Towards an understanding of target language use in the EFL classroom: a report from Norway
Vik Henningsen, Frøydis
PublisherUniversidad de Córdoba, UCOPress
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For a considerable number of years, mother tongue (MT) use has been ostracized in English as a foreign language (EFL) classrooms as a form of poor teaching that negatively affects target language (TL) acquisition (McMillan & Rivers, 2011). However, research on the potential disadvantages of teaching approaches that integrate MT use is inconclusive, as is research on the positive effects of an all-TL learning environment (Hall & Cook, 2012). Thus, EFL teachers who share the same language with their students are often left wondering to what extent and in what contexts they should employ TL and MT. Unlike the curricula of other countries, where policy makers often suggest the maximal use of TL, the Norwegian curriculum for the subject of English does not contain any direct statements prescribing English as the sole language of instruction. The present study investigated the perceptions of Norwegian primary school teachers in different grades regarding their TL use when teaching EFL using an online survey. Specifically, the project addressed the following research questions: (1) How often do teachers use English in the EFL classroom? (2) In what situations and for what purposes do teachers use the TL? (3) Is there a correlation between years of teaching experience and the amount of TL use in the classroom? (4) Do teachers who have college credits in English employ the TL to a larger extent than the teachers who do not? The participants’ self-reports suggest that while the TL is used up to 50% of the time, its use varied from giving instructions and stating objectives to giving praise and criticism. This implies that Norwegian teachers may employ the TL to a lesser extent than the existing literature suggests (Macaro, 2005). However, no correlation was found between the amount of TL used and teachers’ expertise in and experience teaching the TL. To caution against an overdependence on MT, the article concludes by reiterating the need to develop and define systematic practices of MT use that facilitate foreign language acquisition and by calling for future research to shed light on bilingual or multilingual approaches in foreign language teaching.