What’s the “trick” for motivating more L2 in our #ELT classrooms?


The Great Debate:  to L1 or not to L1


Have you ever tried banning L1 in your classroom?

I’ll be the first to admit it.  Yes, I’ve tried, and often these efforts were fruitless… ok, not even often… 90% of the time.  Sometimes with a very small group it can work, but as many of us teach in larger monolingual classrooms (One of the classic “Ten things I think I know” via Ken Wilson), the directive effort of only using L2 rarely works.


So… what’s the trick to getting them to speak more English?


I’m writing this post as last a teacher-friend wrote me for advice on the subject, saying that she was tired of having to plead yet again “‘English, please.”  Been there before?

I started digging around the blogosphere, and found a nice post on one teacher’s success (Joe McVeigh) though his post explores “class chemistry” and ponders why only one of four classes ended up “speaking only English in class”.

Another post that immediately came to mind was Henrick Oprea‘s “L1: To use or not to use” which has not only a brilliant exploration on the subject, but a fine exchange in the comments (where I tried to play the devil’s advocate and finally ceded partially)  ;-) My driving point was from a learner perspective (my own):


“when we let go of our native tongue and try to swim in a foreign language… that effort… that searching… it’s something I feel is missing in many classrooms”


So, again, how do we get there? Especially if… (from comments in same post)


“The classroom is no natural setting at all… no matter how hard we try to recreate an authentic environment in the classroom, it’ll never cease to be a classroom. Activities may be planned to simulate real life situations, but they’ll always be activities”

So, this is where YOU come in.  We all have amazing experiences of failures and successes and I’d like you to share a story or an approach that helped motivate your students to speak more L2 in the classroom.

Gimme yer best!

…and I promise I’ll share mine after the

comments thread starts lookin’ pretty.


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  • http://twitter.com/pterolaur Laura Phelps

    Three (possibly very obvious…) ideas came to mind:

    1. Multilingual classes wherever possible! Even when there’s only one student with a different language in your classroom, you can remind the others it’s not polite to use their L1 when X doesn’t speak it :)

    2. Start with chunks of language that students use in their L1 every day. This is easy for beginners but less so for advanced! – but maybe higher-level students could examine their own daily L1 use as a kind of mini-project? Once they know a common, (relatively) fixed expression in L2, they’ll be reminded of it every time they say it in L1 and eventually – maybe :) – start saying it in L2 just for fun. I know I started doing this with my partner / friends when I moved to new countries and started to pick up bits of language, even though there were no native speakers around to hear!

    3. Where the strongest (or even, dare I say it, most popular) students lead, the others will follow. So maybe speak to one-to-one with a couple of students in your class, praise their language skills and explain how they can act as a model for their classmates by using as much L2 as possible during lessons.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    From @tefl101 :  http://www.teflideas.com/2011/09/02/learning-stand-feet/

  • http://theotherthingsmatter.blogspot.jp/ @Kevchanwow

    Hi Brad,
    Wish I had a great idea to post here, but I don’t.  My students will often use L1 in the classroom, even when engaged in conversations that they can easily handle in English.  I’ve found that if I can find a way to get students/learners to use English outside of class (during break time, during lunch, after school), then it increases the amount of time they use English in the classroom.  For example, I have all my students carrying around vocab or phrase cards all the time, and they have to quiz each other during break times.  I find that after a group of students engages in a round of vocab quizzes outside of class, they are much more likely to use English incidentally during the next class.  So maybe the real trick is setting up tasks/activities which ensure students use English just before class starts, kind of priming them to use English as the language of communication incidentally during class.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Thanks Sandy!

    I’ve tried some of these positive, negative reinforcements.  I find that they do work well with smaller groups.  How big were your typical groups with the beans?The issue is developing a game-like, fun aspect to it, which you seem to have done well.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Merci Laura!

    I’ll agree 100% with the multilingual classes, but not always a possibility, and even then you get a fair amount of grouping where all the Russian students are in one corner, and the French in another.  I do get them up and moving around in this case.  In the end, I think a lot of it has to do with our soft skills too; how we’re encouraging them and keeping a positive exchange flowing as opposed to any kind of “policing” which always seems to short circuit our own efforts.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Hey Kevin.  Thanks for the comment!

