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Review of  The L1 in L2 Learning – Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices

Reviewer: Elke Stracke
Book Title: The L1 in L2 Learning – Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices
Book Author: Yanan Song Stephen Andrews
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 21.817

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AUTHORS: Yanan Song & Stephen Andrews
TITLE: The L1 in L2 Learning - Teachers' Beliefs and Practices
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Language Acquisition 24
YEAR: 2008

Elke Stracke, Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra


Song & Andrews' title, The L1 in L2 Learning - Teachers' Beliefs and Practices,
offers an account of teachers' beliefs and practices from the perspective of EFL
practitioners in China. The book focuses on the cases of four EFL teachers and
''investigates in depth the attitudes these four teachers hold towards the L1 in
their L2 teaching, the extent to which their attitudes are reflected in their
L1-related behaviors in class, and the factors they perceive as influences on
their beliefs and behaviours'' (p. 1). The authors' aim is to contribute to our
understanding of how teachers perceive the role of L1 as a medium of instruction
(MoI) in L2 teaching.

In addition to the short foreword by Vivian Cook (Newcastle University), the
volume contains seven chapters, four of which are dedicated to a comprehensive
study of four Chinese EFL teachers' beliefs and practices of using L1 in their
teaching. The book also includes a copy of one of the research instruments
(questionnaire) in the appendix and both an author and subject index. The book
can be divided into three parts. Part 1 consists of the introduction (chapter 1)
and a literature survey (chapter 2). Part 2 presents the four case studies
(chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6), whereas Part 3 sums up and discusses the findings in
the broader context of the study (chapter 7).

CHAPTER ONE (INTRODUCTION) takes its lead from the observation that even though
there has been a strong tendency to recommend L2 usage in the foreign language
classroom due to a perceived negative influence of L1, practice has often been
in conflict with these theoretical postulations.

In the general field of education, research into teachers' beliefs and practices
started more that three decades ago. In the area of language teacher cognition,
the work of Borg (2006) and Andrews (2007), for instance, has contributed to our
understanding of language teachers' beliefs and practices. In this study, Song &
Andrews stress the importance of contextual factors and the teachers' own
perceptions. They see the significance of their study as a contribution to the
research literature that lacks studies showing how teachers perceive the use of
L1 and L2 as the MoI. The authors also point out the need to explore and
understand how teachers' beliefs about L1 influence their practice and the
importance of teachers' awareness of this issue.

In this introductory chapter, the authors sketch the background for their study,
namely a number of teachers who teach English as a foreign language at a
tertiary institution in China. Their L1 is defined as Mandarin, but the authors
acknowledge that some teachers might have learnt another variety of Chinese
before they learnt Mandarin. However, Mandarin is described as their lingua
franca both in and out of class. The authors then outline the research design of
the study, a questionnaire survey (phase 1) followed by an in-depth study of
four selected teachers (phases 2 and 3). Phase 2 consisted of individual
interviews with the teachers, classroom observation of one lesson, followed by
stimulated recall interviews. Phase 3 of the data collection was conducted one
year after phase 2. The same methods as in phase 2 were used with two important
modifications. First, the data observation was expanded and now included a
complete unit of lessons as compared to the single lesson in phase 2. Second,
the authors this time also conducted student interviews. The authors also
include a short section about ethical issues and discuss, in particular, the
potentially sensitive nature of the teachers' use of L1 and L2, and how this was
addressed in their study. Chapter 1 also provides an overview of the book.

controversies around the issue of L1 in L2 education further. The first section
of this chapter deals with the role of L1 in L2 learning. The authors start
their review in the late nineteenth century when the Grammar-Translation Method
and the use of L1 as the MoI prevailed in the teaching of second languages. They
show how various methods and theories in second language acquisition research
contributed to a changed attitude towards the usefulness of both L1 and L2 as
the MoI. The Grammar-Translation Method, often also called the ''traditional
method,'' focused, as its name suggests, on translation and grammar learning.
Since this method, derived from the teaching of classical languages, teaches
students grammar and vocabulary through direct translations and thus focuses on
written language, the L1 is the main MoI. The Direct Method was an answer to the
dissatisfaction with the Grammar-Translation Method. It refrains from using the
learners' L1 and uses only the L2 as MoI (see Larsen-Freeman 2000; Richard &
Rodgers, 2001 for more detailed descriptions and discussion of these and other
methods). The authors conclude that since the development of the Direct Method,
and despite the various advantages that have been pointed out in using L1 (e.g.
the importance of L1 during collaborative work in the classroom), there still
seems to be a bias to perceive L1 as a hindrance to L2 learning.

Subsequently, section two in this chapter focuses on the role of L1 in L2
teaching and illustrates further the conflicting perspectives that various
methods and approaches have adopted over time when advocating for or against L1
usage. Song & Andrews conclude, ''the principles of the primacy of the spoken
language and the monolingual approach [using L2] are still widely held. Indeed,
they could be said to dominate contemporary language teaching'' (p. 36). As for
China, the authors show that GTM co-exists with other methods, which leads to an
eclectic approach of teaching English in China. In the following sections, the
authors further examine the issue of L1 in L2 education by looking at the
relationship between L1 and L2 in the learners' minds and emphasize the
potentially valuable resource of L1 in the process of L2 learning.

