L1 vs. L2: where L1 wins

Many say that the learner’s L1 should not be used unless necessary, others say it should never be used, while there are those who use the L1 without really thinking that much about it. I would say that I am in the last category. I use English and Greek. The higher level the learner is, the less I use Greek, but with lower level learners I use Greek to give instructions, feedback, to explain grammar or concepts. I sometimes translate to show the difference between L1/l2. My students do end up speaking English well. They do become proficient and all is good in Joanna’s land. BUT what happens when you do not speak the learner’s L1 and the lesson is online?

You see, giving instructions during face to face lessons where you can point to things and show your learner, even take the learner by the hand and explain something, is easy. You can do it. If the lesson is online though, yes, you can use your camera, paraphrase, use the pointer (mouse), you can even draw, but you cannot do much if the learner still doesn’t get your instructions. Today I was trying to explain a writing tool in my virtual classroom, but my learner did not understand the word “type” and could not understand the term “press the button with the letter ‘T'”, so I got frustrated, my learner got frustrated. If I was in the classroom, I would have just pointed in the book or given an example and typed using these features.

I cannot do that when I teach online. The other thing I cannot do is speak French. I paraphrased, drew, paraphrased more, used the ‘T’ button myself, but nothing.

What did I end up doing? I asked someone to call the learner and explain some of the features and maybe even use French. So, everything is going to be OK, but I wish I could speak French cause in this case I wouldn’t have wasted valuable time explaining something that ended up not being explainable!

So, have any of you had sistuations where you wished you could speak the student’s L1? Let me know in the comments section below.

coffee break

I need coffee

Till next time……



11 thoughts on “L1 vs. L2: where L1 wins

  1. Hi, Joanna,

    First of all, I think it’s perfectly ok to use L1. I teach in a homogenous L1 environment where my students and I share the same L1, so I know what you’re talking about. But as you may know, a Chinese student joined my class last September and the only language we can use to communicate is English. He’s a smart boy and although I occasionally use Czech when talking to the class, he gets most of what’s being said anyway. I’ve noticed that whenever I have to explain something to him directly, I get into a different thinking mode. I mean, this is the time when I can’t get lazy by simply switching into Czech (let’s be honest, it *is* easier) and I have to use all my abilities to get the message across. Sometimes it’s a real challenge. So I can imagine that in an online environment it must be really tough.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Happy December 🙂



    • Hey Hana!!! How are you btw? Thanks for the comment!! I know. Using Greek is much easier than trying to explain everything in English. It is a bit lazy (sometimes). In this case where body langauge/gestures cannot be used and the common L1 was non- existent, it was very time consuming and frustrating!! Still learning how to cope with ‘online’ challenges. Thanks for stopping by xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Joanna, I have been there, this is why I started using my video diagrams. This isn’t really related, but do you want me to build a PowerPoint template of a keyboard? It would be easy to click and highlight the keys you want the students to press.


  3. Hi Joanna,
    That sounds really challenging in an online environment. I think you did your best in a situation that was new to you, so no need to criticize yourself.
    I also teach students who share an L1 (in which I am not proficient). Explaining in Korean would be simpler and faster for lower level learners for sure, but sometimes I just have to make do with the tools I have: examples, gestures, modeling a few times, and correcting as we go along until at least one of them gets it and can explain to the rest. Sometimes it never turns out the way I intended, but that doesn’t mean nothing of value happened (I tell myself).
    Good luck, and don’t be too hard on yourself. 🙂


    • Hey Anne! You know us teachers. We always worry about what happens in class and I usually blame myself for loads of stuff. Online teaching is much hardere than face to face in some cases!! Still learning!!! Thanks for stopping by xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Joanna

    Thank you for your post – and sharing a new challenge (new to me, first of all, as I have never taught a language course online). I did train teachers who shared L1 (which I did not speak) and whose level of English varied (sometimes being A2-ish, which is kind of low for a course for teachers they need to take in English…) We ended up having ‘L1 moments’ when participants worked in small groups and those who are stronger simply translated the input into L1 and listened to the questions the others had, and then translated them for me into English, and then we discussed the answers, etc. Yes, it slowed down the process for the group, but on the other hand, it brought some confidence to the group members. Not sure I would have been able to do the same online though… Thank you for sharing!

    (and hope the days before Christmas are going well!)


  5. Hi there,

    Just catching up on your posts. 🙂 I’m in the first category: no L1 unless necessary, but necessary means different things at A1 and C1, obviously. You know I teach online – but in an asynchronous environment – and over the last couple of semesters I’ve had non-Croatian students. Generally, they’re B1 or above, because that’s a course requirement; however, I’ve had a couple of A2 students. Even though you’re apparently not supposed to be able to apply for an Erasmus grant unless your English is at least B2, I don’t think you’re required to take a test (or at least not everywhere).
    Some of the A2 students dropped out pretty quickly – they said the course was too hard to follow – but last year I had a A2 student who persisted through the semester. It was really tough on both of us. We didn’t have the same L1, and I sometimes had no idea if she understood what I tried to say to her in writing. I had no clue where to start with correction / feedback. I would say something and she would do something entirely different. It was exhausting; I spent more time on that one student than almost all of the others combined. In the end, she failed the final, although she probably logged more hours online than most of the other students. I decided I would no longer accept students who are below B1 – at least not on that course.
    Anyway, in an online environment, I think that ideally, for lower levels, explaining how the environment works should be done in the learner’s L1. You said you asked someone to call the student – I’m assuming this’ll be someone from the company who set up the classes? They should probably have a demo video in different languages that takes new users through the basic features of the environment. I think this could help in situations like the one you were in.


    • Hey Vedrana! Yeap, there is a demo and the learner was sent it. All is good now. I do think though that in an online environemnt it is quite hard to give instructions about online tools when the learner is a lower level one. It is even harder because it’s speaking not writing!
      Thanks for stopping by and have a Happy New year!!!00000

      Liked by 1 person

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