Reader Response Journal

Using Local Languages in English Language Classrooms by Ahmar Mahboob and Angel Lin

This chapter examines why local languages are devalued in ELT pedagogy and proposes a model for incorporating local languages into the classroom in a multimodal way. After the Grammar Translation method fell out of fashion, the inner-circle dominated methodological developments, which meant that techniques were being designed with an ESL context, without a dominant language shared by all students, in mind. In this context, focusing on English-only instruction made sense, but the techniques were exported to other countries as the most current and modern approaches, without adapting to local EFL conditions. The result of the global spread of these inner circle approaches has been the perpetuation of the myths that languages are stable, standardized and rule-governed, rather than socially situated and fluid; the language learning is a zero sum game, where using the local language detracts from students’ ability to learn the target language and that language is a commodity that can be bought, sold and internationally marketed, turning teaching into an exchange of goods. In contrast to these harmful approaches, Mahboob and Lin argue for “more inclusive and context dependent models of language” (p. 9). They argue that local languages can be used in class for ideational, textual and interpersonal functions. They analyze an extract from a study Lin did in 1999, where a bilingual teacher in Hong Kong used codeswitching for Intiation-Response-Feedback exchanges. When the exchanges focused on the story (interpersonal function), all three phases were conducted in Cantonese, but when the exchanges were about language (ideational or textual functions), the initiation and response phases were in either language and were repeated until the student response was in English with the feedback in English as well. In this way, she started where the students were comfortable and built them towards the English expressions. They end their chapter by outlining Lin’s Multimodalities/Entextualization Cycle (MEC) as a method for systematically incorporating local languages into the classroom. In the first phase, students’ interest in the topic is raised through multimodalities and the use of familiar language, either LL or TL. In the second phase, students read a target language text and unpack it using everyday language, either LL or TL, along with multimodal representations of the meaning. In the third stage, students entextualize (put the experience in the text) using scaffolded academic target language in the appropriate genres.

The historical context that they give on why English only instruction is so dominant is really useful for thinking about why its ok to challenge the existing paradigm. Essentially, the use of the inner circle strategies in EFL contexts was never consciously chosen as appropriate (and certainly wasn’t based on research showing its effectiveness), but instead was a quirk of the cultural and economic dominance of the inner circle countries, which were uncritically adopted as normative worldwide, rather than being perceived as locally and contextually specific to the countries the techniques were developed in. The balance between local languages in the class is something I’ve been thinking about a lot here in Ecuador, where I use a fair bit of Spanish in my teaching. The MEC approach and the example of the teacher in Hong Kong both seem worthwhile, but they assume the teacher has full (rather than partial) abilities in the local language. I’m interesting in exploring whether there are any resources or studies out there about teachers who are not native speakers of the local language using it as an effective teaching tool in the classroom, and if so, what the best ways to do that are. It’s also interesting to me how strong the discourse of shame around LL in the classroom is too, which is definitely something I feel here at times. It’m thinking back on World Teach’s training, where they didn’t advocate for an English-only classroom, but they did discourage the use of Spanish to teach English content (instead suggesting it only for procedural information, like directions). It’s a step in the right direction, but not far enough yet. In contrast, the Edificar training was super dismissive of any valid role for Spanish inside the English classroom, which is problematic and increasingly out of date. Reading this now has encouraged me to incorporate plutilingual pedagogy into my EcuaTESOL proposal, alongside multiple intelligences and multimodality.

Mahboob, A., & Lin, A. M. Y. (2016). Using local languages in English language classrooms. In Willy A. Renandya and Handoyo P. Widodo (Eds.), English language teaching today: Building a closer link between theory and practice. New York: Springer.


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