English Only Classrooms: Beneficial or Detrimental to English Language Learners?

One of the first rules/polices that new TEFL teachers will have to establish in their classrooms, is whether students can only speak English in class or if they can speak their languages as well. I think it's natural to assume that if students are immersed in an English only environment that this will be beneficial to not only the students' acquisition of the new language, but also for the teacher. But is this really the case? Do students learn better in an English only setting? Is it easier for teachers to teach, when English is the only language spoken in their classrooms?

In this blog entry, I'm going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages to an English only classroom, as well as give you some of my own personal opinions on this topic. In the past I had the opportunity to teach in schools that strongly enforced an English only policy and in other schools that were much more relaxed about what languages are spoken in their school.


-An English only environment forces students to speak in English to express themselves. By being forced to speak English, students are more willing to experiment with the language and may become more comfortable and confident in their language use.

-An English only classroom also helps students to develop stronger listening skills. Being able to communicate in any language requires speakers to be good listeners as well.

-An English only classroom encourages problem-solving growth in students. Finding ways to communicate with instructors or other language learners requires students (especially in the earlier stages of learning a language) to really think and come up with strategies that can be used again and again in future discussions.

-An English only classroom may be easier to manage than a classroom where students speak their own languages. Teachers can control the conversation of the classroom, and students cannot speak behind their teacher's back in their own language.

-In a multi-linguistic classroom, forcing all students to speak the same language will encourage students with different languages to socialize and learn from each other.


-Beginner English language learners may struggle learning simple language points in English. A lot of research supports the notion that students can pick-up a new language faster at first, if some or their native language is used in instruction

-Similarly, allowing for explanations of grammar topics in the students' first language has been shown to speed up the learning process for students of all levels of English ability

-Students will feel uncomfortable in this environment, which may impact learning. Allowing some native language use may help to establish a comfortable learning atmosphere. Students when starting a new English class are often quite anxious and shy at the beginning. Being able to speak in their language with other learners may help them to relax.

-Too much time is spent being a language cop. While some people believe that enforcing an English only policy will create a class that is easy to manage, others believe that in this type of environment teachers waste too much class time enforcing this policy and punishing students.

-Decreased participation from students with lower English skills. In an English only environment which forces students to communicate in English, some students because of their abilities, will choose to not communicate at all. For these students, they will often find themselves falling behind their more confident classmates.

So those are some of the main arguments out their in favor and against an English only policy in classrooms. For me, my feelings fall somewhere in the middle of the debate. I feel that there is a time and a place for students to use their own language (especially for beginners) and also times when students should be forced to speak English at all times (advanced English learners). My last school that I worked for had a strict English only policy and I felt like it had mixed success. At this school students had to speak English everywhere at all times, including during lunch breaks and before and after school. As a result the students often felt the school staff was out to get them and many students wouldn't spent their free time at the school; which didn't help the atmosphere we were trying to build. Then we also had teachers who strictly followed the policy and some who didn't at all, which created many issues between teachers and administration and teachers and students. If you're going to have this type of policy at your school its important that everyone is on board. At the same time if you are going to have this policy in your class, it's important that you are consistent and fair with it's application. In the end it will come down personal preference. For me, I'm mildly in favor of an English only policy in a classroom, with some exceptions. I'd say that you should talk with other teachers about their experiences before choosing whether to go one way or the other in your classroom.




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