Using the Mother Tongue
in the English Language Classroom
Zainab Al Balushy
188.8.131.52. College of Education
College of Education, as stated above, is responsible for the training programs of future teachers. The B.Ed program aims to prepare academically and educationally qualified teachers to teach English in the Omani secondary schools. The program enhances practical skills in methods of teaching through microteaching and educational media laboratories. A minimum of 132 hours of study is required, including 78 hours of specialised courses in English language and literature; 36 hours of educational courses and 18 hours of general cultural adaptation. Field placement in secondary schools insures that all the students master practical as well as theoretical skills in teaching English.
184.108.40.206. The training style
During the microteaching program, students are trained to teach the four language skills (listening, reading, writing, and speaking) and try their teaching strategies on their colleagues who act like students. In the teaching program, however, students teach for a period of time in schools getting observation from their peers, the subject teacher and the university supervisor. They are discouraged from using Arabic, which they find difficult to apply and resort to whenever they are not observed.
220.127.116.11. Observations on training
In the training program at the university (microteaching) or during the teaching practise in schools, student teachers are advised not to use Arabic while teaching. Supervisors usually take it as a negative point if they do. According to my own experience as a student teacher, I had been assigned to teach a very weak class. The students couldn't get the idea even after two or three times of explaining. In that case, I believed I could use Arabic, which worked. The supervisor after the lesson told me that I should not have used it and advised me not to repeat it.
1.1.6. The new basic system in Education
The government has set out a new system in education concerning the subjects included in the curriculum, the length of school time, and the amount of exposure to English. At the start of the academic year 1998-1999, the Ministry of Education introduced the new basic education system in two phases: a basic education phase over 10 years, and a secondary education phase for two years. This will gradually replace the existing system specified above. The application started with 17 schools from different regions and the number is hoped to reach 100 schools by the academic year 2000-2001 (Oman 1999).
The aims of the study
The five aims I am planning to achieve from this study are listed below:
• To review the literature on the use of the mother tongue in teaching English as a second / foreign language.
• To investigate how teachers of English from different countries use and view the mother tongue in their teaching.
• To gain an idea about the international policies in different countries regarding the use of the mother tongue in teaching English.
• To relate the discussion of the use of the mother tongue to the situation in the Sultanate of Oman.
• To develop recommendations for teachers and educational authorities in Oman towards the future of teaching English.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
English in the world:
The world has been watching the English language grow and establish a unique position that no other language in the world can achieve. It has achieved a global status by developing a special role that is recognised in every country. This role is obvious in countries where a large number of people speak it as a mother tongue such as Britain, United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and several Caribbean countries. English is also made the official language in over 70 countries such as India, Nigeria, Singapore and many others. In such position, English is used as a medium of communication in many domains like administration, law courts, media and educational systems. It is also considered as a foreign and international language in over 100 countries.
The spread of English is very fast and noticeable in the world. In his book 'The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language' Pennycook (1994: 7) presents Otto Jespessen's (1938/68) estimation of speakers of English. He states that it numbered four million in 1500, six million in 1600, eight and a half million in 1900. The number is in a continuous growth throughout the centuries and within different parts of the world, thus by the year 2000 we expect the number to increase up to 700 million or one billion. Those speakers include the native speakers of English, speakers of English as a second language and speakers of English as a foreign language. There are several reasons for such spread of English. One of these is socio-cultural, which relates to people's dependence on English for their well being including politics, businesses, safety, entertainment, media and education. Thus, English has become the language of communication in the world and then appeared the need to learn English to make this communication easier.
English as a second / foreign language
There are some important contextual differences between English being a second language or a foreign language in a specific country. Crystal (1997) distinguishes between the two affirming that a second language is a language to be made the official language of a country, to be used as a medium of communication in such domains as government, the law courts, the media and the educational system. Getting on in such societies requires the master of the official language as early in life as possible. The second language in this case is seen as a compliment to the person's mother tongue, or 'first language' as Cook (1991: 66) defines it "A language acquired by a person in addition to his mother tongue". In the case of English, it has the official status (second language) in more than 70 countries as mentioned above.
English as a foreign language, in contrast, applies when the language is made a hot recess in a country's foreign-language teaching even though it has no official status. Crystal (1997) comments that it becomes the language which children are most likely to be taught when they arrive in school, and the one most available to adults, who for whatever reasons, never learnt it. Choosing a particular language to be a foreign language in a country depends on reasons such as historical tradition, political expediency and the desire for commercial, cultural or technological contact. "English is now the language most widely taught as a foreign language -in over 100 countries such as China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Egypt and Brazil- and in most of these countries it is emerging as the chief foreign language to be encountered in schools" (Crystal 1997: 4). The Sultanate of Oman is also one of the countries considering English a foreign language, as discussed in chapter (1).
When we come to the conditions for teaching / learning English either as a second or a foreign language, some differences appear accordingly. Ringbom (1987) distinguishes between second language and foreign language learning. He argues that in a second language acquisition context, the language is spoken in the immediate environment of the learner who has good opportunities to use the language for participation in natural communication situations.
In a foreign language situation, however, the language is not spoken in the immediate environment of the learner, although mass media may provide opportunities for practising the receptive skills. Unlike the second language condition, there is little or no chance for the learner to use the language in natural communication situations in a foreign language setting.
Teaching methods (the role of the mother tongue)
Over the last 20 years, English language teaching methodology has developed very rapidly and has been subject to change and controversies that teachers often find bewildering (Doff 1988). Changes in language teaching methods throughout history have reflected recognition of changes in the kind of proficiency that learners need, such as a move towards oral proficiency rather than reading comprehension as the goal for language study. They have also reflected changes in theories of the nature of language and of language learning.
The role of the mother tongue in these methods and approaches has differed from one approach to the other depending, to some extent, on the nature of the approach, the period of time it exists in and the goals that method or approach aims to achieve. "Almost all approaches have considered knowledge of the mother tongue and its positive or negative transfer among the main principles of ESL teaching and learning", (Kharma and Hajjaj 1989: 223). The following discussion focuses on four of these approaches; the grammar translation method, the direct method, the natural approach and communicative language teaching.
Grammar Translation Method
Grammar translation existed in the era of foreign language teaching from the 1840s to the 1940s, and it is still widely used in some parts of the world today in some modified forms. It has been described as aiming to know everything about something rather than the thing itself. Hence, the focus was on teaching the elements of the Latin language in that era. There are some characteristics the grammar translation method was based on included in the following points, (Richards and Rodgers 1986: 3):
• The goal of foreign language study is to learn a language in order to read its literature. It is a way of studying a language where the way of approaching that language is first through detailed analysis of its grammar rules, followed by application of this knowledge to the task of translating sentences and texts into and out of the target language. Thus, the first language is maintained as the reference system in the acquisition of the second language.
• Vocabulary teaching is based on the selection of texts and words are taught through bilingual word lists, dictionary study and memorization.
• Much of the lesson is devoted to translating sentences into and out of the target language.
• Accuracy is emphasised in respect of students' attainment of high standards in translation.
• Grammar is taught deductively and later practise of grammar rules is dealt with using translation techniques.
• The students' native language is the medium of instruction. In this sense, it is used to explain new terms and to enable comparisons to be made between the foreign language and the students' native language.
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