written by Thomas Simon
A book on 'Using the Mother
tongue'! But haven't we always been told that we should
try to get meaning across in English & only in English,
that we would create bad habits if we started using
it & anyway, contrasting English & another language
as a way to teach English has been discredited. This
is all a bit unnerving - I feel a paradigm shift coming
on. I need to go away & cut something up!
So what do the authors
say about it:
Anderson has a story in which an emperor is tricked
by some tailors into solemnly walking through
the capital with no clothes on. Because of his
status, the townspeople persuade themselves to
think he is wearing sumptuous robes. One child,
however, shouts out:
WHY HAS THE EMPEROR GOT NO CLOTHES ON?
book shouts out:
THE STUDENTS HAVE A MOTHER TONGUE?
over the past forty years in the US, UK and Europe
has been that the use of mother tongue should
be excluded from the foreign language classroom.
Our contention is,
on the contrary, that mother tongue (MT), is indeed
the mother of the second, third and fourth languages.
It is from this womb that the new languages are
born in the student's mind, so to exclude MT from
the English classroom is like trying to wean a
baby on day one of their life.
What we propose
is that teachers use the students' mother tongue
in clearly-defined circumstances and in the carefully
crafted activities that make up the main body
of this book.
The overriding aim
of the book is that your students should willingly
come to reduce their dependence on MT. Paradoxically,
this will come about earlier in their learning
process than would be the case if MT were all
'banned' from the classroom.
The judicious use
of MT in the classroom benefits everyone.
A book about using the
MT in class is long overdue. Ideas have been creeping
in through other teacher ideas books & it is time
to recognise that MT use is a natural tool for language
learners. To the frustration of the learners, we've
been pushing MT use in the classroom under the whiteboard
for far too long & it is time for it to be recognised.
So, having agreed with
the premise behind the book ...
There are two main sections;
Part A: Classroom Management & Part B: Living Language.
Each is sub-divided.
The Classroom Management
section divides the 16 activities into four sections
- Advocating & avoiding mother tongue, Starting
new groups & Getting on-going feedback. These sections
look at 'ways that MT can be used to create a safe &
cooperative working environment'.
The Living Language
section contains a massive 99 activities spread
among the following sections; Grammar, Vocabulary, Skills
- input, Skills - output & Using translation.
Each activity comes with
a key at the beginning that gives information about
the level of MT knowledge needed by the teacher, whether
it is for a monolingual or multilingual class, the level
of the students & the aims of the activity. The
procedures are clearly numbered. On a cosmetic level,
I'm not too keen on the general layout & cover -
the same in the series of 'Professional Perspectives'
books - it tends to look slightly dated, maybe the result
of the cost-conscious small publisher in an expensive
market dominated by few.
The activities are wide-ranging;
from awareness of MT use to learner training , to language
& to skills development. They are imaginative, well
thought out & clearly they are tried & tested.
A few that caught my eye:
'Mother tongue alarm
bells' provides techniques to put MT in a specific space
in the class. When the students want to use the MT,
they have to abide by certain classroom rules; to stand
somewhere, to hold something, to preface what they say
with something - in order to then use the MT.
Some of the activities
link to ingrained MT expressions & bring them to
life in English. The activity ' How do your parents
sound in English?' asks students to translate those
well-worn expressions that your parents used to say
such as 'Greens are good for you' & 'Tuck yourself
The Grammar section offers
contrastive activities such as the 'Student-generated
multiple choice' activity which gives 'as' & 'like'
as an example. The students are asked to write four
translations, three acceptable & one incorrect,
for a series of sentences. They then exchange &
do each others multiple choice tasks. The Vocabulary
section also contrasts MT & English with collocations
& specific words & lexical sets.
In the excerpt above the
authors say that the MT should be used with 'clearly-defined
circumstances and in the carefully crafted activities'.
True enough. There is a tendency for teachers starting
out to use the mother tongue as they do not know of
any other ways to do the same thing. It is also seen
as an easy way out, which more often than not can be
an inaccurate way, & teachers can fall into the
trap of using the MT more than is healthy for both the
students & the teacher.
A principled approach
to MT use in the classroom is needed & this is where
initial training courses can help out. Traditionally
we have told trainees that they need to develop essential
teaching skills & wait a while until their teaching
& awareness has developed to a degree that they
are able to use the mother tongue in a principled way.
Slightly patronising you might say but there is some
truth to it. If training courses had a session on MT
use & showed which activities from this book could
work for them, & what to be wary of, then trainees
would be even more equipped to really deal with their
students' needs & wants. Needless to say, for the
more experienced teacher there is more than enough to
dive into. A solid buy that provides a host of interesting
& relevant activities.
Another taboo hits the
dust. Right, what's next?