Published 30th March 2016

It’s a well-known fact that you don’t need to be able to speak Thai to teach English in Thailand or Spanish to be able to teach in Spain; in other words you don’t need to be able to speak the local language to be able to teach English as a foreign language. Many people believe that it is actually beneficial not to speak the local language in the classroom, while others firmly believe that it can be used as a teaching tool.

However, teachers speaking the language or not is one thing, but what do you do when your students insist on speaking their first language in the classroom?

First of all, analyse the situation. There are times when using translation can be an effective learning strategy. If it is the case that the students are utilising their language to communicate meaning or clear up confusion, then let them get on with it and ask clarification questions to make sure they came to the correct conclusion. This can actually save quite a lot of time in the classroom.

If, on the other hand, you are sure your students are simply having a chat with their friends, rather than shutting them down immediately, consider why they are having a conversation. Are they bored because they are not interested in the class or because they have already finished their work? Are they distracted because they have no idea what they are doing? Perhaps then you need to look at the surrounding circumstances and once that has been resolved they will not insist on talking.

If, though, they are chatting just to catch up with their friends, let them know that they can have a chat as long as they are not disturbing others, have finished their work and they do it in English. Your students should not be afraid to speak in class and it is not necessary to always focus on the lesson, but this is the time they should be practising their speaking, when you are on hand to deal with any language issues. An added bonus: they cannot speak about topics they shouldn’t be speaking about if they know you can understand them.

The use of the first language and translation in the TEFL classroom is a thorny issue. There are many arguments for and against it with regards to teachers, but when it comes to students teachers are almost unanimous in condemning it. However, before you automatically throw it out, think about how you could perhaps use it to your advantage.