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On teachers' use of the L1 in primary school EFL classrooms in Germany

by Holger Limberg (University of Flensburg, Germany) 



In communicative language pedagogies the use of the target language (TL) is fundamental in the development of learners’ TL proficiency. The use of English in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classrooms is the main source for teachers to provide language input and a means to conduct interactions with learners in authentic ways. TL use is particularly relevant for primary school classrooms, since the length of exposure to the foreign language, in German primary schools often confined to two school years, is a limiting factor for systematic TL input.


Notwithstanding this monolingual paradigm, the occasional use of the language of schooling (L1) is considered helpful, especially in lessons with beginners. It can support learners’ language awareness, help avoid misunderstandings and ease anxiety of pupils who communicate with limited linguistic resources (Butzkamm 2005; Hall & Cook 2012). Several didactic handbooks therefore advocate the L1 use for specific purposes, and also curricular guidelines recommend selective codeswitching in the primary school EFL classroom (e.g., Böttger 2020; MBWK 2018). Teachers’ self-reports show that the L1 seems to be frequently used for detailed explanations, error corrections and for reprimanding learners (BIG-Kreis 2015). But how does the maximum use of the TL and the occasional use of the L1 actually look like in the teaching practice?


This qualitative study seeks to find out how teachers, both specialists and non-specialists, make use of their L1 in the primary EFL classroom. The database for the analysis is the Primary English Classroom Corpus (PECC), a collection of 30 transcripts of EFL lessons in German primary schools, largely recorded in grade 3 and 4 (Limberg 2019). The sequential analysis takes an emic perspective on cases of codeswitching to find out when and how teachers revert to their L1 during the lesson, what functions these codeswitches may serve in the classroom discourse, and what consequences the L1 use potentially has for the development of the target language English in class.






BIG-Kreis (eds.) (2015). Der Lernstand im Englischunterricht am Ende von Klasse 4. Ergebnisse der BIG-Studie. München: Domino Verlag.


Böttger, Heiner (2020). Englisch lernen in der Grundschule. Eine kindgerechte Fachdidaktik. Bad Heilbrunn: Julius Klinkhardt.


Butzkamm, Wolfgang (2005). "Wenn schon, denn schon! Zum Gebrauch der Muttersprache im Fremdsprachenunterricht". In: Primary English, Fachbeilage des Grundschulmagazins Englisch 3, 17-19.


Hall, Graham & Cook, Guy (2012). "Own-language use in language teaching and learning". In: Language Teaching 45, 3, 271-308.


Limberg, Holger (2019). The Primary English Classroom Corpus. Volume 1. Flensburg: Flensburg: University Press.


[MBWK] Ministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft und Kultur (2018). Fachanforderungen Englisch. Primarstufe/Grundschule. Kiel: MBWK.