First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning

First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning

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This volume offers fresh perspectives on a controversial issue in applied linguistics and language teaching by focusing on the use of the first language in communicative or immersion-type classrooms. It includes new work by both new and established scholars in educational scholarship, second language acquisition, and sociolinguistics, as well as in a variety of languages, countries, and educational contexts. Through its focus at the intersection of theory, practice, curriculum and policy, the book demands a reconceptualization of code-switching as something that both proficient and aspiring bilinguals do naturally, and as a practice that is inherently linked with bilingual code-switching.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847697684
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 08/24/2009
Series: Second Language Acquisition
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 519 KB

About the Author

MILES TURNBULL is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Prince Edward Island. He is Coordinator of Graduate Programs and works in the pre-service program in French second language teaching, as Coordinator of the Bachelor of Education- French Education. His research has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Canadian Heritage, The Education and Quality Assurance Office of Ontario, and the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers. In 2006, he was named research scholar in residence in official languages funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Department of Canadian Heritage.

JENNIFER DAILEY-O'CAIN is an Associate Professor of German and Applied Linguistics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Alongside her work on code-switching in the classroom, her research also includes work in language, migration and identity in both Germany and German-speaking Canada, and language attitudes in post-unification Germany. Major recent publications include articles in the Modern Language Journal, the International Journal of Bilingualism, the Canadian Modern Language Review and the Journal of Sociolinguistics.

Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain is a sociolinguist at the University of Alberta, Canada, with a research focus on everyday language in use, but always with an eye toward how this use relates to broader social phenomena such as identity, ideology, and globalisation. She is the author of Trans-National English in Social Media Communities (2017, Palgrave MacMillan).

Read an Excerpt

First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning

By Miles Turnbull, Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2009 Miles Turnbull, Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain and the authors of individual chapters
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84769-768-4


Teachers' Use of the First Language in French Immersion: Revisiting a Core Principle


L'apprentissage doit être intensif sans toutefois être une noyade. Les élèves doivent très tôt pouvoir comprendre le français et l'utiliser pour communiquer. Il est donc essentiel que la seule langue de communication dans la salle de classe soit le français. (La Fondation d'éducation des provinces de l'Atlantique, 1997: 9)

[Learning must be intensive, yet should not make students feel that they are drowning. From the early stages of the program, the students must be able to understand French and use it to communicate. It is therefore essential that French be the only language of communication in the classroom. (Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation, 1997: 9) French must be the language of communication in class. (Ontario Ministry of Education, 1998: 8)


As the above quotations clearly indicate, a core principle of Canadian French immersion is that learning is best achieved when teachers and students use French exclusively. While the exclusive use of the target language has been accepted as best practice in since its inception in 1965, first language use has long been a topic of much debate and controversy in many teaching and learning contexts beyond French immersion. Current thinking leans towards acceptance of judicious and theoretically principled L1 use (e.g. Cook, 2001; Levine, 2003; Liebscher & Dailey-O'Cain, 2004; Macaro, 2005; Turnbull, 2001). However, the results of this debate have generally been ignored by French immersion policy makers throughout Canada. Some researchers (e.g. Sanaoui, 2005; Skerritt, 2003; Walsh & Yeoman, 1999) suggest, nevertheless, that teacher codeswitching (CS) practice varies significantly in French immersion. Swain and Lapkin (2000), Cummins (2000), Skerritt (2003), Sanaoui (2005, 2007) and Turnbull and McMillan (2006, 2007) have dared to wade into this controversy, but as of yet, calls for debate on this topic in Canadian French immersion programs have generally gone unheard. Moreover, curricula and policy across Canada do not reflect current thinking on first-language use in second and foreign language teaching and learning.

