In many research on second language classroom, the role and influences of mother tongue or first language (L1) on second language (L2) learning has always been a hotly debated issue. There have always been contradicting views about whether or not to use L1 of the students in the second language classroom. During the past 30 years, in the late seventies to early eighties, the idea of using mother tongue in language classroom was not a favored one. Majority of the language classroom used solely L2 while the use of L1 is avoided totally (Liu, 2008). In fact, many supported the use of L2 only so as to provide full exposure to that language. The use of L1 in the language classroom is deemed as depriving the learners input in L2 (Ellis, 1984).
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Despite the many arguments from both proponents and opponents of the use of L1 in the L2 language classroom, linguistic researchers failed to provide a conclusion for this issue and could not reach a common ground on whether the use of L1 is considered as a facilitator or a barrier in the acquisition of second language. According to Nation (2003), L2 should be fully utilized as much as possible in a foreign language classroom (in this context, English). Though L2 should be the core language used in classroom management and learning, the use of L1 should not be abandoned as it has a minute but significant role in language learning (Nation, 2003).
Apart from Nation (2003), there are many linguists and researchers in the field of second language acquisition who agreed that L1 should be utilized in the language classroom in particular with students who are not highly proficient in the target language (Swain & Lapkin, 2000; Tang, 2002; Mattioli 2004). This suggests that L1 plays an important role in the language classroom especially for the low proficiency learners. However, not many empirical studies have been conducted to examine the effectiveness of using L1 as a tool for low proficiency learners in L2 classroom (Bouangeune, 2009). Therefore, this paper seeks to find evidence to support the theory that L1 can facilitate the learning of L2 in the classroom learning. Classroom learning for languages encompasses four language skills, for example, reading comprehension, writing, and vocabulary learning. As a head start, this paper will examine the use of L1 in L2 vocabulary learning.
1.2 Research Objectives
Liu (2008) did a rather straightforward and comprehensive research on the effects of L1 use on L2 vocabulary learning. In his study, he managed to prove that bilingual vocabulary teaching method is actually suitable for Chinese EFL learners (Liu, 2008). Inspired by his research, this study aims to address the problem of low proficiency learners in Malaysian secondary government school.
This study will replicate the research done by Liu (2008) to investigate the role of L1 in L2 vocabulary learning. Also, this study intended to identify whether L1 is a facilitator or a barrier to the L2 vocabulary learning in Malaysian context and how L1 facilitates the language learning. The main objective of this study is to examine the effects of L1 use in L2 vocabulary learning on low proficiency L2 learners.
1.3 Research Questions
Based on the objective, this study seeks to measure how L1 facilitates the low proficiency L2 learners to understand the meanings of new words. This study aims to answer the following questions:
What are the effects of using L1 in L2 vocabulary learning classroom?
To what extend does the use of L1 increase the performances of L2 vocabulary learning.
From here, we propose the following hypotheses:
There are significant differences between the performances of students with different language approach in the vocabulary learning.
The bilingual approach (incorporating L1 in L2 classroom learning) is suitable to low proficiency L2 learners.
1.4 Purpose of the Study
This study sets to focus on L2 vocabulary learning due to the reason that acquisition of vocabulary has a fundamental role in learning a second language (Sökmen, 1997). In other words, vocabulary learning is inter-related to other language skills. A number of studies claimed that L2 learners need to have extensive knowledge of vocabulary as it is useful in the long term run (Nation, 2001). Since the acquisition of vocabulary is so important in learning a second language, effective ways of teaching and learning vocabulary should be emphasized.
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Research has confirmed that proper application of L1 can effectively assist the memorization of new words during L2 vocabulary learning process. Liu (2008) used the fact that L1 is present in L2 learners’ mind, therefore, whether the teacher uses L1 or not, the L2 knowledge that is being formed in their mind is linked in all sorts of ways with their L1 knowledge. This observation is supported from the sociocultural theory perspective that L1 meanings continue to have a persistent effect in the L2 learning (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006). Therefore, it is hope that through this study, we are able to draw some insights concerning the role of L1 and how L1 provides a familiar and effective way for acquiring and understanding the meaning of new words in L2 vocabulary learning.
1.5 The Theoretical Framework
The theoretical framework for this study is based on three prominent second language acquisition theory, namely the Krashen’s Monitor Model (1985), Swain’s Output Hypothesis (1985) and Comprehensible Output (1995) and Long’s Interaction Hypothesis (1996). It has been widely acknowledged that the three constructs of these theories, the input, interaction and output are closely related elements in L2 learning (Zhang, 2009). The input is vital for language acquisition. However, input alone is not sufficient. In addition, interaction comes into play as an equally important role in the process of learning. As for output, it is the final result or the goal in learning L2.
1.5.1 Krashen’s Input Hypothesis
The Input Hypothesis is the most important hypothesis out of the five hypotheses generated by Krashen (1985) in second language acquisition. This hypothesis aims to explain how learners acquire a second language. It claims that language input (vocabulary) is important to acquisition. For the acquisition of L2 vocabulary, comprehensible input is an essential factor. Learners tend to achieve optimal acquisition when they are able to understand most of the input while being challenged by some new vocabulary (Castro, 2010).
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