Language Use in the Foreign Language Classroom

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  • Language Use in the ForeignLanguage ClassroomGregory L. ThompsonBrigham Young University

    Katie HarrisonUniversity of Central Florida

    Abstract: Students first and target language are often used by both teachers andstudents during instruction in the foreign language classroom (Levine, 2011). In thisstudy, the frequency of and reasons for students and teachers use of English or Spanishwere analyzed using video recordings of 40 class sessions taught by eight randomlyselected Spanish 102 teachers and by eight randomly selected Spanish 202 teachers. All ofthe videos were transcribed, and a word count was made to determine the overall use ofSpanish and English by the students and teachers. The relationship between the numberof codeswitches by teachers and students and the overall use of Spanish and English inthe classroom were analyzed. Finally, the codeswitches between languages were cate-gorized and counted to determine if students or teachers initiated the switch and underwhat circumstances, as well as the influence of codeswitching on the interlocutorssubsequent language choice. The results indicate that teacherinitiated codeswitches hadthe most influence on students subsequent language choice and that teachers codeswitched more often, even though students used a higher overall percentage of the firstlanguage. In addition, there was a strong positive relationship between the number ofcodeswitches and the overall use of Spanish and English during instruction.

    Key words: Spanish, codeswitching, first language, language use, target language

    IntroductionStudents first and target language are often used by both teachers and studentsduring instruction in the foreign language classroom (Levine, 2011). Changes fromone language to another, called codeswitching, have been defined in a variety ofways. Timm (1993) defined codeswitching as the alternating of two differentlanguages at the word, phrase, clause, or sentence level (p. 94). Coste (1997) definedcodeswitching as alternating between two languages in either oral or writtenexpression. Often, the expression is used interchangeably with terms such as codemixing, language switching, or language alternation, although each term has a slightly

    Gregory L. Thompson (PhD, University of Arizona) is an Assistant Professor ofSpanish Pedagogy at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.Katie Harrison (BS, University of Central Florida) is a freelance editor forCreateSpace.Foreign Language Annals, Vol. 47, Iss. 2, pp. 321337. 2014 by American Council on the Teaching of ForeignLanguages.DOI: 10.1111/flan.12079

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  • different meaning depending on the re-searcher. Codeswitching research hastended to look at more advanced bilinguals,while less consideration has been given tocodeswitching in the foreign languageclassroom and especially these interactionsbetween students and teachers.

    Research to date has not consideredhow the initiator of the codeswitches mayinfluence other interlocutors and how thetype and quantity of codeswitching in aclassroom may affect overall language use.In addition, studies have failed to considerthe impact of the students codeswitchingon the teachers language choices. In thisstudy, researchers examined the overalluse of Spanish and English in the classroomby both the students and the teachers. Inorder to better understand the influence ofcodeswitching on overall language use, thenumber of codeswitches by teachers andstudents were examined, focusing on theinitiator of the codeswitch and subsequentlanguage use. In addition, teacher and stu-dent codeswitching behaviors, includingthe point of initiation of each codeswitch,the context surrounding it, subsequent lan-guage choices, and how the class level andthe frequency of codeswitches affected theoverall use of Spanish and English in theclassroom, were also studied to better un-derstand first and target language use in theclassroom. Too often research has lookedonly at student or teacher use and failed toconnect the linguistic behaviors between thetwo groups within the language classroomto fully understand the language choicesthat are made and how choice of languagemay be influenced, which can thus lead to abetter understanding of the dynamic of lan-guage use in the foreign language classroomas well as the factors that impact languageuse by both students and teachers.

    Literature ReviewRecommendations for Language Usein the ClassroomIn 2010, ACTFL recommended thatlanguage educators and their students use

    the target language as exclusively as possible(90% plus) at all levels of instruction duringinstructional time and, when feasible,beyond the classroom (ACTFL, 2010,p. 1). This recommendation is supportedby an established body of research aboutthe effectiveness of exclusive, or almostexclusive, use of the target language in sup-porting students progress toward proficien-cy in a second language. Several studies(Carroll, 1975; Turnbull & Arnett, 2002;Wolf, 1977) reported positive correlationsbetween the teachers use of the targetlanguage and students acquisition of thelanguage, thus substantiating the effective-ness of a teaching style in which use of thefirst language is actively avoided.

