Investigating the Effects of AFL Learners’ Use ofL1 in the L2 Learning Process

By Hala Yehia Abd El-Wahab
Submitted to Session P2732 (Less Commonly Addressed AFL Issues: Insights and Recommendations, 2011 Annual Meeting
Language Acquisition;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Investigating the Effects of AFL Learners’ Use ofL1 in the L2 Learning Process

The role of L1 in the L2 learning process is a controversial issue. It directly brings to mind the theory of transfer, which is traditionally defined as “the resultant state stemming from learners’ falling back on old knowledge, or L1 rules, when new knowledge is not yet sufficiently developed” (Krashen 1983). However, a broader and more recent definition of transfer is the ability to learn new skills by drawing on previously acquired resources(Genesee,Lindhoim-Leary,Saunders, & Christian, 2006).In other words, the focus has shifted from analyzing whether L1 influence is positive, negative, or neutral to identifying the resources available to learners throughout the L2 learning process (Zhang and Koda, 2008). Accordingly, investigating the role of L1 in the L2 classroom remains a key issue in second language acquisition research.

The purpose of this study was to investigate, firstly, which language learning activities specifically motivated AFL learners at different proficiency levels to use L1 to facilitate learning and, secondly, the impact of having used L1 in the learning process on their subsequent performance on similar tasks. Subjects were 30 AFL learners enrolled in the Arabic Language Institute of the American University in Cairo. A questionnaire, which elicited responses with regard to use of L1 in both in class and out of class activities, adapted from Prodromou (2002), was administered to the learners. The purpose of the questionnaire was to investigate which activities, e.g., taking notes, generating ideas for writing, brainstorming ideas for speaking, etc., motivated learners to use their L1 in the learning process. Results were analyzed in an attempt to determine the top three activities when learners use L1. Subsequent to this, learners were divided into two groups. Group I were asked to use L1 during the course of performing a similar activity. Group II were asked to use only L2 in performing the same task. Both groups’ performance was compared in an attempt to determine the effect of using L1 in the learning process on their performance on a subsequent similar activity. Results shed light not only on learners’ most frequent use of L1 in the L2 learning process but also on the effect of using L1 on their subsequent performance. The presenter will share resulting teaching suggestions based on the findings, providing insights for when and how to use L1effectively in L2 classes.