The role of the first language in foreign language learning

| June 30, 2003
The role of the first language in foreign language learning

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Paul Nation
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

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Paul Nation teaches in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has taught in Indonesia, Thailand, the United States, Finland, and Japan. His specialist interests are language teaching methodology and vocabulary learning. His latest book is Learning Vocabulary in Another Language published by Cambridge University Press (2001).

Second language use in the foreign language classroom needs to be maximised wherever possible, by encouraging its use and by using it for classroom management. However, research shows that the first language has a small but important role to play in communicating meaning and content. This role is important across all four strands of a course.

In a well balanced foreign or second language course, there are roughly equal opportunities for learning through the four strands of
1 meaning focused input – learning through listening and reading
2 meaning focused output – learning through speaking and writing
3 language focused learning – learning through deliberate attention to language features
4 fluency development – learning through working with known material across the four skills at a higher than usual level of performance.

These strands require certain conditions to apply and these are outlined from a vocabulary perspective in Table 1 (Nation 2001).


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