La Rivista per l'insegnamento e l'apprendimento delle lingue

Discussion about van de Craats’ article

The role of the mother tongue in second language learning

Gé Stoks

The discussion took place at Babylonia’s office at Cantone Ticino. Participants were Decio Augugliaro and Raphael Stoll, both teachers of English at a liceo in Lugano. They both have several years of experience teaching English and completed the abilitazione for the liceo at the teacher-training institute in Locarno last year.

We started the discussion with the question what kinds of errors students make. Both teachers agreed that, although interference errors are easily identifiable in learners with Italian as their mother tongue, more advanced learners seem to make more intralinguistic errors. The teachers also agreed that a lot of exposure the target language, which is not as prevalent in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland as in many other parts of Europe, is more profitable than a lot of explicit grammar teaching. Making mistakes is for both of them a natural element in the learning process, even though this may give rise to practical problems when it comes to marking tests. They both encourage students to use compensation strategies.
Awareness raising or noticing is a key element in language teaching and students must be made aware of differences between the target language and their mother tongue. In that sense, they agreed with the argument in the article for contrasting the target and the first language, for instance when it comes to the use of the article. However, after the session, Raphael Stoll wrote that he made the following observation:
My observation is the following: I pointed out to them that “I’ll take that bag for you” is an offer and would therefore be translated into Italian as: “Vuole che porti questa valigia per lei?” and not the more intrusive “Io porto quella valigia per lei.” My students’ reactions to this type of clarification were very bland, not to say non-existent. They did not seem surprised or interested in that. Whereas when we talk about chunks like:
It takes two hours/ time... but also it takes courage... seemed to interest them much more.
So far it seems that differences between L1 and L2 tend to be a non-issue to them.
A problem is sometimes that students have to get used to a different approach, in which they are asked to form hypotheses about rules, because they feel it is the role of the teacher to explain rules and then for the students to practise them. Both teachers felt that the article presented an interesting survey of the various approaches and agreed with the tenets on the role of the first language. But as one of them concluded at the end of the meeting: “We should try and find a balance and try to avoid extremes, to keep experimenting even if it means reinventing the wheel”.

Ti interessa il testo completo dell’articolo? / Le texte complet de l’article vous intéresse? / Sind Sie am vollständigen Artikeltext interessiert? / If you are interested in the entire article