The importance of mother tongue in teaching a foreign language in primary school

The purpose of the article is to consider the main methods and forms of work of using the native language in the process of teaching English at primary school. In the conditions of modern school, it is necessary to pay special attention to the principle of taking into account the native language in teaching a foreign language and, perhaps, look at this problem in a new way. It is described the problem of the influence of the native language on the study of a foreign language. Author shows the difficulties in teaching a foreign language while using the native language as the reliance on the mother tongue. The methodological principles using in teaching a foreign language for solving the problem of language interference are noted. The use of the native language should be conscious and purposeful and be limited to a certain number of situations where it not only does not interfere, but also contributes to the optimization of the educational process. In the article the author proves the expediency of using mother tongue in English lessons, referring to the opinions of authoritative scientists and operating with his practical experience. The native language is an assistant teacher in teaching a new (foreign) language, but as students master a foreign language, the proportion of the native language decreases, and foreign – increases. Using learners ' native language to create a developing language environment should always be strictly limited and justified. Only in this case, the native language can become an effective means of learning, contributing to, and not preventing the acquisition of a foreign language.


In 2015, the Republic of Kazakhstan approved the State Compulsory Standard of Primary Education (hereinafter referred to as the Standard), which determined the beginning of the renewal process in the country's education system. The peculiarity of the Standard was its development in the logic of the methodology of education, focused on the result. Therefore, for the first time in the Standard, values – national and universal - have been singled out, which are common to all levels of education and are designed to become the life guides of the learner, motivating his behavior and activities [1].

Some primary school teachers assume that a foreign language should be taught without taking into account mother tongue. Other teachers advocate for continuous matching of the systems of the two languages, considering that the native language allows you to train more efficiently and effectively.

The main part

This dispute has been going on for years. The use of mother tongue should be conscious, focused and limited to a certain number of situations where it is not only disturb, but also contributes to the optimization of the educational process, which is determined by a number of factors':

  •  the ability of the teacher to communicate freely in a foreign language;
  •  the degree of complexity of the language material;
  •  educational level;
  •  the level of formation of communicative competence of pupils of this or that groups.

Although, according to Professor R. Milrud's opinion, «the more training in the classroom, hardening and simple cognitive skills, the less the usage of the native language in the lesson, the higher the proportion of higher cognitive skills and the processing of new information, it is necessary to have a native language, this is the case all over the world and at all stages of mastering language...» [2]. Many teachers choose the «Golden mean»: dosed, reasonable, situational use of native language in teaching English as a foreign language. Such a balanced point of view is shared by many researchers (R.K. Minyar-Beloruchev, E.G. Voltaire, D. Atkinson, C. Paint, L. Prodromou, etc.). So, L. Prodromou in one of his works, told about the role of the native language, offered a number of metaphors, each of them are fair in its own way, if not to perceive it as the truth in the latter instances:

«Mother tongue in a foreign language lesson is:

  1. Medicine (certainly useful, but having a number of contraindications and causing addictive);
  2. Well from which knowledge is drawn;
  3. The barrier to teaching;
  4. A window into the wide world (it allows to consider the previous experience of students, their interests and knowledge of the world, their culture);
  5. Crutch (it helps to move forward, but at the same time indicates helplessness);
  6. Lubricant, thanks to which the gears of the lesson move smoothly» [3].

The main functions of the native language in a foreign language lesson.

  1. Motivational function. Native language is often used in the formulation of the lesson, in the introduction of the teacher in order to arouse the interest of primary's schoolchildren in the upcoming work.
  2. Use of native language in summarizing at the end of the lesson. This is a very an important element of educational communication, the teacher must voice what the learners have learned in this lesson, to provide a sense of progress.
  3. The creation of teacher-problem situations in the classroom. The teacher motivates subsequent introduction of speech and language material, as well as formulation creative tasks, an explanation of their preparation and design.
  4. Many teachers of primary school turn to the mother tongue during the presentation of grammar material.

Referring to Dr. Sandy Moreau's research, the author of a large number of manuals, you can cite the following reasons «for» and «against» the use of only English in the classroom [4].


  •  increasing the time of immersion in target language;
  •  develops students' confidence in using teaching language;
  •  allow you to use English in real life situations of real communication: to give instructions to tasks, request the necessary information in the classroom, etc.;
  •  the majority of things that teacher and schoolchildren say in English classes is repeated from lesson to lesson, due to it a large number of necessary expressions is remembered;
  •  using only a foreign language in the classroom in some cases can motivate children. Disadvantages:
  •  often the use of English language only in explaining, for example, rules of complex game or grammar rules, takes a long time, as a result of which learners may lose concentration, in case of working with children, there may be problems with discipline;
  •  reduces the confidence of the children, can frankly scare;
  •  the teacher may teach the wrong or unnatural language model in some cases;
  •  it is impossible to help pupils in case of serious difficulties in understanding the language material;
  •  if students are not initially motivated to learn a foreign language, using only a foreign language in the classroom can further worsen the situation;
  •  you may need more time to complete the curriculum.

In teaching children a foreign language Sandy Moreau sees the following situations in which it is advisable to use the native language (Table):



Learning situation

The reason for using the mother tongue





Child is upset

After talking with the child in mother tongue, the teacher will be able to support him, express sympathy and understanding of the situation


The child knows the answer to the question, but can not say the answer in English

Using of native language will enable the learners to show their knowledge and convey them to the teacher, who can help to express the answer in English


The child wants to talk about important event in his personal life

The teacher can also listen to the story in the mother tongue, if necessary; help the child to say the same in English





The child or teacher want to make a joke

Jokes allow you to make the relationship between children and teacher more trusting, and to joke in a foreign language is not always successful


Teacher wants to explain the rules of difficult games

In this case the game itself is important, it is advisable to explain the rules in your native language


The teacher wants to check that the children understand what is said

In order to test the understanding of what is said, you can ask the child to repeat the idea expressed by the teacher in English, in their mother tongue

Probably using of the mother tongue in English lessons can be considered appropriate, as it is often necessary to make sure that all students understand the task, certain expressions (especially idioms and other difficult turns of speech). In these cases, you can use the following types of exercises:

Checking instructions

Sometimes when students are given instructions to perform a task, you can turn to one of the students to say in native language that he understood. This makes sure that all students in the class now know exactly what to do.


