L1 use in communicative tasks: The case of Spanish young EFL learners

AILA Europe - 7 Junior Researchers Meeting
Winterthur (Suiza)

A growing body of research shows that learners, when engaged in pair or group-work, make a limited and balanced use of their L1. The L1 serves a number of functions (e.g. organizational purposes or vocabulary searches) that facilitate task completion and language acquisition (Storch & Aldosari, 2010). Still, one of the main concerns practitioners have is that learners may resort to their L1 instead of using the target language (TL). This has been reported particularly so in communicative tasks and with adult low proficiency learners in foreign language classrooms (Alegría de la Colina & García Mayo, 2009). Nevertheless, comparatively little research has been conducted with young EFL learners, a surprising fact considering the increasing number of foreign language programs for children (Enever, 2011). The goal of this study is to fill this research gap by analysing the use 28 young EFL learners (aged 11) make of their L1 while performing a communicative interactive task (picture placement) three times over a three-week period (T1, T2 and T3). Results show how learners interact in English and resolve the task with little use of their L1. The participants mainly resorted to the L1 to express unknown vocabulary, although it was also occasionally used to move the task along, and as discourse markers. When analysing the effect of repetition, a clear decrease from the first task to the last is observed. Interestingly enough, all the L1 uses decreased from task 1 to task 3, except for the use of discourse markers, which undergo a non-significant increase across tasks. Concurring with previous studies, our participants used their L1 scarcely. Moreover, L1 use decreases across task repetition. In light of these results, we argue in favour of the use of task repetition as a way to promote oral production and to enhance language acquisition. Our participants’ use of the L1 helped them to complete the task, and, as they became familiar with it, L1 use decreased. Hence, it seems reasonable to integrate this type of repetition in the daily practice of the language classroom.