The Use of L1 Metalanguage in L2 Classrooms: The Case for Arabic

L1, L2, metalanguage, Arabic, discrepancy, beliefs,


June 30, 2021


With the rise of bilingual and multilingual approaches to teaching a second/foreign language, an overwhelming majority of second language acquisition (SLA) researchers have emphasized the important role of the use of mother tongue (L1) in a second language (L2) class and have argued that the use of L2 positively contributes to the cognitive development of students. However, what aspect of L1 should be used in an L2 class have not been specified explicitly.  This study set out to investigate the extent to  which teachers believe in the efficacy of the use of L1 metalanguage and the extent to which they use it in their classes in the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context of Qatar.  The second aim was to assess students’ beliefs regarding the extent to which the use of L1 metalanguage in an L2 class facilitated their learning process.  Most importantly, the study aimed to investigate whether there was a discrepancy between students’ expectations and teachers’ agendas regarding the use of L1 metalanguage in L2 classrooms.  The hypothesis that underpinned this study was that the use of L1 metalanguage to explain structural concepts in L2 contributed to crosslinguistic and metalinguistic awareness.  The study adopted a qualitative approach; two questionnaires were developed, one for students and one for teachers.  The questionnaire consisted of 5-point Likert scale statements and questions.  Twenty-six undergraduate students and eight teachers participated in the study.  The students’ proficiency level in English was elementary.  The teachers were recruited on the basis of their native Arabic language proficiency.  The findings suggested that both teachers and students viewed the use of Arabic in their English classes positively, and that no substantial discrepancy was observed between the students and the teachers over the issue of the use of Arabic in class.  A minor discrepancy was that whereas the teachers were inclined  to use Arabic slightly more for the teaching of grammar than the teaching of vocabulary, the students believed that the use of Arabic for learning vocabulary was more beneficial to their learning than it was for learning grammar.