The authors conclude their literature survey by pointing to classroom-based
research that has explored code switching and the nature and functions of L1 and
L2 use in L2 classrooms. Typical functions of L1 use are the conveyance of
meaning, classroom management, and students' group work. Some of the studies
mentioned in Macaro's (2000) overview of studies on teachers' perceptions of
their own use of L1 included classroom observation as their research methods,
but Song & Andrews claim that most studies ''only show what functions teachers
think the L1 can play'' (p. 59) and have not explored in depth ''how teachers
think the L1 can play these functions in their L2 teaching'' (p. 61). Teachers
may have their own set of values to maintain L1 use, and the exploration of this
subjective set of values is the topic of the following four chapters.

CHAPTERS THREE, FOUR, FIVE, and SIX form the heart of the study. Each of them
presents a case study of one English teacher at a tertiary institution in China.
We learn about the teachers' beliefs as they transpire from their own
statements, their practices, and about the influence of context on the teachers'
beliefs and teaching. All four cases are presented in depth. Quotes from the
interviews and stimulated recall sessions as well as transcripts from the
classroom observations allow for a first-hand insight into the belief systems
and classroom reality of these four EFL practitioners in China.

35-year old senior language teacher who has a genuine interest in the MoI issue
and a 'pro-L1' attitude. For her, L1 is an asset that can help her in the
knowledge transmission process. This belief is firmly rooted in Alice's personal
experience and understanding rather than in theoretical knowledge.

Vivian's case, described in CHAPTER FOUR (THINKING IN THE L2 - THE CASE OF
VIVIAN) is quite different from that of Alice. Vivian is a 24-year old novice
teacher. She holds 'anti-L1' attitudes that are more or less prominent in her
actual teaching practice, depending on the content of her lessons. For instance,
when teaching vocabulary, she provides an English-rich context to help students
think in the L2, whereas during phases when the class has to do exercises from
the textbook, her L1 usage is higher to support students' memorization of
language points.

29-year old teacher with five years of teaching experience, who also reveals an
'anti-L1' attitude. Mandy tends to base her attitudes towards L1 on her
perceptions of the students she is teaching. She believes she takes the
students' level of English proficiency and their receptivity into consideration
in order to help them develop their skills. However, her teaching practice does
not always reflect such differentiated practice.

Finally, CHAPTER SIX (L1/L2 JUST A TOOL - THE CASE OF PETER) is again different
form the three described above, since Peter (age 31), a teacher of Chinese
English majors for several years (the other teachers have often taught lower
levels), focuses more on the knowledge of ideas and concepts that the language
expresses than the language itself. This is without doubt related to his
students' higher level of English proficiency. He has an overall 'pro-L1'
attitude but, more importantly, for him, both L1 and L2 are tools to achieve the
more important goal of developing students' knowledge of new concepts, ideas,
and so forth.

compare the findings of the individual cases. They provide a useful table
(p. 189) allowing for a convenient overview of the four cases. One central theme
in this last chapter is the discussion of the teachers' beliefs of their
teaching objectives. Song & Andrews point to the potential influence of the
syllabi for English teaching in China and show that teachers vary in their
perceptions of the purpose of language teaching because of their varying beliefs
about the MoI in English teaching. They conclude cautiously that the ''nature of
the content prescribed by a particular syllabus may have some relationship with
teachers' L1 use. The syllabi of language, culture and general language
education appear more likely to allow room for L1 use in L2 teaching, and for
the L1 to play a potentially facilitative role'' (p. 192).

In the preceding chapters, the authors had already highlighted the individual
teachers' need for more knowledge and awareness of the potential use of L1 in L2
teaching, which might allow for a more effective use of L1. The teachers in this
study seem to have formulated their beliefs primarily through experience, as
learners and teachers, and it is noteworthy that even though all four teachers
had either completed or were enrolled in a Masters degree when this study was
conducted, the MoI issues had not yet figured in their studies.

Song & Andrews also draw the readers' attention to contextual factors that seem
to form an important part of the teachers' beliefs about the MoI and their
practices. Student ability could potentially affect each teacher's attitudes.
Teacher ability (particularly English proficiency) was another decisive factor.
The additional factor of fatigue, when the teacher simply felt tired, might also
motivate the switch to the more easily produced L1. Another factor that all
teachers mentioned allows for yet another insight into the teachers' reality:
the observation by an 'expert' as part of their performance review would always
trigger a reduction of L1 use. This reminds the reader of the underlying bias
that the authors took as their starting point, i.e. the belief hat L1 use is
often perceived as negative in the L2 classroom. It seems remarkable that these
teachers responded to the evaluation of their teaching by increasing their use
of L2 in the actual evaluated lesson compared to their day-to-day teaching
reality. Song & Andrews observe rightly that beliefs, like the ones under
investigation in this study about the MoI, ''cannot be changed by coercion,
whatever form that takes: regulations by the authorities, official inspection,
or simply the expectation of conformity with influential theories'' (pp. 201 -
202). Time pressure was another decisive factor to affect a higher use of L1.

