Eve Ross - Beijing Institute of Machinery, China
I constantly struggle to get students to use English rather than Chinese.
Some use of L1 helps with understanding, but in my opinion, there should be almost no need to use the L1 in class after the first year or so of L2 learning. The three exceptions I would make to that rule are:
1) grammar is such a complex beast that it's often best explained in the mother tongue.
2) occasionally an L1 "word is worth 1000 pictures". When trying to explain a new word, *after* giving as many L2 verbal definitions, synonyms, and visual examples as possible, if students still don't understand, *then* it's okay to give the L1 equivalent of the word.
3) if a focus of the English course is translation or interpretation, then L1 obviously must be used.
Use of L2 in class is especially important in an EFL context, such as here in China, where it is nearly impossible to get students to speak English among themselves (or with anyone else) outside of class. So, if the students are going to practice their oral English, it will probably only happen if the teacher encourages speaking English in class.
One idea that I got from another teacher is to assign some students to monitor the others. If anyone speaks in the L1 during oral group work, the monitor-students give that group a slip of paper, which means reduced participation points at the end of the class period. When I use this method, I find the students all speak only English, so those assigned to be monitors actually get bored, because they have no one to give the slips of paper to! However, this activity proved to my intermediate and advanced students that they can speak only in English, that L1 use for them is just because of laziness at this point.