Embracing the elephant in the room: using L1 in the ELICOS classroom

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Have you ever tried explaining words like 'vinegar, military' or 'instead' to your English class and felt like you were failing miserably until, to everyone's relief, a student whispered the translation? Did you feel both grateful for and guilty about such interjection? Discussions about whether to allow students' first language (L1) in an English language classroom are not new and have moved past translating individual words. Bi- and multilingualism research on code-switching (Levine, 2014; Lopez and Gonzalez-Davies, 2016), translanguaging (Daniel et al., 2019; Garcia and Li Wei, 2014) and language repertoire (Busch, 2012, 2017) has made inroads into ELT, and many concepts are applied in practice. Indeed, no research exists that demonstrates any positive benefits of banning L1, while there is sufficient evidence to conclude that prohibiting its use can have a negative impact on language learning (Lee, 2018). Yet, teachers' positions vary from purposefully referring to students' other languages to a total ban on L1, the latter for the most part remaining the elephant in the (class) room. While research and professional conversations acknowledge that creating an English-only environment in the class is neither achievable nor desirable, there is still uncertainty about how best to use students' L1 knowledge, especially in a mixed-language ELICOS class. In this article, we propose five practical tips on how to do just that. None require knowledge of the students' L1, while some address common concerns in ELT such as lack of student motivation or critical thinking skills.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)69-76
    Number of pages8
    JournalEnglish Australia Journal
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


    • multilingual
    • English teaching
    • language


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