Ever since God punished the people who wanted to build the Tower of Babel with the “confusion of tongues” in the time of old testament, people around the world have faced the problem of communication. When giving out a historical overview of second-language teaching in “Second-Language Acquisition in Childhood,” McLaughlin stated:
As early as the third millennium B.C., in what was probably the world’s first great civilization, the Sumerians had scribed devoted exclusively to education. When the country was conquered by the Akkadians in the last quarter of the third millennium, these scribes complied the oldest known bilingual dictionaries. Long continuous passages were translated from ...view middle of the document...
For a L2 learner who lives in an environment where the target language is not used on a daily basis, such as English taught in Taiwan, exposure to L2 helps accomplish the goal of language learning, which is to communicate.
The use of L1 in L2 classrooms is primarily based on the Grammar-Translation method which emerged in the nineteenth century. It stresses on the ability to read literature in L2, but to learn grammar rules and vocabulary in L1. In the classroom, teachers have authority while students follow instructions to learn what teachers know. Students learn by translating from one language to the other. Grammar is usually learned deductively on the basis of grammar rules and examples. Students memorize the rules, and then apply them to other examples. L1 provides keys to meanings in L2 and it is also used freely in class. Because of the nature of the grammar-translation method, reading and writing are primary skills but pronunciation and other speaking or listening skills are not emphasized or in many cases disregarded.
In Taiwan, English is taught in junior high and senior high schools though some children start taking English classes when they are still in elementary school. In junior high and senior high schools, English is taught in Chinese mainly due to the problems of class management and class time. Teachers seem to always find it more efficient to go through the teaching materials in Chinese. They apply literally the grammar-translation method in class with the hope that the students will get good grades to enter a high school or a university. Students learn to read and write through the translation between Chinese and English. However, most of the parents and students often complain that such a teaching method leads them to become test machines who know only how to answer grammar questions or translation exercises on the test sheet but not to use English as a language. Another potential crisis facing these students is that too much stress on vocabulary, translation and the whole grammar structure blurs the most important part of language which is the idea it carries. Students depend so much on the translation of each single word, the structure of each sentence, and the formation of the language that they neglect the communicative message brought by the language. Language grows into a subject to learn, to be analyzed. It loses its function to be the bridge for people to convey their thoughts and feelings.
Some of the L2 teachers who are not native speakers of the target language might find it easier to deal with the use of L1 than that of L2. That is, they are more comfortable with L1 than L2 so they choose to use L1 in their L2 classroom.
It was an easy method for the teacher to use. Classes could be taught in the students’ native language with little teaching skill or foreign-language speaking skill needed by the instructor. Objectives were limited and attainable. Vocabulary lists, printed grammar rules, and sample...