A little while ago I carried out a small-scale piece of research in a monolingual class of study abroad students at a UK university, asking for reasons why they consistently switched to their L1 and their advice for facilitating English. The results are interestingly honest and might just provide some food for thought for language teachers and university tutors.
Reasons for speaking L1
· Easier to express myself/ideas, understand and be understood x 14
· It’s a bit weird to speak English with friends / unnatural x 3
· Others are doing the same x 3
· It’s natural x 3; my brain has not switched to English yet (unintentional)
· Feel more confident and comfortable x 2
· I don’t know the vocabulary for some terms x 2
· Feel happy and have more fun
· We can chat ‘off topic’
· Sometimes I need a translation because I haven’t understood
· Reduces misunderstanding
· Makes sure confident English speakers don't dominate
· Boosts communication and discussion
· There are no rules to prevent us from speaking English
· Some words are more explicit when expressed in L1
· If you’re asked a question in L1, it’s awkward to answer in English
· People would think you’re showing off your English
· It’s embarrassing to say something wrong
· I will not make so many grammatical mistakes
· I do not feel confident enough to speak in English
Would you like to speak only English in class?
Y = 11 N = 4
If no, when do you feel you’d like to/need to use English?
· When talking to tutors/English native speakers/anyone who can’t speak L1
· When there are no classmates around
What can tutors/classmates do to encourage more use of English in the classroom?
· Remind us/ask us/encourage us to use English x 8
· I would say it’s our problem. We can use English all the time; it’s just weird.
· Ask us more questions / give us more tasks
· Maybe friends shouldn’t sit together. Then we might be more serious.
· Actually, we’re willing to speak in English but we’re just lazy and ‘tempted’
· Provide notes so we can follow your pace and won’t need to ask friends
· Speak slower
· Explain difficult words
· Devise some rules/games to prevent speaking L1 (e.g. 10p penalty).
· Give more pressure
· Just say you don’t like hearing L1
· Give us a break so that we can use L1 in break times
What has your own research told you about this topic? What are your and your students' tips?