In the method of teaching foreign language nowadays it is very popular the term sandwiching. It means including native language in a speech of foreign language in order to convey to learners the importance of a small part of the text, which will be absolutely difficult to understand at a certain language level. As a general rule complex combination sounds first, then its translation into the native language, after it the same combination is repeated at once. It is generally recommended that you signal the transition from language to language by pausing or changing the tone of the narrative.

Wall Displays technique will suit you if you conduct English classes in the same class and it may vary. Its general gist - posting on the walls of the classroom common words or phrases and their translation. You can place on the walls, for example, a list of expressions that children can use in class to communicate with the teacher and with each other.

Intensive Reading (or Listening) with translation

  1. This kind of task based on the native language can be used with students of all skill levels. The teacher pre-translates sentences from the text into mother tongue.
  2. Teacher dictates sentences in native language.
  3. Learners must find sentence in the English language in the text which is in front of them.
  4. Children can compare responses in pairs or small groups before checking with the class.

The most optimal one can be considered a variant of this task, when the teacher translates not completely the sentences, but individual phrases, and dictates their pupils in mother tongue and the pupils must find in the text their English equivalents. Usually the exercise time is about 10 minutes.

It makes sense to use exercises for translation, because such exercises are no doubt useful [5].

What is the benefit of these exercises:

  1. You work out the studied vocabulary in practice. Exercises on translation help to consolidate the use of the studied vocabulary in the context. The more you use the word, the better it will be remembered. And if you do written exercises, you remember correct spelling of the word.
  2. You learn to choose the right word. Today, it would seem that there is no problem with translation: you have entered the phrase in the online translator-and you it is ready. But it is not like this. Still, the program is only a program, it did not understand the subtleties of English (or any other) language. Each word has several meanings, some of them are opposite. Translation exercises help to feel better in what context a word should be used.
  3. Practicing grammar. The grammatical construction is memorized by similar words. You will see and be able to understand the discrepancy between Kazakh (Russian) and English. For example, there are more aspects of time in English, and each of them needs to be applied correctly. And, of course, it will be useful to perform a few written translation exercises to consolidate using of the construction in memory.
  4. You stop translating word by word. In the process of translation, you learn not to translate verbatim every word, and get used to establish language compliance. If at the beginning of learning a language this may seem a bit complicated and unusual, then gradually you will think more broadly and understand that the main meaning of the translation is not the translation of words, but the transferring of the meaning of whathas been said. Here is a simple example: «In Russian we say: «Сколько тебе лет?» Literal (incorrect) translation: «How many years are you? «Correct translation: «How old are you?» (literally in Russian: «Насколько ты стар?»).

Thus, even in a simple sentence, studied by beginners, you cannot allow freedom-to translate every word. Learn to convey the meaning of the sentence.

  1. You get used to build sentences correctly. In Russian or Kazakh languages there are no clear requirements to the word order in a sentence. In English, each member of the proposal has its own place, which it does not leave; otherwise you are almost guaranteed misunderstanding of the interlocutor. People with low or middle average level of language knowledge; build a sentence in native language in their mind before to say a phrase in English. So imagine: you've built in your mind phrase like «Да, купил я эту шоколадку!». What happens if you try to translate it: «Yes, have bought I this chocolate!». For a native speaker, this will be an incomprehensible set of words. And doing exercises for translation, you will gradually get used to compile the phrase in English, as a constructor: subject + predicate + other members of sentences.
  2. You learn to think in English. Paradox: on the one hand, the translated exercises «bind» us to the native language, on the other — teach us to reflect in English. How is this happening? Having read or heard the sentence in mother tongue, we mentally try to compose an English phrase, that is, we think in the language being studied [6].


As you have seen, the exercises for translation are very useful and effective, especially for beginners. They help to consolidate the basic knowledge and skills of English. As the English writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch said: «I just enjoy translating, it's like opening one's mouth and hearing someone else's voice emerge» («Я просто обожаю перевод, это как услышать голос другого человека из своих уст»).



  1. Постановление Правительства Республики Казахстан от 25 апреля 2015 г. № 327 «О внесении изменений и дополнений в Постановление Правительства Республики Казахстан от 23 августа 2012 г. № 1080 «Об утверждении государственных общеобязательных стандартов образования соответствующих уровней образования» [Электронный ресурс]. — Режим доступа:
  2. Мильруд Р.П. Билингвизм в учебных условиях, или ошибка Берлица [Электронный ресурс] / Р.П. Мильруд // Иностранные языки. — 2017. — Март. — Режим доступа:
  3. Prodromou L. The Role of the Mother Tongue in the Classroom / L. Prodromou // IATEFL Issues. — Issue 166. — 2002. — April-May.
  4. Mourao Sandie. Early Years Second Language Education: International Perspectives on Theories and Practice / Mourao Sandie. — Abingdon: Routledge, 2015.
  5. Использование родного языка на занятиях иностранным языком [Электронный ресурс]. — Режим доступа:
  6. Колкер Я. М. Роль родного языка в обучении иностранному языку / Я.М . Колкер // Иностранные языки в школе. — 2004. — № 2.
Year: 2018
City: Karaganda
Category: Pedagogy