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Old 06-02-2008, 02:38 PM
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Default Comparing First Language and English

Some of us teach in English speaking countries where we have classes of students with many language backgrounds, while others teach in countries where the students are from the same language background.

Regardless of your teaching situation, how much, if at all, do you encourage, allow, or discuss a comparison of the students' L1(s) with English? Why do you or don't you engage in this discussion, and if you do, how do you engage in it? In other words, do you have formal activities, ask casual questions, or something else?

And for teachers who don't know much about the L1(s) of their students, does this stop you from promoting an L1/English comparison, or have you found a good strategy to do this anyway?

Maria
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Old 06-02-2008, 09:10 PM
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Sam Simian Sam Simian is offline
 
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Default I don’t refer to their L1 very much.

Dear Maria,

For the most part, I don’t explicitly compare the students’ L1s with English in class because I’m not familiar enough with their L1s, and I’m not usually aware of any benefits to doing so. One exception is identifying the major components of a sentence. Sometimes (for example, when checking subject verb agreement or forming WH questions or tag questions) it’s important to identify the subject in a sentence. Since the L1 breakdown in my classes is usually ≈ 50% Spanish and ≈ 50% Chinese, it’s convenient to tell them that both English and their L1s are SVO. Also, I sometimes have students translate basic grammar terminology (for example, noun, verb, adjective, and adverb) into their L1s, and I ask students to write the translations on the white board.

Another exception is when there is direct interference from Spanish speakers’ L1: for example, “I have 21 years” or “I’m wearing pants black.” In cases like these, I think it’s helpful to tell the students that we don't say "We have X years" in English. We say, “I am X” or "I am X years old." And in English, unlike Spanish, the adjective comes before the noun. This interference either does not happen with Chinese, or I don’t know / remember enough about Chinese to notice it. (I studied Spanish for 2 years in high school, and I studied Chinese for 1 year in college, but I could only say about 10 sentences in Spanish and 5 sentences in Chinese if you held a gun to my head. However, I do have a slightly better recollection of their grammars — at least in the “abstract.”)

Finally, while I try to promote English use in the classroom, I let students use their L1s. The downside is some students just chat in their L1 until I “rap their knuckles.” However, the upside is other students are serious about studies, and they sometimes use English and / or their L1 to tutor other students, and I assume that this involves some comparison of English and their L1.

Sincerely,
Sam

Last edited by Sam Simian; 06-03-2008 at 08:24 AM.
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Old 06-03-2008, 01:45 PM
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Default benefits of L1/English comparison?

Actually the examples Sam gave are exactly what I meant by comparing the L1 and English. A few weeks ago I was explaining the role of tag questions, one of which is confirmation of information. I asked the students to think if there was anything they added to a statement, maybe at the end, to find out if what they suspected was accurate- something that could mean "Is this true?" (I knew that for both my Spanish speakers and my Creole speakers that there was a tag that functioned in the same way.)

Other times I compare SVO with Russian and Ukrainian which has a very flexible sentence structure. It's not that I know the languages, I just look up what are some of the big differences, and ask the students to compare a sentence I write with the same in translation. Sometimes I have several language groups write the same sentence on the board and I ask them to do a literal translation like this:

The boy gave the flowers to his mother.

Spanish: XX XXX XXXXXX XX XXXX X XX XX.
The boy gave the flowers to his mother.
Ukrainian XXXXXXX XXXX XXXX XXX
To his mother gave flowers boy.
Chinese:
Arabic:

Students just like to see this. They are very interested in each other's cultures and languages. I also think it makes them more language aware- more aware of the parts of a sentence, functions of words, how sentential relationships are established. Since my students are going to college, it's important for them to have a deeper understanding of the language so they can better manipulate it at a higher level.

BTW, an excellent reference book for quick discovery of the differences between other languages and English is "Learner English" by Swan, Cambridge University Press. This has been an invaluable tool for me. For example, it was important for me to know that Russian has no article system so I could be prepared for one group of my students to have a much more difficult time with articles and thus plan accordingly.
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Old 06-03-2008, 11:45 PM
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Grammar Guy Grammar Guy is offline
 
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Default Only if I Know

Hi, guys!

Just a quick reply. It doesn't bother me at all to use the native languages of the students in my class to explain a complex point of English grammar or vocabulary as long as I can do so equally well in the languages represented by my students. For example, at this time I teach classes that only contain Spanish and Haitian Creole speakers. Since I'm quite conversant in Spanish and know a good deal of Creole, I will use examples in those languages as comparisons to help get across a point in my English lesson. Why waste lots of time and energy when I can effectively and efficiently accomplish the same thing in no time at all? And, of course, this usually impresses the students. : )

But if I've got even one student in my class whose native language I'm not familiar with, I never do a comparative linguistics moment. Then I just have to tough it out exclusively in English.

Richard
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Old 06-05-2008, 08:26 PM
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Default asking students to compare

Quote:
Originally Posted by Grammar Guy View Post
Hi, guys!

But if I've got even one student in my class whose native language I'm not familiar with, I never do a comparative linguistics moment. Then I just have to tough it out exclusively in English.

Richard
I sense we are approaching the use of comparison differently. Even if you don't know a thing about a student's L1, you can still ask the student to analyze and compare. You won't be able to confirm, but at least you have started the student thinking about the building blocks of languages and what languages have in common and how they differ. Again, this may not be important to your students depending on their academic goals, but for students who need a high level of competence, say, to become certified teachers, or to write at the graduate level, understanding language can be as important as understanding THE language.
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