The CELTA Trainer’s Diary – Part 1 and Using L1 in the Classroom

It must be fate.

Or coincidence.

Go TEAM GB! : Photo by @SandyMillin


Coincidence number 1

Team GB wins their first gold at the Olympics today.

And they go on and win another.

Singapore wins their first medal today.

I win the Site of the Month today.

Today must be a very good day.

Vicky Loras and me with some of our lovely PLN in Paris for the BESIG Summer Symposium

Coincidence number 2

Blogger and experienced Turkish university English teacher Güven Çagdas has been blogging about his reflective practice online.

He gathers a following, some of whom are in my PLN.

Güven decides to come to International House London to do his CELTA.

Of the 5 different CELTA courses running at IH London at the moment,

Güven is allocated to mine.

Güven blogs about his Day 1 on his CELTA, Vicky Loras reads it and realizes the tutor he is talking about is me.

Vicky is in both our PLNs.

Vicky RTs the post with me in cc.

Coincidence number 3

Güven tells me he intends to blog daily about his CELTA experience.

I feel tremendously lucky to have a way of getting daily feedback on the teacher training I do (instead of having to wait till the end of the CELTA for course feedback).

I write a long comment on Güven’s post regarding the first day of his CELTA.

The comment gets lost in the ether and neither of us knows where it’s gone.

I realize that I could blog alongside Güven about the CELTA course I’m running.

And that this could be an amazing resource and archive of a trainee’s and a trainer’s diaries of the same CELTA course.

Güven agrees.

I post the lost comment as a blogpost here on my site.


And so here it is…my lost comment… (Do read Güven’s entry before reading this)

And the start of The CELTA Trainer’s Diaries – Part 1.


Thank you, Güven, for journaling your experience on the CELTA.

This would no doubt be a invaluable resource for those who have done a CELTA, are doing a CELTA, or are thinking about doing the CELTA.

It’s amazing how the 30-minute Chinese lesson, in and amongst the 5 hours you spent with me on the first day of the CELTA, was the part you remembered most.

I suppose that it goes to show the fact that no matter how experienced we are, we must never forget what it feels like to be a language learner all over again.

As for the issue with the use of L1 in the classroom, I won’t go out of my way to avoid it. There are times when the use of L1 is either unavoidable or could actually be beneficial.

Although I know that some teachers feel that any amount of English in the classroom would mean extra exposure to the language, there is also an argument stating that L1 could be useful in the classroom.

In Vivian Cook’s Portraits of the L2 User, he gives some good reasons for the use of L1, including:

  1. Learners are going to translate it into their L1 anyway, even if you don’t.
  2. Telling learners off in L2 just doesn’t carry the same weight.
  3. Instructions, especially for lower level learners, are more effective when given in the L1.
  4. Using L1 for contrastive analysis e.g. comparing the tenses between two languages, can prove helpful.
  5. Using L1 for translation exercises can help learners develop a valuable skill that at some point of their career, they’ll need to use. They may not become professional translators but they might be asked to translate an email or an excerpt from English. We mustn’t be put off by the shadow cast by the Grammar Translation era. We are no longer talking about random meaningless translations here.
  6. Using L1 and L2 concurrently can help learners develop the skill of code-switching (i.e. switching between two languages when communicating). This is becoming a more and more common phenomenon we see amongst learners who speak English but share another language. What fun!

Sometimes the use of L1 could just be the sensible thing to do.

After all, why spend 20 minutes trying to explain and concept check the verb ‘happen’ to a group of Elementary learners when you can spend 2 seconds translating it and getting it across perfectly.

Evidently, many words or lexical chunks do not have a direct translation and these are the times I might concept check in English and give examples of usage instead.

Then there are times when the use of L1 helps the learner to get a feel of the phrase/sentence.

When getting learners to get their tongues around phrases like ‘It’s none of my business’ or ‘What has ~got to do with ~?’, I’ve found it helpful to get my multi-lingual classes to say the phrase in their own language (with the accompanying gestures) and then again in English, so that the emotions attached to the phrase is transferred to the English phrase.

I suppose, like most things in ELT, it’s all about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Author: Chia Suan Chong

I am a writer, communication skills trainer and a teacher trainer based in York, UK. I have been English Teaching Professional's resident blogger since 2012 and have a regular feature in their bimonthly magazine. My book Successful International Communication was published in Dec 2018.

23 thoughts on “The CELTA Trainer’s Diary – Part 1 and Using L1 in the Classroom”

  1. Chia,

    It is marvelous to see that you really blog in parallel with me. I want to thank you for that once more for your attention and honesty. It is also good to see that we have different views regarding the use of L1 in the classroom. I must say I really like the way you have put it in this post, and I, in fact, agree with some points, yet I believe it may not be the best thing to do for certain other reasons. I would be very pleased to discuss them with you as well.

    Warm wishes,


    1. Hi Güven,
      I’m really glad to be bloggin in parallel with you.
      I think the end result would be amazing if we keep this up, as it would be such a valuable archive for both Celta trainers and trainees…It is not everyday we get instant feedback on what we do.