    In addition, some researchers have em-phasized the importance of the quality ofthe language being used with students(Guthrie, 1984; Hall & Walsh, 2002). Forexample, using the target language for rotetranslations and mechanical pronunciationpractice will likely inspire less progress to-ward proficiency than engaging students inmore interactive exercises and negotiation ofmeaning. This is, in fact, what Guthrie(1984) discovered: In her study of graduatestudentteachers of French, she found that,although the studentteachers used the tar-get languagemost of the time, they tended touse routine phrases and instructions thatwere very repetitive and limited in range;that learners were required to cognitivelyprocess very small amounts of novel lan-guage that was outside of their daily class-room routine; and that learners were able,with very limited knowledge of the targetlanguage, to understand the activities in theclassroom due to their undeviating patterns.Becausemost of the classes exposed studentsto mainly mechanical types of utterancesandmemorized phrases, Guthrie questionedwhether students engaged in processingFrench at all (p. 189).

    Finally, while research supports theneed for comprehensible input in a commu-nicative setting (Krashen, 1982; VanPatten& Lee, 2003), other studies have found thatsimple exposure to the language is not

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  • enough: Students need to have comprehen-sible input as well as to be pushed to producethe target language. Swain (1993), for exam-ple, stated, Learners need to be pushed tomake use of their resources; they need tohave their linguistic abilities stretchedto their fullest; they need to reflect on theiroutput and consider ways of modifying it toenhance comprehensibility, appropriate-ness, and accuracy (pp. 160161). Theargument, then, is that students do not dem-onstrate greater productive competence, notbecause their comprehensible input is limit-ed but because their comprehensible outputis limited.

    First Language UseTo better understand teachers and studentsuse of English in the foreign language class-room, a number of researchers developedcategories to analyze when and for whatpurposes each language was used (Ahlberg& Bogunic, 2011; Brice, 2001; Greggio &Gil, 2007; Polio & Duff, 1994; RolinIanziti& Varshney, 2008). Categories have includ-ed translation (developing and expandingvocabulary), as a timesaving measure(giving directions, answering questions, ex-plaining grammar, and classroom manage-ment), and to build rapport (establishing arelationship with students and maintaininga flexible environment).

    Martin (1999) found that the teacher inhis study codeswitched to encourage andelicit pupil participation and to clarify themeaning of certain sections of text (pp. 5152). Merritt (1992) further found the use ofcodeswitching [to be] an attentionfocus-ing device with which the teachers wereable to draw the students attention to cer-tain important aspects of language learningor to redirect the attention of the languagelearners from one task to a new topic(p. 117). stnel and Seedhouse (2005)noticed that teachers in their study didindeed codeswitch to give feedback to stu-dents and to deal with questions regardingclassroom discipline. In addition, severalpsychological, sociological, and environ-

    mental variables affect whether or not ateacher will use the first language: Factorsthat often accounted for the differences infirst language use in previous research in-cluded class level, teachers native language,pedagogical training, previous experienceteaching and learning, subject of lesson,and language and pedagogical beliefs (Duff& Polio, 1990; Hobbs, Matsuo, & Payne,2010). In spite of the many reasons thatsome researchers have offered supportingthe use of the first language in the classroom,Turnbull (2001) stated, I fear that licensingteachers to speak the L1 in their SL [secondlanguage] or FL classes will lead to an over-use of the L1 by many teachers (p. 536) andcited studies showing that, even when poli-cies were in place limiting the amount of firstlanguage that teachers were allowed to use,they consistently used the first languagemore frequently than policies allowed. PolioandDuff (1994) suggested that the use of thefirst language by the teacher, when there is alack of student comprehension, suggeststhat teachers may lack the necessary experi-ence or strategies to rephrase or otherwisemodify their speech (p. 323) and warnedagainst the pervasive tendency in classroomswhere English is the first language forEnglish to be the vehicle of meaningfulcommunicationand supplementary meta-linguistic informatio