First language usage in multilingual international school classrooms : a study of teacher beliefs and student attitudes : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Applied Linguistics at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
International schools offer a unique style of education and are comprised of a diverse student body and teaching faculty in terms of both language and culture. Many of these schools have both students and teachers who are bilingual or multilingual. This means that English is the Lingua Franca as the classrooms have students and teachers who do not have English as their first language (L1). In language teaching education there has been a lot of discussion in regards to students using their L1. L1 usage is often viewed as an impediment to gaining English language fluency, although many now view L1 usage more positively than in previous years. In many schools, the place and role of students’ L1 is defined within the school language policy; this may be in keeping with government laws and policies as to how schools need to support language learners.
This thesis explores the beliefs and practices of a small group of teachers towards students using their L1 in the classroom and how these beliefs influence their classroom practice. The data was gathered using a qualitative approach. Additionally, an intervention period provided an opportunity for students to trial L1 strategies to see if they perceived them as effective, while also examining if the strategies had an impact on teachers’ beliefs and practices. The setting for this research was within a range of multilingual classrooms in an International school in Doha, Qatar.
Results indicate that while most teachers are aware that L1 use is beneficial and that there should be some encouragement to allow students to use it, many teachers have a number of concerns regarding students using their L1. The teachers were also unaware of the school’s position on L1 use as they did not know anything about the school’s language policy. The student responses revealed that students not only enjoyed using the L1 strategies during the intervention period, but found them to be beneficial both in terms of their learning and improving their sense of well-being within the classroom. To conclude, this thesis makes a number of recommendations on how to improve students’ class engagement through L1 usage, as well as stressing the importance of all teachers knowing and understanding the language policy of the school in which they are working. Furthermore, the school has a responsibility to ensure that its language policy is reflective of current language teaching pedagogy and that all teachers are adequately trained to work with EAL (English as an Additional Language) students.