Place of Mother tongue in the Teaching of English as a Second Language

There is a conflicting view on the place of mother tongue in the teaching of English. The supporters of Translation Method strongly advocate the use of mother tongue in the teaching of English. On the other hand, the followers of the Direct Method insist on the “inhibition of the mother tongue” in teaching this language. H. Champion holds that the mother tongue may be used in the learning stage, but never in the practice stage. He also remarks, “But where he is satisfied that he is unable to explain the meaning of a new language form by the method of direct illustration or by verbal explanation in English he should not hesitate to use the mother tongue”. Thompson & Wyatt said that “the teacher should make the best use of the pupils knowledge and study of the vernacular”. A severe training in the use of the mother tongue is not rival, but a necessary preliminary to training in the use of English .

 Let us carefully consider how the mother tongue can be used in teaching English. It can assist the teaching of English directly and indirectly.

  1. In teaching English Grammar, the teacher can easily exploit the pupils knowledge of his vernacular grammar either by showing the point of similarity or by making contrast between the grammatical forms.
  2. Some English sentence patterns and idioms can be best taught by making comparison with those in the mother tongue.
  3. Translation from English into the mother tongue is an effective means of testing pupil’s power of comprehension. It helps the pupils to assimilate the vocabulary. It also trains the pupils in exactness of expression.
  4. Pupils might be allowed to seek the assistance of their mother tongue when it is extremely difficult for them to explain or define a word or an idiom or even a sentence. In some cases the use of a brief but apt mother tongue is better than a long definition given in English. When the method like explanation in English or direct illusion  fail, the mother tongue may be used judiciously.
  5. When teaching a piece of English poetry parallel quotations from mother tongue may help a better appreciation of it. Moreover, the mother tongue may be used to test the comprehension of the pupils.

1. If the mother tongue is taught with sufficient attention and care, it will help the pupil to a great extent to acquire mastery over English. W.M. Ryburn said that, “Other things being equal, strength in the mother tongue will mean strength in English”.
  1. Good habits formed in the teaching of the mother tongue prove to be of a great help in the teaching of English. For example, the habit of clear and orderly expression of thought acquired in the mother tongue helps the pupils in the free expression in English.
  2. An exercise in the mother tongue can supply the pupil with the technique and material when he will attempt a similar exercise in English.
  3. The habit of speaking and reading, if first cultivated in the mother tongue, will indirectly help the fluency and clearness of expression in English.
  4. If a taste for reading is at first created in connection with the mother tongue, a similar taste can easily be created in connection with English.

(For these reasons, Dalmer holds that the exclusion of the mother tongue from the teaching of a foreign language is generally a vicious procedure, productive of harmful results)

                The Problem of Bilingualism
In the teaching of mother tongue and English we should maintain a proper balance between them. We should lay stress on the following points:

  1. The aims and objectives of teaching mother tongue and English should be clearly stated and must fit to the respective needs of each set of learners.
  2. The teaching of the mother tongue and English should not begin simultaneously.
  3. The teaching of English should not begin before the pupils have got sufficient command over his mother tongue.
  4. The standard of English should not be pitched too high.
  5. The mother tongue should continue alone up to the 4th year of primary education.

In the light of all these facts, it seems that the mother tongue should occupy an important place in the teaching of English.
In conclusion, it can be said that limited but intelligent use of the mother tongue smooths the process of learning a foreign language. It saves much time, creates rapport in class room interaction and the class becomes co-operative and responsive.


  1. I am really impressed by reading such comprehensive article on use of mother tongue in the teaching of English language.


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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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