      The Celta is going to be a very intensive experience and it is likely to get more and more intensive as we go along…so don’t feel obliged to blog everyday if you feel exhausted from it all…

      But if you do have the time, I’d love for you to have that discussion regarding the use of L1 here in the blogosphere so that others could join in the debate too.
      After all, I am the Devil’s Advocate… ; )


  2. Hi Chia!

    Talk about coincidences eh? Or maybe now the world is so connected that…oh, I don’t know : ) (But speaking about coincidences online, I may have found a distant relative of mine in the PLN, based in New York! Amazing!)

    It is such a great idea for you and Guven to blog alongside along each other, and us (lucky ones!) get to see both aspects, that of the trainer and the trainee.

    What you mention about the L1 is interesting, as I have seen here in Switzerland my students often ask me to give them the German equivalent. That could be a really long comment, though!

    Once more, good stuff, Chia! (And thank you for the mention.)


    1. Hi Vicky,
      The world is indeed connected, isn’t it!
      And you were the bridge between Güven and me all along!

      BTW, don’t worry about the long comment…(unless you want to turn it into a post for your blog, which I’d be happy to link to)
      I think this ‘Use of L1’ debate is long overdue and should be had.
      So feel free to get down and dirty with it!


      1. My pleasure! That is a great idea: a blog post with inspiration from yours : ) I love the idea, also considering that L1 use has been on my mind for some time now.

        I love all this, it is so exciting!

        1. Hi Vicky,
          Thanks! I do feel very excited about this too.
          It’s only possible because Güven’s writing inspires me.

          Can’t wait to read his next post.


  3. Hi Chia

    Thanks for this blog – a reminder me of my good (old) times doing the CELTA at IH but also a reassurance that using L1 is at some points beneficial to students. I will probably get the book you mentioned and learn something more about this issue, as teaching English in my home country means being challenged with using L1 on a daily basis.
    Kind regards,

  4. Congratulations on winning “our” EFL teacher/trainer/blogger’s gold medal!

    I enjoy reading anyrthing you write and feel I know you already;does this mean you are part of my PLN or does this have to be reciprocal?;-)

    1. Thanks for your words of congratulations. I am truly honoured to be given the award. But it was the blurb on that touched me most.

      As for the exact definition of a PLN, hmm…any ideas on this one, Vicky? Does the inclusion on a PLNer have to be reciprocal? I think it does…I don’t think I can add Krashen to my PLN because I read his books and follow him on Twitter… Calling out to my PLN in the Twitter/Blogosphere: What do you guys think?

      Having said all that, Di (can I call you that?), you are already in my PLN. I know who you are (that is not meant to come across as sinister as it might sound) and you have commented on my blog before. : )


      1. Oh good, then it IS a shared PLN even when I don’t have a blog or twitter account that you could read.

        1. So Vicky, I reckon it also counts to read the other people’s blogs, think about them, comment on them and maybe implement some of the ideas in one’s own teaching or training; this is surely connecting and interacting.

          Just imagine if EVERYBODY who had been to IATEFLGlasgow started writing a blog, there would be about a thousand new blogs!

          How many blogs is it practicable to actually follow? Five? Ten? What number of participants would make for a manageable PLN..

        2. I agree with you, Di.
          A PLN is a group of people who are connected and who learn from each other. By commenting on my blog, I’m learning from you.
          Twitter is a truly great way to connect with the PLN and to learn about the blogs and websites that are good to follow.


  5. You said:
    “Sometimes the use of L1 could just be the sensible thing to do.”
    Why do some teachers whose classrooms I visit treat using L1 as the mother of all sins?! A bit of L1 saves so much energy spent on the wrong things!
    I should start building a “Chia Quotes” site.

    1. Hi Naomi!
      You are becoming one of my top commenters!
      Alongside Phil Wade, of course… ; )

      I think the demonising of the use of L1 comes from the dark ages of Grammar Translation where the use of L1 meant boring and meaningless contrastive analysis of grammar structures with no communicative value whatsoever.
      Since then, we have swung so far to the other extreme…

      Having said that, I have seen English classes in Secondary schools in countries like Japan where the entire class is conducted in the L1 and the only English heard is when new lexis is being introduced, or when students are reading texts aloud (Oooh READING ALOUD>>>Taboo!)
      In these cases, I’d try and get those teachers to try and conduct at least 80% of their class in English…

      After all, extremes of any kind are often not great, are they?


  6. Hello Chia! I came across your blog when I did a search on using L1 in an ESL class. I must say I agree with what you’ve written about the advantages of using of L1. Often, it can be effective when used wisely. L1 is a tool that’s neither good nor bad. It’s how it’s used that matters. I guess the bottom line is not over-relying on it – for students and teachers. Some students become so dependent on translation it impedes communication using English; some teachers use it a lot as an easy way out and they soon ‘lose’ their skills in setting contexts and checking understanding of the target language. I think it’s important for the teacher to set boundaries in using L1 to avoid over-reliance. Teachers/teacher trainers will never fully agree on this matter. But I believe the crux of the matter really is ‘How should L1 be used?’ rather than ‘Should L1 be used?’.

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