Your opinion on monolingual or bilingual language learning

So there seems to be this orthodoxy, or a sort of idealism, in the world of language learning. This orthodoxy promotes the rule that classrooms must be 100% monolingual for optimal learning. Now, in the kind of classroom where you have people originating from a dozen different countries, I understand it from a practical point of view. It would be cost-prohibitive to find bilingual educators to help every student (imagine a grade school with kids from India, China, Brazil, Colombia, etc!)

When I first started teaching ten years ago, I had to teach monolingually – even to a1 level – because I didn’t know my clients’ language. Now, I know a lot more spanish, and I find myself explaining things to my clients in Spanish when they get hung up on some point. I feel a little ashamed for breaking with the orthodoxy.

But in terms of making input comprehensible, and in the absence of a teacher (like here on LingQ), doesn’t having translated hints make sense? Especially at the beginning!

Furthermore, linguist Stephen Krashen is a strong advocate of bilingual education. He points to research that demonstrates that children learn more effectively in a bilingual class.

What are your thoughts?

I come from a monolingual school of thought, although it’s obviously hard at A1. In places like Japan, I’ve heard that schools actually prefer teachers who don’t speak any Japanese precisely to avoid a bilingual classroom. Personally, I think that is going too far, because as you said, having some knowledge of the language of some or all of your students can be very beneficial.

So I take the knowledge that I have of their language but still use the target language as much as possible (English in my case) to convey that. For example, if a student says, “I have 30 years,” I might say, “I know in French/Spanish/Italian/Portuguese you use “have” for ages, but in English we use “be”. So it’s: I …” (elicit “I am 30”). And then explain that we either say nothing after the number or “years old”, again unlike in Romance languages.


I don’t think that it is so important or at least so determinent and crucial for teaching - to be bilingual or monolingual.
It’s much more important - to give INTERESTING lessons, to encourage our students to set goals and to reach goals in the target language.
From my own experience- for A1 I try to explain the grammar and some construction in the native languagage of my students, it’s circa 30% of all time, for A2 I try to explain for 90% in the target language and only if I see that my students don’t undfestand my expanation I can add some phrases in their native language.
Somertimes I have the students in the group from 4-5 couuntries, then I can use English or German for the explanation for these levels.
But beginning from B1 everthing at the lesson is in the target language.

1 Like

I have some experience with this issue (as a learner). I began studying German at the Goethe Institut here in Spain. It seems “orthodoxy” is very strong there, so my teacher (a wonderful one, btw) felt compelled to try and never talk to us in Spanish, starting from the very beginning. Time and again, he had to grudgingly resort to Spanish due to the student’s pressure.
I already had some experience learning foreign languages (German was my third language) and I found it silly and ultimately unrealistic not to use the student’s language occasionally.
My own takeaway from that experience is that fanaticism and rigidity are incompatible with teaching. Do use the target language as much as you can but don’t go out of your way to avoid occasional explanations in the student’s native language when it feels useful.
So, kudos to you for trying to improve your students’ experience and for questioning received knowledge, in addition to your progress in a new language.

i have been learning thai for two years in a monolingual environment it was extremely hard in the beginning i could not pronounce the tones i could not understand anything i wrote down everything and practiced in my free time with some other students who could speak a little english nowadays i’m better at it i’m still now where perfect thai is a hard language for non asian people
i do agree with bilingual education for beginners

1 Like

I don’t have a lot of experience teaching, and only Spanish learning (though I did have some French in school). To me, logic always dictated that the classes be given in the language of the students. The idea that all these Americans and Brits were going all over the world teaching English when they didn’t speak the language of the country they were going to always struck me as bizarre. Or, in the case of Jim, an English-only speaker teaching English to Spanish-only speakers.

1 Like

To clarify, most of my clients are coming to the USA for 2-6 weeks for intensive courses. They range from A1 to C1 in level, most are B2. The students know they are coming to a monolingual course. Most are prepared for that, a few are not.

But bilingual teaching is surely one of the reasons that high school language classes in English-speaking countries produce such poor results. I did three years of high school French (being taught in English) and learned next to nothing.


If I were already at B1 or B2 level in a target language and then invested the time and money to go overseas for a 2 or 3 week immersion course in the language…and then they insisted on speaking MY NATIVE LANGUAGE to me in the classroom…well, they would be taking the f__ing p_ss, wouldn’t they!?

I think I would demand a refund and find another school.

There might be other arguments when it comes to complete beginners. Personally, though, I’d still prefer the direct target-only approach. But others might see that differently.

I think I would probably lean towards monolingual learning/teaching. I’ve been trained to avoid spending too much time on ONE student, to rather have students air their questions so that we put it on the board and have the entire class learn from it. In other words, instead of having to possibly repeat yourself to different students over the same issue, and to save time/effort not to mention answer questions that maybe other students were thinking but were too shy to say, I’ve learned that it’s much better to convey messages of any sort in the language that’s being learned.

Also, I would teach students meta-language i.e. phrases they need to use if they want more information e.g. What does that mean? How do you say ‘insert-word-here’? Can you please spell that for me? I don’t understand… etc.

Also, in general, it’s considered rude to address someone in a different language in the presence of others who don’t speak that language.

I’d welcome students speaking to each other in any language they desire, outside of class. Within class, I’d like as much of the target language used, as possible.

I’ve not looked into Krashen’s work in this regard. I’d have to look at the studies and see exactly how they were carried out. I teach adults, and usually, adults are already set in their ways. It’s what makes us typical adults. Perhaps with children this kind of language flexibility will be much easier to achieve. But for adults I’ve taught, I think the typical monolingual way is ideal for me personally.

1 Like

Oh yes, very good point. I knew someone from Romania, and he was taught some English at school by a second language speaker of English. He could just say ‘hello’. He moved to an English speaking country and rapidly learned to read, write and speak in English to an advanced level - two years was all it took! He worked quite hard, but the difference in his progress seems striking to me.

1 Like

Okay. But how about classes at a Goethe Institute School in Germany? There might be students from China, Japan, America, Brazil, Saudi Arabia…etc… A teacher could hardly be expected to know all of the languages, and it can’t be assumed that all of the students would know, say, English.

It would be pretty unfair, if the English or American students were getting things explained in English and other students (who also paid for a ticket, so to say) were just made to sit there and listen to a language they might not even have any interest in learning…

I teach adults almost exclusively. I teach one-on-one about 90% and small group classes about 10%. My students are typically professionals with university degrees.

As I said earlier, most of my Spanish speaking students are prepared to be in 100% English course. But some get so frustrated they just start speaking to me in Spanish to express how hard they find the language learning process. In the past, I would stop them and explain that I didn’t understand Spanish. But now, if they speak slowly, I get the gist. And then I answer them in English :slight_smile:

Or sometimes they say “Como se dice… en Ingles?” Nowadays, I sometimes have the answer.

Nowadays, I think my classes are 98% English, 2% Spanish.

Here’s the example I want to make about efficiency and how I’ve begun to break with the monolingual orthodoxy.

FIrst about 80% of class focus is conversation, reading, and listening to material my students find personally relevant and/or professionally interesting. About 20% of my focus is on helping my student with specific grammar or vocabulary lessons where they have a clear need.

with my A2 to b2 students, I have observed several high frequency, near-universal mistakes when speaking. Almost all of my students make a lot errors with verb + gerund or verb +infinitive structures like:
“I enjoy to swim” “He keep to talk.” “We need using Uber” “Do you want dancing with me” “I needed to went to my hotel” etc.

I keep a notebook of corrections for my students. After making the corrections in the notebook for a few days, I ask them to focus on a couple of units in Cambridge’s “Grammar in Use”. I teach verb + infinitive one day, and verb + gerund the other day. Many students find the examples and exercises totally confusing and unhelpful.

For years I believed that the structures must be wildly different in Spanish, and thus this must the reason for these nearly universal speaking mistakes, and seemingly increased confusion after teaching the units.

But after a learning Spanish on LingQ for the last 12 months, I recently realized, “Hold on! These structures are grammatically similar to English!” So in the last three months, after doing half of each verb + gerund / Verb + infinitive unit together in class, I ask my students to translate a few example sentences into Spanish:

“She enjoys dancing”
“Do you want to dance?”
“She keeps working”
“They need to work”

And then I ask my students to explain the structures of the Spanish. And then compare the structures to English. This seems to be the moment when a light bulb goes off, instead of continued frustration.

I also have been asking a few of my students to translate some examples of the present perfect in Spanish into English (and vice versa) to show them how remarkably similar that tense is in both languages-- but only after my student complains about not understanding English verb tenses like the present perfect!

This is the “unorthodox” bilingual shortcut I’m talking about.

1 Like

It might be depends on what range of students are involved in the class. If there are so many Adult student in class, they are want to learn and using it in the real daily life situation fast then bilingual learning would be more advantageous. Learning English word by English Dictionary is best way in traditional way however, it might give unclear understanding toward to students.

If we are thinking about what is the English usage of students in the future might bring more clear suggestion of teaching method. If he or she want to become English translator, Academic career, Professional who are related to their native country. They have to understand their own language and able to link it with English. If they can’t do it and then they might not be welcome on their job market.

if students are just migrate in English background country and living as resident then monolingual teaching would be just fine and especially those young students.

These are only personal opinion from my experiences and seeing from many other English learner :slight_smile:


Re: the present perfect, it’s true that something like it exists in Spanish. But in French, the L1 of most of my students when I was a teacher, nothing like it exists and this is compounded by the fact that the way the present perfect is formed correlates with the way the French simple past, the passé composé, is mostly formed (i.e. using the auxiliary ‘have’ + the past participle, although some French verbs use ‘be’ instead). So you get a lot of “I have walked to school yesterday” and “I study English since five years” etc constructions (although since/for is a different issue, of course).

1 Like

Fully bilingual at A1, mostly bilingual at A2, mostly monolingual from B1 and fully monolingual at B2 and above. That’s how I view it.

If you’re trying to explain say a case system to learner in a language he has no real knowledge of and probably doesn’t even understand what a case system is in the first place is a lot of things, but efficient it is not. It’s hitting your head at a wall with the hopes of breaking through. If here’s no other option, so be it, but it’s hardly ideal.

My general rule of thumb as a learner is this: if there’s no comprehension going on, there’s no learning.


If you find it works, then that’s good as you like teaching this way.

I would rather make it as clear as possible about which words take a gerund and which ones take a to +infinitive. These websites explain it well I think.

I still prefer a class that only uses the target language. I don’t really want to learn boring grammatical explanations in any other language. English is more than enough! :smiley:

When it comes to students saying “how do you say” in their native language, that would be a no-no in a class I taught after the first week or so. I’d have taught them meta-language so they would already know to ask in English: How do you say…, What does that mean?, Please can you spell that for me… etc. English learners need to be able to ask for help or clarification from a wide range of speakers, not only their teachers.

Also, It may be that as you want to learn Spanish, you become more willing to use it in class because it is improving your Spanish?

I think that it’s best to give students opportunities to use many versions of these forms in context e.g. reading out dialogues to each other as if in a play, writing their own dialogues, or giving them scenarios etc. They become committed to memory from frequent practice using them.

Also, I would need the student to be able to explain the structure in English/target language.

That’s a completely different scenario. I agree that you shouldn’t explain in a language that not every student knows. That’s confusing and rude. I was arguing in favor of being reasonable and non-dogmatic and being able to adapt to each particular situation.
My point is that you can’t let blind application of “orthodox thinking” get in the way of teaching efficiency. I suppose that current orthodoxy stems from taking the situation you describe (and that I consider a “worst case scenario” for the teaching of a language from scratch) and apply it to every other case, that’s what I was arguing against
The way I understand OP’s original language. he asks if it’s bad or wrong to occasionally use his knowledge of the mother tongue of his students (what happens to be the same for the whole class) to improve their understanding. I mentioned an analogous example from my own experience in order to give an answer to that question.
I already mentioned that, even in this case, the students’ native language should be used sparingly.
I myself have attended German classes at the Goethe Institut in Berlin and I was compeletely happy with the completely monolingual system, but that was a high-level (Oberstufe) course.