    I always approached this discussion with my Chinese students in talking about “habits” and trying to figure out a way to get them to adopt a new habit of thinking and speaking English with their classmates.  The logic is there, but they’re often pretty self-conscious when it comes to speaking to each other.  I always found that role-playing and gamifying tended to help, and agree that if you can develop a bit more one-on-one English interactions outside of class that they’re more likely to keep that ball rolling in class.

  • Sandy Millin

    Both groups had 8-12 students, depending on how many decided to show up!

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    I love 8 or 16 as far as numbers, but small is always good if you can get the energy flowing right.  NICE.

  • http://hoprea.wordpress.com/ Henrick Oprea

    Hi Brad,

    Excellent question indeed! I guess that pretty much all teachers in the world have been in the shoes of this friend of yours. Having to beg for English only in the classroom is something any teacher has already done – however soft their tone for begging was.

    Incidentally, my last post was exactly about one activity in which I asked learners to use their L1 to encourage L2 use. The tricky part, I guess, it making sure there’s communicative need for the activities we design, and our own attitude towards speaking English only in the classroom.

    The word MOTIVATION in itself is quite as strong one, as even though there are some extrinsic factors we can play with to try and motivate our students, motivation is, by nature, intrinsic. To be honest, last time I mentioned the words ‘intrinsic motivation’ to a psychologist, she simply told me to stop being redundant. :)

    What I try doing is pretending I don’t understand what they say when I’m sure they are able to say it in English, or, if it’s more of an informal chat outside the classroom, I tend to simply speak English only. It usually works – I guess they feel like speaking English after the third or fourth reply in English. This has proven effective on most occasions.

    Oh, and thanks for the mention of the post. How about changing the order of adjectives? A fine exploration on the subject and a brilliant exchange of comments? :)

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Of course, Henrick, you know that brilliant means “shining” in french… and all of your posts give off light.  Now heading off to catch the most recent!   (so in response, how bout we say brilliant, brilliant)  ;-)

    I love the pretending idea… makes it even playful on some level— soft skills required!  I’ve definitely done this before but never really consider it in the bag of tricks.

    Merci bud!

  • http://twitter.com/AlexandraGuzik Alexandra Guzik

    Really great points from  Sandy, Laura, Kevin and Henrick!

    I’ve never tried the time game, but I’ve done a couple of beans things in different ways (giving and taking beans during the lesson or at the end of the lesson, beans for individuals, groups or the whole class), which worked at first, but then English was lost. Children were pleading for a bead, saying ‘You told me ‘Well done!’ twice, can I get my bead now?’ or ‘If I tell this in English will I get a bead?’ Beads became more important.Secondly, they are usually the most industrious and ambitious students who get more beans and they are not willing to leave the classroom first, and vice versa with the students who get less beans. They are likely to keep quiet the whole lesson having their 5 beans and eager to leave quickly.

    I also noticed that it’s laziness that prevents some students from using L2. I always use Henrick’s trick – pretend not to understand what the child is saying, which works with most of students, talking only to teacher though.
    As for peer to peer communication – that’s an open question to me. It’s a crucial point in lessons. Is it possible to develop an English habit, when Students see their groupmates and when they enter the classroom? Does it sound like a rhetorical question?

    I usually switch on a film or a cartoon at breaks, so that students’ ears are tuned up. From time to time we play interpreters. One student pretend to be an English-speaking person, another one speaks only L1 and the third works as an interpreter. Don’t know why, but I don’t use it a lot.
    I also have a dream of my students having pen friends. Will it encourage them using English more?

    I love the ideas mentioned above. Will definitely try some. Thank you everyone for the ideas!
    Thank you so much for the post, Brad!


  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Glad to have you weigh in, Alex. So many possibilities to play with and so much depends on the environment, so it’s always great to hear how others have tried to encourage L2. Best of luck! -b

  • Julio Palma

    Hello Brad,
    I have always had the same question. How bad it is to use L1 in my classroom? I have always wondered why some English teachers believe it is such a bad thing to use L1 as a way to explain L2 issues? I really would love to hear their sayings after they take a couple of Urdu language lessons with everything explained in urdu as well. Why is it there is an “establised premise” that English language is cognitively “easier”?  L1 is just another teaching tool we could use to make significant progress.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jpatrickreed Josh


