Language Education Policy Studies
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L1 Use as LEP in the Foreign Language Classroom

In many US foreign language classrooms, target-language-only policies extend from posters on a wall to student activities in textbooks, assignments, and assessments. The inclusion of such policies in a language classroom align with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) position statement on target language use in the classroom, wherein teachers should use the target language as exclusively as possible, with a recommendation of at least 90% of the time. The implications of this use on student output include “negotiat(ing) meaning with students and encourag(ing) negotiation among students, elicit(ing) talk that increases in fluency, accuracy, and complexity over time, encourag(ing) self-expression and spontaneous use of language, teach(ing) students strategies for requesting clarification and assistance when faced with comprehension difficulties, and offer(ing) feedback to assist and improve students’ ability to interact orally in the target language.” In spite of the benefits that near-exclusive target language use can have on language acquisition and proficiency advancement, the policing of a student’s first language (L1) may also have negative effects.

Avoidance of the L1 can create false assessments from students on their own language competence, as survey results reported that students felt their vocabulary and grammar translations were incorrect without confirmation from their L1. Additionally, the prohibition of the L1 can cause learners’ affective filters to be high, thus making them uncomfortable and reducing the likelihood of verbal participation in class (Varshney et al., 2006, p. 78). Pan & Pan (2010) write that ‘thinking in the L1’ is the only way for novice learners to produce work that is creative and that exhibits depth and elaboration (p. 89). Yet another study by Storch & Wigglesworth (2003) comments on this policing affecting teacher decisions, as they suggest that teachers may actually shy away from group work in the classroom out of fear that students will ‘revert’ to L1 use.

As facilitating the acquisition of a language is also not possible without input, and it is nearly impossible to assess language proficiency in speaking or writing without output, some scholars have suggested that a compromise between L1 prohibition and exclusive L2 promotion may be the acceptance and nurturing of code-switching. Levine (2014) argues that a learner’s L1 is just as valuable a tool for learning a language as the teacher or materials, especially when it comes to understanding the grammatical idiosyncrasies of the L2 and what they can reveal about history or culture. Furthermore, according to Lehti-Eklund (2013), code-switching is valuable in collaborative work in that it allows learners to discuss content in the L2 but solve ‘problems’ of the content in the shared L1. Such studies suggest that foreign language teachers should be aware of how their classroom policies regarding L1 use may affect their students on a variety of aspects.



Lehti-Eklund, H. (2013). Code-switching to first language in repair – A resource for students’ problem solving in a foreign language classroom. International Journal Of Bilingualism, 17(2), 132-152. doi:10.1177/1367006912441416


Levine, G. S. (2011). Code choice in the language classroom. Retrieved from


Pan, Y., & Pan, Y. (2010). The Use of L1 in the Foreign Language Classroom. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, 12(2), 87-96. doi:


Storch, Neomy, & Wigglesworth, Gillian. (2003). Is There a Role for the Use of L1 in an L2 Setting? TESOL Quarterly, 37(4), 760-68.


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Ahonen, K. (2018). L1 Use as LEP in the Foreign Language Classroom. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved at: (insert link)