The strongly held position on exclusive target language use in French immersion persists, at least in part, because of the many accolades in the scholarly literature that promote Canadian French immersion – built on exclusive target-language use as a core principle – as 'the most effective approach available to second language teaching in school settings' (Genesee, 1994: 6). In 1987, Genesee argued that 'research has shown consistently that immersion students acquire functional proficiency in French, or in other second languages, that surpasses that of students in all other forms of second language instruction to which immersion has been compared' (Genesee, 1987: 10). Indeed, some even suggest that French immersion programs are the most studied language programs in the world, (Canadian Parents for French, 2003) and are held up as evidence of the power of communicative language teaching in which comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985) in the target language is foundational. Moreover, immersion programs have spread to many countries around the globe, particularly in Europe and the United States, often patterned on the Canadian model (Canadian Parents for French, 2003).

We agree that immersion programs are, in general, highly effective, providing many students with the opportunity to achieve a high level of proficiency in the target language. The success of French immersion is no doubt due in large part to the fact that the target language is the main language of communication and instruction in the classroom. However, Cummins (2000) and others (e.g. Genesee, 1994; Lapkin & Swain, 1990) argue that there is room for improvement in French immersion. These educators identify students' inaccurate productive skills as one of the main areas that need to be addressed in immersion pedagogy.

The use of the first language by students is seen (by teachers and policy makers) as contravening the basic premises of immersion. It rarely occurs to teachers to permit students to use their first language for discussion and initial draft purposes but to require that final drafts of writing or other project output be in the target language. The principle of language separation and vestiges of 'direct method' teaching approaches (i.e. remaining totally in the target language) in immersion programs thus sometimes results in pedagogy that is less cognitively challenging and creative than many educators would consider appropriate. The provision of comprehensible input in the second language is interpreted as the promotion of literal rather than critical comprehension (Cummins, 2000: 10).

Like Cummins (2000), we wonder if rethinking the inflexible and exclusive perspective on target language use may be one way to improve student learning in French immersion. We also contend that judicious first language use can help teachers and students comprehend and discuss cognitively challenging and age appropriate content. However, to advance this debate in Canadian French immersion, research is needed to understand the beliefs and practices of Canadian French immersion teachers – the overall aim of the study we report here.

Firstly, we give some background for French immersion in Canada. Secondly, we briefly review previous research on target language and first language use in French immersion. The main focus of the chapter is a small-scale study which examines the perspectives of two late French immersion teachers on their use of the target language and of their students' first language. We start by outlining the data collection methods, providing a detailed description of our two participants, and the theoretical lenses which guided our data analyses. We then describe our participants' beliefs and practices and the key factors that shaped and influenced these beliefs and practices. We conclude by proposing a model for professional development which will allow teachers to develop a personalized yet theoretically and pedagogically principled approach to target language and first language use.

French Immersion in Canada

FIis an optional program, designed for non-native speakers of French, which exists in all Canadian provinces and territories. Over 300,000 students are enrolled in FI, representing about 11% of the total school population in Canada (Canadian Parents for French, 2006). The growth in the first 30 years of the program (since 1965) can be attributed in part to federal government policy that offered grants to school boards who implemented immersion programs. This incentive program was viewed by the Canadian government as a way of promoting individual bilingualism in Canada's two official languages and, ultimately, national unity. There are many different types of French immersion programs in Canada, with the main differences being age of entry and intensity of the program. The immersion curriculum is based on the principle of offering a variety of school subjects taught in the second language; French is therefore the medium and not the object of instruction. The expectations in school subjects (e.g. sciences, math) parallel those in the regular first language curriculum.

Given the official policy and widely accepted view that exclusive teacher use of the target language is the best practice, the issue of codeswitching by teachers rarely, if ever, enters professional discussions (even though it is common knowledge that some teachers use the first language at least sometimes). Consequently, late French immersion teachers (whether they use the first language to a certain extent or not) do not have a clear picture of what other teachers actually do. Thus one further goal of the present study is to demystify the issue of late French immersion teachers' target language and first language use. Teachers whose codeswitching is not in keeping with ministerial guidelines concerning target language and first language use may feel guilty, or may be viewed as not following 'proven' best practice procedures; target language exclusivity is taken for granted as the best practice, when the research literature, summarized in the following section, does not necessarily support this premise.

