when:

* Decisions about the inclusion or exclusion of languages in language teaching are not blanket, one-size-fits-all decisions. Rather, such decisions depend on teachers' understanding of and response to the needs of learners and types of learning. Language choices are part of the repertoire of practices available in any learning situation and need to be made in a
 principled way. 

* Decisions about which language(s) to use need to be taken consciously and monitored to ensure that the patterns of language use actually occurring in the classroom are based on pedagogical principles and teaching and learning goals, that the students' first language is used
 judiciously to maximise learning, and, at the same time, that frequent opportunities to use the second language are also provided. 

Such decisions provide a framework for teachers to consider in developing a perspective on language use in their classrooms that maximises opportunities for exposure to and use of the target language and opportunities for deeper and more complex learning.


Anton, M. & DeCamilla, F. 1998. Socio-cognitive functions of L1 collaborative interaction in the L2 classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review, 54, 314-342.

Bachman, L.F. 1990. Fundamental Considerations in Language Texting. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Behan, L. & Turnbull, M. 1997. The proficiency gap in late immersion (extended French : language use in collaborative tasks. Le journal de l'immersion, 20, 41-42.

Brooks, F.B. & Donato, R. 1994. Vygotskyan approaches to understanding foreign language learner discourse during communicative vases. Hispania, 77, 262-274.

Burling, R. 2005. The talking ape: how language evolved Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Canale, M. & Swain, M. 1981. Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing.
 Applied Linguistics, 1, 1-47. 

Carless, D. 2007. Student use of the mother tongue m the task-based classroom.
 ELT Journal, Retrieved 24 July 2008 from 

Carroll, J.B. 1975. The teaching of French as a foreign language in eight countries.
 New York: John Wiley. 

Chambers, F. 1991. Promoting use of the target language in the classroom. Language Learning Journal, 4, 1, 27-31

Chandler, J. 2003. The efficacy of various kinds of error feedback for improvement in the accuracy and fluency of L2 student writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, l2, 3, 267-296.

Cook, V. 2001. Using the first language in the classroom. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 57, 3, 402-423.

Kramsch, C. 1999. The privilege of the intercultural speaker. In M. Byram & M. Fleming (Eds), Language learning in intercultural perspective: approaches through drama and
 ethnography, 16-31. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Krashen, S.D. 1981. Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Krashen, S.D. 1987. Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Hemel: Prentice-Hall.

Krashen, S.D. & Terrell, T.D. 1983. The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Liddicoat, A.J., Papademetre, L., Scarino, A., & Kohler, M. 2003. Report on intercultural language learning. Canberra: Department of Education, Science, and Training.

Loewen, S. 2005. Incidental focus on form and second language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 361-386.

Lucas, T. & Katz, A. 1994.
 Reframing the debate: the roles of native languages in English-only programs for language minority students. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 537-561. 

Macaro, E. 2005. Codeswitching in the L2 classroom: a communication and learning strategy. In E. Llurda (Ed.), Non-native language teachers, perceptions, challenges and contributions to the profession, 63-84. New York: Springer.

Pienemann, M. 1989. Is language teachable?
 Psycholinguistic experiments and hypotheses. Applied Linguistics, 10, 1, 52-79. 

Rodriguez Juarez, C. & Oxbrow, G. 2008. L1 in the
 EFL classroom: more a hell) than a hindrance. Porta Linguarum, 9, 93-109. 

Skeehan, P. 1998. A cognitive approach to language learning Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Swain, M. 1993. The output hypothesis: Just speaking and writing aren't enough. Canadian Modern Language Review, 50, 1, 158-164.

Swain, M. & Lapkin, S. 2000. Task-hosed second language learning: the uses of the first language. Language Teaching Research, 4, 3, 251-274.

Anthony J. Liddicoat is Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Research Centre for Languages and Cultures in the School of International Studies at the University of
 South Australia. His research interests include intercultural language learning, an area in which he has written extensively. He can be contacted at
COPYRIGHT 2008 Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment