Language use in the EFL classroom 

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Theoretical Background

Previous Research

The following subsections introduce previous research on the theme of language choice in the EFL classroom.

Language use in the EFL classroom

Brevik and Rindal (2020) did a study where they investigated how target language exposure was balanced with the need for other languages at lower-secondary schools in Norway. Their study showed three main patterns. First, they saw a considerable variation in language use in the classroom. These variations seemed to be dependent on the teacher rather than the pupils or the school (p.935). Secondly, they found that there was minimal use of languages other than Norwegian and the target language (English). However, they found some references to pupils’ linguistic repertoires that showed a focus on multilingualism in some of the classrooms (Brevik & Rindal, 2020, p.937). The third pattern that they found was that pupils perceived it helpful when teachers used Norwegian (p.944).
Emma Agnell (2019) interviewed four English teachers in order to investigate what determines the language choices they make while teaching. The teachers’ language choices were then problematized with the theoretical approaches that the target language should be extensively used, but that one should not be prohibited from using the L1 since it can be purposeful and ease language learning if used in a strategic manner. Agnell (2019) found that teachers primarily based their language choices on pedagogical views as well as knowledge about language learning. However, for some of the teachers the choice of language was not always pedagogical nor strategic but rather inadvertent.

Target language use

Target language instruction in the EFL classroom provides pupils with input and target language exposure (Oga-Baldwin & Nakata, 2014, p.418-419; Rabbidge & Chappell, 2014, p.8). Providing target language input is according to the teachers in Inbar-Lourie’s (2010) study seen as positive.
There are several reasons for using or not using, the target language in the EFL classroom. One misunderstanding that is common among pupils, is that they need to understand all the words to fully comprehend what is being said (Lundberg, 2010, p.24). This can then lead to situations where pupils insist on a direct translation, meaning that they will neglect the English message because they expect to hear everything in Swedish (Lundberg, 2010, p.24). According to Lundberg (2010, p.24), it is therefore counterproductive to put too much focus on translation. He claims that when texts are translated from English to Swedish instead of focusing on understanding the message this can prevent pupils from developing their communicative abilities (Lundberg, 2010, p.206). Furthermore, Lundberg (2010, p. 24) argues that the goal of communicative language teaching is to learn English via English and that we should not get used to learning the English language through our first language.
The teacher must lead by example, for the pupils to feel comfortable expressing themselves in the target language (Lundberg, 2010, p.26). The pupils learn the 3(34) language by listening to their teacher and it is therefore important that the teacher possesses both linguistic competencies as well as being comfortable using body language and facial expressions to help the pupils understand what is being said (Lundberg, 2010, p.26).

Use of Swedish in the EFL classroom

There is a wide variation in the amount of Swedish teachers’ use in the EFL classroom (Hall & Cook, 2012, p.285). The amount of first language use has been shown to differ between both countries and institutions as well as between teachers at the same school (Hall & Cook, 2012, p.285). Even though there are differences in how much the first language is used by teachers in the EFL classroom, the reasons for why it is used are similar (Hall & Cook, 2012, p.285-286). According to Hall and Cook (2012, p.286), three categories of situations could be shown in the EFL classroom where teachers often choose to use the first language. These are, for instructing and aiding in target language learning, for social reasons and to manage the classroom (2012, p.286). They also explain that teachers find first language use necessary but they often feel guilty about using the pupils’ first language (2012, p.294-295). Furthermore, most teachers believe that the first language should have its place in the EFL classroom but that the target language should be the preferred language in classroom interactions (Hall & Cook, 2012, p.295).
Previous studies have shown translation into L1 to be helpful in expanding the size of pupils’ L2 vocabularies in a quick manner (Schmitt, 2008; Lee & Macaro, 2013). In their study, Lee and Macaro (2013) found that the code-switching into Korean when explaining and defining the meaning of English words new to the pupils led to higher levels of learning. Furthermore, their study also showed that the use of only English when defining and explaining new words in English was more time-consuming than using the pupils’ L1 (Lee & Macaro, 2013).

Language Theories

The following three subsections will introduce and describe three language theories that later will be used to analyse and discuss the results found in this study. The Language Mode theory will help in analysing the contexts in which pupils and teachers move between their monolingual and bilingual language modes depending on different factors. The translanguaging theory will be used when analysing how the language repertoires of pupils and teachers are used throughout the observations and as well as in the answers given through interviews. Code-switching is a part of the translanguaging theory and will be used to describe examples found during observations.

Language Mode Theory

“Language mode is the state of activation of the bilingual’s languages and language processing mechanisms at a given point in time” (Grosjean, 2008, p. 39).
Language Mode is a theory of how both bilingual and multilingual individuals use different languages they know depending on the context, with whom they interact, their attitude to the language, function of interaction and proficiency level (Grosjean, 2008). Grosjean and Li (2013, p.15) define Language Mode as “the state of activation of the bilingual’s languages and language processing mechanisms at a given point in time”. The changes between a monolingual, bilingual and multilingual mode can occur quickly.
When two pupils share the same two languages, they may be in the bilingual mode and use parts of both languages in their communication. However, if one of the pupils only shares one of the two languages the bilingual pupil may choose to deactivate one language and therefore be in a monolingual mode. Language Mode can also be seen as a continuum along which pupils move. Factors that may affect this movement can for example be that the pupil is talking to a bilingual who shares the same two languages as they do but who prefers to only talk in one of them (Grosjean. Li, 2013, p.15).
When looking at the Language Mode theory there is something called ‘base language’, which stands for the language chosen in interaction, and ‘guest languages’, which then stands for all other languages brought into the interaction (Grosjean. Li, 2013, p.18).


Translanguaging Theory

Translanguaging is in the academic context, the process of drawing on one’s entire language repertoire. Instead of looking at the languages as separate, where one is activated and the other deactivated, García (2014) claims that the entire language repertoire is active all the time (p.52).
A movement away from the idea of separating languages in the classroom has been shown in research. It is no longer perceived as deviant to use several languages during lessons (Graham & Cook 2012, 271; García 2014, 59)
In language teaching, translanguaging has stimulated new pedagogical approaches based on the more flexible use of languages in the language classroom. It has also been important in the normalization of bilingual language practices (Prilutskaya, 2021). Williams (1994, 1996) used translanguaging to denote a pedagogical activity that was teacher-initiated and based on the purposeful simultaneous use of two languages within the task. He claimed that the process of bilingual engagement will lead to pupils learning two languages simultaneously. Furthermore, Williams (1994, 1996) stated that translanguaging is a strategy that should be encouraged in language classrooms to promote development in both languages.
Lately, the concept has also become relevant within the field of multilingualism research. It is here used as an umbrella term for incorporating pupils’ entire linguistic repertoire in order to thereby achieve communicative goals (García, 2012).
Several studies have explored the act of moving between languages (Cummins 2007; Beltrán 2010). Cummins (2007) claims that pupils that are bilingual speakers develop an “enhanced metalinguistic awareness” and are therefore more likely to benefit from the focus on similarities and differences between the languages used (p.229). Graham and Cook (2012, p.288) describe pupils’ own language as a natural reference system used as a pathfinder. According to Beltrán (2010, p.260), pupils’ dual language use had the ability to not only deepen the metalinguistic analysis, but also had the ability to multiply opportunities for language learning development within an interaction. Furthermore, by using their first language as a mediating tool pupils can develop a metalinguistic consciousness and improve their language learning outcomes (García, 2014, p.61). This movement between different languages allows for development in multiple languages at the same time (Cummins, 2007). According to Swain (2000, p.206) and Klapper (1998, p.24) the exclusion of pupils’ mother tongue might instead lead to resentment and frustration.
In an article written by Sahan and Rose (2021) it was found that translanguaging practices were used by teachers and pupils for a variety of purposes. The most common purposes were when they presented new content and asked questions related to content. They therefore argue that translanguaging practices are primarily used by teachers and pupils for pedagogical purposes that are related to content learning and teaching (Sahan & Rose, 2021). Furthermore, they also acknowledge that previous research suggests that the L1 is used primarily to translate technical vocabulary. However, in their findings, there were no frequent instances of direct translation, which then contradicts the results of previous studies (Sahan & Rose, 2021). Moreover, the findings in this study (Sahan & Rose, 2021) showed that translanguaging practices were used for explaining, presenting and discussing course content.
Translanguaging practices include situations of for example, interpreting between culturally and linguistically diverse individuals, translating and codeswitching (Daniel & Pacheco, 2016, p.654). The following subsection will therefore explore the practice of codeswitching.


Code-switching is defined as “the use of more than one language in the course of a single communicative episode” (Heller, 1988, p.1) and “the alternating use of more than one language” (Auer,1984:1).
The reason for codeswitching can be to indicate solidarity or cultural distance but also to show belonging to a specific group (Richards & Schmidt 2002, p.81). The language selected by an individual, the code, may depend on factors such as age or gender of people in the group, education level, and to whom they are talking (Brown & Anderson, 2006, p.516-517).
According to Brown and Anderson (2006), there are three types of codeswitching. The intersentential codeswitch, the intrasentential codeswitch, and lastly the tag-codeswitch. Intersentential codeswitching is when the codeswitch occurs at the boundaries of a sentence or a clause (Brown & Anderson, 2006, p.512). Intrasentential codeswitching is when the codeswitch occurs in the middle of a sentence or within clauses or words (Brown & Anderson, 2006, p.512). The last type of codeswitching, the tag-codeswitch, is when a tag statement is changed to another language (Brown & Anderson, 2006, p.512).

Method and Data


The methods used for data collection in this study are classroom observations and teacher interviews. The classroom observations have been chosen since the method gives an insight into how often and in what situations the language choices occur. It also provides the opportunity to gather a large amount of data within the EFL classroom context. The teacher interviews then work as a complement to the observations, allowing an insight into teachers’ thoughts behind their language choices.
The following subsections present the chosen methods and their advantages and challenges.

Classroom observations

This study contains classroom observations at two schools located in Southern Sweden. At each school two different classes were observed, making a total of 4 classes. During the classroom observations, an observation scheme was used (see Appendix 1). In addition to the observation scheme, notes describing specific situational contexts were also written down.
Observations in a qualitative setting refer to “methods of generating data which involve the researcher immersing [him or herself] in a research setting, and systematically observing dimensions of that setting, interactions, relationships, actions, events, and so on, within it” (Mackey & Gass, 2005, p.314). The observations will be structured in the sense that an observation scheme will be used to facilitate the recording of details such as when, where, and how often certain types of phenomena occur. This makes it possible to compare behaviors or patterns between the different contexts (Mackey & Gass, 2005, p.315).

Table of contents :

1 Introduction 
1.1 Aim and Research questions
2 Theoretical Background 
2.1 Previous Research
2.1.1 Language use in the EFL classroom
2.1.2 Target language use
2.1.3 Use of Swedish in the EFL classroom
2.2 Language Theories
2.2.1 Language Mode Theory
2.2.2 Translanguaging Theory
3 Method and Data 
3.1 Method
3.1.1 Classroom observations
3.1.2 Teacher interviews
3.1.3 Ethical considerations
3.1.4 Validity and Reliability
3.1.5 Data analysis
4 Results 
4.1 Classroom observations
4.1.1 Target language use
4.1.2 Use of Swedish
4.1.3 The mixture of Swedish and English
4.2 Teacher interviews
5 Discussion 
5.1 Discussion of Results
5.2 Pedagogical Implications
6 Conclusion 
7 List of References 
Appendix 1 – Observation Scheme
Appendix 2 – Information letter
Appendix 3 – Interview questions
Appendix 4 – Filled in Observation schemes
Appendix 5 – Coding System


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