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Diversity: How should learners' own languages be used in the classroom?

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Working in low-resource contexts with low-level learners, teachers research and share how to balance use of learners’ own languages and English.

In this video, Janak discusses the use of learners’ own language(s) in the classroom.

He points out that the English language level of students in Nepali-medium schools is very low and says they are unable to carry out even the most basic communication in English. The challenge teachers face is that use of English interferes with classroom communication, but use of the learners’ own language(s) interferes with the development of communicative competence in English.

By establishing clear routines and classroom norms, teachers can instil in their students a code of language use – for example, expecting use of English during pair or group work and simple communicative tasks, but allowing own-language use when discussing complex ideas or expressing learning anxieties.

Teachers can also regulate their own language use – for example, reverting to own language when giving complex instructions or dealing with disciplinary matters, but insisting on English when greeting students or giving simple instructions. Janak explains how it is possible to achieve a balance between English and own-language use which will benefit students and teachers alike.

Reflection and discussion

One of the purposes of these resources is to help you with your own teacher development in related contexts. The questions in task 1 and task 2 are designed for you to think about and discuss with colleagues, either informally or as part of your formal professional development.

Do you face a similar dilemma with your classes? What do you think about establishing a code of language use? How about negotiating this with your students? How do you think that would help to make it work?