Before I say anything, I want to disclaim that, I, myself, am not a proficient second language speaker. Though, it is enough for daily life communication. Recently, I read an article titled, “the Use of First Language in Classroom.” In the article, it argues the importance of the use of first language in classroom setting. The reason why the writer brought up this issue on the table was that, the suggestion of abandoning first language entirely, and use the targeted language only to learn a second language. In my opinion, this is a completely wrong idea. And I agree all the reason the writer against with.
Second language supporter built the idea upon the way babies learn. Certainly, when babies were learning their first language, they were in an immersive setting. They linked words with objects and actions, built up their own database of the language out of the scratch.
That is doable with one condition only. The person or individual is new-born to the world, with no knowledge of anything about the world. “Out of the scratch” is the key here. When we are learning a new language, we learn it in different way. After we gain knowledge as we are aging, we use our own knowledge to encode and decode meanings of things, to analyze, to comprehend things around us. The intuition that we had once as a baby is not here, or as strong as once no more. The translation will be, and must be taken place in any sort of cognitive processing, which language learning is exactly one of the types.
I believe the interference of first language is much more beneficial in the second language learning. The use of first language could help us to convey the meaning and the use of grammar very quickly at the first place. For instance, when I first learned English, teacher explained the meaning of words and said it out loud in the second language, and asked us to repeat with her.
However, I am not saying we should ignore the use of second language. Like what the writer said, first language in foreign language learning should be minimized instead of abandon entirely. After all, it is the language we want to learn. It is good to increase our naturalness, how comfortable we speak the language, of the language, and therefore, increase the fluidity and the proficiency of the language. This is something cannot be provided in a classroom, especially it is a classroom in a foreign country, like an English classroom in China.
Even if the teacher demands student to speak the foreign class of all time, student will speak their first language once they get off from classroom. It is just the way it is. Therefore, we need an language environment that suit for the targeted language learning. However, we need to know what to say and what it means first. Using a second language that we do not know anything about it to learn the second language does not make any sense. It is the same logic as we answer the meaning of the word with the meaning of the word. It is not helping, right? Sure, we might be able to figure it out eventually, with loads of guessing and referencing. Yet, the helpless frustration comes from the unknown is not something everyone can handle, especially if we use it to a young age student classroom. They will flee away before they learn anything.