Previous research

Most of the previous work on codeswitching in French immersion has focused on student target language and first language use. For example, Behan et al. (1997: 41) tape-recorded Grade 7 late French immersion students working in groups; they concluded that 'L1 use can both support and enhance L2 development, [both languages] functioning simultaneously as an effective tool for dealing with cognitively demanding content'. Swain and Lapkin (2000) reported that Grade 8 Early French immersion students were able to complete a collaborative task more successfully by using some L1. While these students used some L1 in roughly 25% of the turns taken, only 12% of these were off-task; by far, most of students' first language use served important cognitive and social functions. Swain and Lapkin (2000: 269) conclude: 'Judicious use of the L1 can indeed support L2 learning and use. To insist that no use be made of the L1 in carrying out tasks that are both linguistically and cognitively complex is to deny the use of an important cognitive tool.' These studies show that that the communication that takes place amongst students during communicative cooperative learning activities, far from being target-language only, actually involves a good deal of natural first language use; furthermore student first language use would often seem to benefit and not hinder target language comprehension, production, collaboration, task management and performance.

We are aware of only two other studies that have examined teacher first language use in French immersion. Skerritt (2003) and Sanaoui (2005, 2007) examined the amount and functions of English used by four Grade 3 Early French immersion teachers. Lessons were tape-recorded and teachers later reviewed their use of the target language and the first language. One teacher did not use any English, two used a limited amount, and the fourth used English considerably more. Skerritt and Sanaoui tentatively relate use of the first language to teachers' amount and type of teaching experience, their proficiency level, students' first language use and beliefs about the role of the first language in language learning.

Our Study

Our qualitative study was informed by principles of grounded theory (Creswell, 2005; Glaser, 1992; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss, 1987) and narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). The overall aim was to tell each participant's story (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) and describe and 'explain', at a broad, conceptual level, the participants' beliefs and attitudes towards codeswitching in late French immersion as well as their actual codeswitching practices.

Research questions

(1) What are late French immersion teachers' beliefs and attitudes about the teacher's use of the target language and the first language in late French immersion?

(2) What are the teachers' codeswitching practices?

(3) Which factors contribute to these beliefs, attitudes and codeswitching practices? How and why?

Conceptual framework

Conceptually, this study was informed and guided by theoretical discussions about teachers' beliefs, attitudes and knowledge or belief systems, and the ways in which these belief systems are formed, and how they influence teachers' intended and actual classroom practices (e.g. Ajzen, 1991; Johnson, 1999; Kennedy & Kennedy, 1996; Nespor, 1987; Pajares, 1992; Richards, 1996; Woods, 1996, 2003). We drew on Richards' (1996: 282) notions of 'working principles or maxims which teachers consciously or unconsciously refer to as they teach'. Richards proposes that motivations for language teachers' decisions and actions can be understood by examining their guiding maxims. Moreover, we were influenced by research on bilinguals that shows that codeswitching is natural and common (e.g. Liebscher & Dailey-O'Cain, 2004; Myers-Scotton, 1993).

Context for this study

Data were collected in two late French immersion classes located in two different and relatively large intermediate schools in a semi-urban center in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where late French immersion begins in Grade 7 (age 13). In the first two years of late French immersion, French language arts, math, science, social studies and health are offered in French (representing about 80% of instruction). Prior to beginning late French immersion, students study French in short non-intensive periods of instruction (approximately 30 minutes per day) from Grades 4 to 6. Access to late French immersion is open to all students interested in enrolling; no aptitude or admission test is administered before the start of the program. In our study, students' first language was English in all cases. This is not necessarily the case in all French immersion programs due to increased immigration in Canada, including in French immersion programs, especially in urban centres (Swain & Lapkin, 2005).