    I’m not sure there is an established premise about English being cognitively easier. I think it goes back to what Brad said earlier about habits. It’s about getting students to develop the habit of speaking in English. Especially once they’ve reached a certain proficiency, they need to start developing the habit of thinking and speaking in the L2. Based on my observations as a teacher and a learner, I think students need a nudge to get them to transition away from mental translation and develop some automaticity in the L2.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/jpatrickreed Josh

    One thing I do in my low-intermediate multilingual EAP classes is on the first day of class, I have everyone stand up and go outside of the classroom. I explain the English rule for our class and give them rationale: They’re advanced enough to use English to learn English and they’re ready to start developing the habit of thinking in English rather than translating from/to their L1. Then, still outside the classroom, we teach each other phrases in L1 like “Buenos dias,” “Como Estas,” etc. Then we step inside the classroom and I remind them that inside we say “Good morning,” “How are you,” etc. Then we step outside and we use L1. Then back inside for more practice with L2. I may repeat this for the first two or three days of school.

    This works on two levels. The first is that it starts to train them to remember that once they walk through the door, we all speak the L2. The second is that “Good morning” (or afternoon or evening) becomes a cue that reminds them to speak English. So I never have to say “Please speak English,” I just say “Good morning,” and the student grins sheepishly and says “Good Morning.” This doesn’t solve the L1 issue, but saying “Good morning,” is so much more pleasant than repeatedly asking for English. I do try to strategically use L1 in the classroom when appropriate, but I really try to reinforce the habit of defaulting to the L2 inside the classroom.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Well-said, Josh.  Thanks.
    I think Julio’s point is a valid one, and one I hear often.  Using L1 can be great for describing subtleties with a monolingual class, also it can be a way of breaking the ice in some situations, and of course has many other uses already cited by others as well.

    For me, I do think there’s a moment we should encourage our students to jump out of the L1 nest and fly our their own, however, it can be an akward situation with other L1 speakers. 

    In the end, teachers are scientists, encouraging, pushing, pulling, observing and then analyzing what kind of learning we can bring about (and of course let happen with very little of our presence too).

    Cheers 4 the comment.  -Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    …and thanks for your thoughts, Julio!  Kind of you to stop by the blog and share.  Cheers, Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson


    The in and outside of classroom approach was one I played with while in China (monolingual big groups of shy university students).  I even used a famous Chinese expression “teachers can show you the door, but you must walk through”.  

    On the first day I’d do a whole skit of saying that there was a magical door, and that when you walked outside (I would), everyone spoke Chinese because it was China (and I would start spitting out a slurry of silly sentences in Mandarin).  Then, I would admire the door again and come back in and start speaking English, saying we were teleported towards my country where everyone spoke English (mild generalization of course).

    It worked well in some groups: typically smaller and with students who already had a higher level, or with one or two students that really had a great level and drew the class in that direction, though I wouldn’t say it pushed us all in time L2 all the time.  

    To be honest, I do think it’s about habits, and I do think that if we try to encourage L2 habits at the start of class, especially with lil’ tricks like this, it can help, though it just all depends on the group at hand.  Either way, nice to hear that I’m not the only one making use of the in and outside classroom idea ;-)   Cheers, Brad

  • Heath

    In an efl environment where learners all share the same L1, even with high level learners, it’s almost impossible to stop them using their L1. Using their L1 is not all bad, in fact, it can be employed as a useful scaffolding tool for their L2 development. Peer revision, where pairs use their L1 to revise a piece of L2 writing by one of the pair members, has been shown to produce a peer-peer ZPD that can benefit both participants.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Good points, Heath! Thanks for stopping by, and I’d love to hear more about the peer-peer ZPD study if you have a link/journal that it was in. Cheers, Brad

  • http://www.scoop.it/t/multilingues/p/2367985243/what-s-the-trick-for-motivating-more-l2-in-our-elt-classrooms What’s the "trick" for motivating more L2 in our #ELT classrooms? | Multilingues | Scoop.it

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  • Anonymous

    I think this boils down to the teacher. I am a firm teacher and from day 1 my classes know who is the boss. I always have an English Only policy and it works fine. Other teachers in the school with the same class struggle. (English Only: http://tinyurl.com/csgl42a)

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Interesting. I’ve tried that kind of approach before and it didn’t work well in bigger groups when they all shared the same language… well, it worked alright for some of the students, but not for all.

    Thanks for the link. Checking it out now!