This chapter also summarizes student perceptions of the MoI issue. Students
seemed to accept their teachers' practices. This result might be influenced by
cultural factors that could make these students reluctant to criticize their
teachers. Since student responses were not a focus of this study, the further
exploration of learner perspectives might be a fruitful avenue for future research.

More generally, this chapter argues for raising teacher interest in the MoI
issue, thereby allowing for situations in which teachers can examine and
understand their own beliefs. Teachers need opportunities to reflect on their
beliefs and practices. This links the findings of this study with Andrews'
(2007) earlier argument that teacher language awareness is a crucial factor in
student learning. The authors make a case that teacher language awareness should
include awareness of the MoI in the classroom. The implications for teacher
education are clearly stated. Teacher education should include an
awareness-raising program relating to the MoI issue; and place an emphasis on
teacher reflections. It could also benefit from such in-depth descriptions as
those offered in this study by allowing teachers to further reflect on their own


This study contributes to our understanding of teachers' perceptions and
practices with regard to L1 as a MoI in English teaching in China's tertiary
education. With its rich description of the four English teachers, the book is a
valuable resource for anyone seeking an understanding of teacher thinking in
this particular context. The book examines the potential implications of such
enhanced understanding of teacher education and makes a valuable suggestion for
further research in this area, namely the inclusion of student perspectives.

The book is carefully written and edited and allows for enjoyable reading.
However, I believe that the book would have gained from a more thorough
description of the research design employed in this study. The authors briefly
describe the study context and ethical issues as part of their introduction
(pp. 13 - 19). I believe that a qualitative study requires a more in-depth,
step-by-step account of the data collection procedure, management and analysis.
The reader does not gain an accurate picture of how, for instance, the findings
were analyzed, how the categories were formulated, or how the findings from the
various sources were combined. The questionnaire data analysis could have been
presented more systematically and in more detail. It remains unclear why the
student perspectives were added in phase 3 of the research, given the fact that
they were not the focus of the study. Expanding the research design is
permissible and, indeed, often desirable in qualitative research that is open
and process-oriented by definition. Unfortunately, the authors do not include
any such methodological considerations that could have shed some light on their
choice of methodology and the course of the research as it developed over time.

I consider the provision of rich data in the four case study chapters to be a
particular strength of the book, despite finding the authors' tendency to focus
on the teacher's lack of knowledge of second language acquisition literature and
awareness of the L1/L2 issue in their summarizing comments at the end of each
case study (p. 95, p. 127, p. 161, p. 187) unconvincing. I agree that teachers
can benefit from a sound grasp of knowledge of important issues in language
learning and teaching (and the authors develop this idea further in chapter 7),
but I felt that here the focus could have been more appropriately placed on the
appreciation of the teachers' theories than on a comparison of their theories
with research-based theories.

Finally, it seems noteworthy that one of the authors, Yanan Song, has recently
(2009) published an article in which she presents important aspects of this
study (and a more detailed description of the questionnaire survey) in
article-length format. Readers who do not have much time might prefer to read
this article. However, the article cannot convey the day-to-day experience of
the four English teachers as described in great depth in the four case study
chapters in this book. Without doubt, these chapters provide a rich source of
information about the beliefs and practices of Chinese teachers of English. I
believe that herein lies the main contribution of The L1 in L2 Learning -
Teachers' Beliefs and Practices.


Andrews, Stephen (2007). Teacher language awareness. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Borg, Simon (2006). Teacher cognition and language education. London: Continuum.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching. (2nd
ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Macaro, Ernesto (2000). ''Issues in target language teaching.'' In K. Field (ed.)
Issues in modern foreign language teaching (pp. 171-89). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Richards, J.C. & Rodgers, T.S. (2001). Approaches and methods in language
teaching. (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Song, Yanan (2009). ''An investigation into L2 teachers' beliefs about L1 in
China.'' Prospect, 24: 1, 30-39. Retrieved on 15 July 2009 from
Elke Stracke is a Senior Lecturer in TESOL/Foreign Language Teaching/Applied Linguistics in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra. She has held university teaching and research positions in Germany (University of Münster), New Zealand (University of Otago) and in Australia (Australian National University) before joining the University of Canberra in 2007. Her current teaching responsibilities in the TESOL/Foreign Language Teaching Program are in the area of language teaching methodology, sociolinguistics, and language acquisition. Her current research interests are blended language learning, independent learning and learner autonomy, the use of computer technology in language learning, student and teacher beliefs, language teacher education, and, more recently, post-graduate supervision development.