Pierre, a native French speaker, and Frank, whose first language was English, volunteered to participate in this study; both had been teaching late French immersion on Prince Edward Island for 10 years and were teaching Grade 7 late French immersion at the time of this study. Pierre taught math, sciences and social studies, while Frank taught math and health. As late French immersion teachers, both Pierre and Frank met the superior level of French proficiency required by the Prince Edward Island Ministry of Education.

Data collection

After establishing a comfortable level of trust with Pierre and Frank, we conducted an initial one-on-one semi-structured interview with each participant. Questions focused on their current teaching assignment, their experiences as a second language learner, teacher training and previous second language teaching experiences, and other important influences shaping their beliefs about target and first language use in late French immersion. We then conducted three classroom observations per teacher (approximately once per month), and a final one-on-one interview was conducted during the last month of the school year with each participant. Immediately following each observation, stimulated recall procedures were used to review recordings of the class and discuss instances when the teacher used the first language (or perhaps could have, but did not). A final interview was conducted during the last month of the school year, which allowed for checking and further clarification of information collected during the previous rounds.

Data analyses

During transcription of the interviews, emerging themes and similarities or differences between Pierre and Frank's beliefs and strategies were noted. In keeping with grounded theory methodology, the research team met several times throughout the process to review transcripts and discuss additional questions which arose or statements that needed to be clarified in subsequent interviews. Field notes and interview transcripts were analyzed using systematic and thematic open coding techniques.

We now move to a summary of the findings from this small study. We first describe the participants' beliefs (and maxims) and their codeswitching practices. We then turn to an analysis of the factors that shaped and influenced these beliefs and practices. All English words used in the lesson are italicized; other reported speech (non-italicized) given in English here was actually said in French by the teacher or by students.

Frank and Pierre


Frank believed second language learning to be most effective when kept separate from the existing first language system, essentially equating second-language learning with first language learning. His beliefs were in agreement with the Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation guidelines and correspond to what Macaro (2001: 535) refers to as the virtual position: 'The classroom is like the target country. Therefore we should aim at total exclusion of the L1. There is no pedagogical value in L1 use'. Frank believed that trying to make connections between the first language and the target language most often lead to inappropriate transfers; students should therefore try to think in the target language and develop a separate target language system. While he knew of other late French immersion teachers who gave translation exercises to their students, Frank did not believe this to be helpful:

I do not ask them to translate; I think that's a waste of time. You're activating part of the brain that you're trying to get them to forget about. I've always believed that. I know that kids need a French-English dictionary, but I don't ask for any translation because it's double-thinking and it's keeping the English in there.


Excerpted from First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning by Miles Turnbull, Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain. Copyright © 2009 Miles Turnbull, Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain and the authors of individual chapters. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction - Miles Turnbull and Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain

1 Teachers' Use of the First Language in French Immersion: Revisiting a Core Principle - Brian McMillan and Miles Turnbull

2 Teacher Use of Code-Switching in the Second Language Classroom: Exploring 'Optimal' Use - Ernesto Macaro

3 Code-Switching in Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic and Interpersonal Dimensions of Cross-National Discourse Between School Learners of French and English - Michael Evans

4 Target Language Use in English Classes in Hungarian Primary Schools - Krisztina Nagy and Daniel Robertson

5 Forms and Functions of Code-Switching by Dual Immersion Students: A Comparison of Heritage Speaker and Second-Language Children - Kim Potowski

6 How Bilingual Children Talk: Strategic Code-Switching Among Children in Dual Language Programs - Janet M. Fuller

7 Teacher and Student Use of the First Language in Foreign Language Classroom Interaction: Functions and Applications - Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain and Grit Liebscher

8 Building Meaning Through Code Choice in Second Language Learner Interaction: A D/discourse Analysis and Proposals for Curriculum Design and Teaching - Glenn S. Levine

9 The Impact of Pedagogical Materials on Critical Language Awareness: Assessing Student Attention to Patterns of Language Use - Carl S. Blyth

10 Concluding Reflections: Moving Forward - Miles Turnbull and Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain

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