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Should We Use Monolingual or Bilingual Approach in Teaching English?

Why We Should Not Be Strict to the Use of English in English Classrooms

It has always been controversy either to use monolingual approach, which prohibits any use of the native language of the students or to use bilingual approach, which allows the use of native language in certain conditions in English classrooms. Some teachers prefer to forbid any use of students’ native language or mother tongue, while others have the opinion that students’ mother tongue or first language (L1) may be used under certain limitations. Although Krashen, the pioneer of monolingual approach, argues that the more the language learners get exposure to the English or target language (L2) the more advantageous the result will be (Piske & Young-Scholten, 2009), it cannot be denied there are certain situations where it is quite valuable to use the students’ mother tongue. This paper aims to present the conditions, where the use of students’ first language will be more beneficial.
In the first place, when English teachers should use students’ first language is in teaching writing. Siti Hamin Stapa & Abdul Hameed Abdul Majid (2006) find that the use of the native language of the students in the writing process such as in generating ideas will be better before using English or the target language (L2) for writing. It also aims that the students will not consider the linguistic forms more important than the ideas on topic (Scott, 1996). Both continue that the writing task for students may become a daunting task when the teachers focus on the result rather than on the writing process. Focusing on the writing process, which aims to decrease students’ fear in writing, the teachers should allow his students to use their first language, especially for the students with little or no proficiency in English.
In the second place, when English teachers may use the students’ native language is in teaching vocabulary.  According to Reineman (cited Siti Hamin Stapa & Abdul Hameed Abdul Majid 2006), although some new vocabulary can be expressed through drawings, pantomimes, noises or the likes, abstract and difficult words need to be explained by using students’ native language to save the class time. Reves and Medgyes (1994) point out that there are some problems with the English lexicon as well as with any other language. They add that many words have different meanings according to the context, idioms, and synonyms. Moreover, a case study conducted by Bouangeune (2009) at the National University of Laos shows the effectiveness of using L1 in teaching vocabulary through translation exercises and dictation. He also concludes that to prevent misunderstanding of the meaning of the new word, teachers should provide clear, simple, and brief explanations of meaning, especially in the learners' first language.
In the third place, when English teachers are allowed to use the students’ mother tongue is in teaching complex grammar rules. Teaching complicated grammar points will be easier by using the students’ first language (L1) because the students have a chance to compare between the target language structure and their native language structure. For example, explaining ‘sixteen English tenses,’ which are not learned in some other languages such as Indonesian language, will be easier to understand if the teacher explains them by using Indonesian language. Another example is in ‘participial adjectives.’ To differentiate between the participial adjectives that end ‘-ed’ and ‘-ing,’ Indonesian learners will be easier to understand if they know how to define both in Indonesian language because the participial adjectives that end ‘-ing’ must have the meanings ‘men ….’ or ‘me …. kan’ and the participial adjectives that end ‘-ed’ must have the meanings ‘ter ….,’ ‘di….’ or back to the word base only.
In the fourth place, the use of students’ mother tongue is used to make students and teachers enjoy the class. If the class uses monolingual approach; not only the students but also the teachers especially new teachers will feel less comfortable in the classroom. If the teachers look less confident in the class, the students will be less pleased to the teachers. The students also will not be happy if they are punished because of using their mother tongue in the classroom. If this happens, the situation of the class will not be comfortable for both the teachers and the students. Schweers (1999) in his research at the University of Puerto Rico reports that all of the students support the use of L1 in English classes. The students believe that using L1 in English classes could lead to better understanding of texts and this makes students feel more comfortable, less tense and less lost. Cummin (2001) also states the rejection of child’s native language means the rejection for the child himself. If the child feels this rejection, the child is much less likely to participate actively and confidently in the classroom instruction. Furthermore, the teachers and the students will be easier to build a good relationship since both can understand each other well. Sharma in Nepal (2006) in his questionnaire reports that many respondents prefer occasional use of L1 in English classrooms to establish a close relationship between the students and the teachers.
To sum up, we cannot avoid that there are some situations when students’ native language is more useful to use such as while teaching writing, introducing abstract and difficult words, explaining complicated grammar rules, creating a close relationship between the teachers and the students and also making both the students and the teachers enjoy the class. Accordingly, the writer advises that English teachers should not force themselves to prohibit the use of students’ native language at all, but to let them use it under certain limitations.

Piske, E & Young-Scholten (2009), Input Matters in SLA. Retrieved from http://www.multilingual-matters.com/display.asp?isb=9781847691095
Scott, V. M. (1996). Rethinking foreign language writing. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Siti, H. S. & Abdul Hameed, A. M. (2006). The use of first language in limited English proficiency classes : good, bad or ugly. Jurnal Elektronik Fakulti Sains social dan kemanusiaan , 1, 1-12. Retrieved from http://eprints.ukm.my/24/1/sitihami-edited1.pdf
Bouangeune, S. (2009). Using L1 inteaching vocabulary to low English proficiency level students: A case study at the University of Laos. English Language Teaching Journal, 2(3), 186-193
Schweers, C. (1999). Using L1 in the L2 classroom. English Teaching Forum, 37(2), 6-9
Sharma, K. (2006). Mother tongue use in English classroom. Journal of NELTA, 11(1-2), 80-87
Muhammad Ahkam Arifin
Muhammad Ahkam Arifin Muhammad Ahkam Arifin is a Fulbright PhD student at Washington State University, US. He earned a master`s degree in TESOL from the University of Edinburgh & Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne.