Published 26th March 2019

speak English

Considering that they spend their time and money to be in our classrooms to learn English, you would think our students would want to allocate much of  their time to speak English. But when you’re actually in the classroom you might be surprised by how often you hear your students speak their home language.

Don’t they know that’s defeating the purpose of the lessons?

We’re pretty sure they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to stop!

Why do students speak their first language in the EFL classroom?

The most obvious reason should be that it’s easy. Speaking English is not always easy so if your students have something they really want to say, they might revert to their first language to make sure they get their point across.

Similarly, they might not have the language to say what they want to say in English, but they do in their own language.

Or, they might just want to chat to their friend sitting next to them, who they naturally speak their first language to.

What can we do when our students don’t want to speak English in class?

You can be a very traditional, strict teacher who has a blanket rule of no first language in the classroom, but this is difficult to enforce and often has the adverse effect. We don’t want to put the first language in a negative light. Indeed, there are benefits to using translation in the EFL classroom.

Instead, we can use carrots rather than sticks.

For Young Learners, you can offer points or rewards when your students have been speaking a lot in English. For older students, you can discuss the benefits of speaking in English during class and point out the linguistic benefits of immersion.

We can offer vouchers for speaking their first language. These can simply be pieces of paper which are given to each student at the beginning of the week. They are allowed to speak their first language the same number of times they have vouchers. This will allow them the opportunities to speak in their own language but it will make sure they think carefully before they do!

We can plan activities that rely on communication in English. If students need to use English to complete a task they will inadvertently be forced to speak English.

Finally, we can lead by example. If it is known that you can speak the same language as your students, feign ignorance during class so they are forced to speak to you in English. Even better would be to not let your students know that you speak their language so they really think they can only communicate with you in English.

Above all, though, don’t make it a big deal. By pointing a spotlight on the issue, you may just make matters worse. Rather try and encourage your students to speak English of their own free will, and not out of fear of punishment.