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Importance of the Native Language

Indrani Ghosh

Madonna University

ESL 5230 Research Proposal

February 6, 2017

Importance of the Native Language

Research questions:
Informative Paper: How does ones native language help in the acquisition of a second
Argumentative Paper: Should English learners be encouraged to maintain and improve their
native language?
America is a melting pot of immigrants with a multitude of non-English speakers. It is a

nation where people of every color, race, language, culture, religion, and ethnicity live together

happily. While English is the language of the majority, almost 20% of the nations population

speak a foreign language. The population of English learners has grown significantly over the

past two decades, increasing by approximately 81% since 1990. In U.S. schools, teachers are

faced with the challenge of teaching both academic content and English at a variety of English

proficiency levels from beginners to fluent English speakers. Extensive research around the

world has found that children who are proficient in their native language find it easier to transfer

many skills and knowledge from their first language to their second language. The first language

helps as a scaffold, preparing students to perform at higher levels in their second language. A

solid foundation of an English learners native language paves the way for a smoother transition

in the acquisition of English, and therefore, I have chosen this topic as the subject of my


I am an Indian and trilingual. I can speak, read, and write English, Bengali, and Hindi

fluently. Although Bengali is my native language, my primary medium of instruction has always

been in English. I have grown up learning three languages at the same time without any

difficulties because I grew up in a multi-cultured, multi-lingual country. From my own personal

experience, I have felt that having a profound knowledge of my native language has helped me

to acquire English and Hindi easily. Instead of being a hindrance, my knowledge of my mother

tongue has been a help and a guide to me in understanding the syntax and semantics of English. I

have seen this to be true in some of my English learners too. Students who have excelled in their

first language have shown much progress in their second language as well. They find it easier to

interact and perform tasks when they have some support in their mother tongue. Through my

research in this semester, I am going to explore all avenues that prove this point and share all my


For my informative paper, I have chosen the research question: How does ones native

language help in the acquisition of a second language? I have researched the databases and

other resources at the library and have found some ways this can be achieved. There are so many

educational programs that can intentionally incorporate a language other than English into

instruction for English learners (Els). The two-way immersion, one-way immersion, transitional

bilingual education, and early and late exit programs are examples of this (Herrmann,n.d.;

Garcia, 2009). They all utilize students native language to promote bilingualism, biliteracy, and

acquisition of English. Research has shown the effectiveness of these programs when they are

well implemented. The National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth has

found that reading skills taught to students in their first language transfer readily over to the

second language (Escamilla, 2009). In 2014, the researchers Jim Cummins and Merril Swain

republished their influential book Bilingualism in Education, where they had stated that

developing both languages of a bilingual child is ideal for learning not only reading, writing, and

speaking, but also other cognitive tasks (Levitan, 2015; Garcia, 2009). In my informative paper, I

plan to talk about the benefits of such programs in an English as a Second Language (ESL)

classroom. I am going to discuss some instructional strategies where students native language

could be strategically used as an important and useful scaffold and instructional tool. There are

so many ways where the structural and grammatical rules of the native language can be used to

explain those of English like gender, tense, singular and plural numbers. Knowledge of the native

language can also help in the perception of certain ideas and concepts in English. I am also going

to discuss some activities used in an ESL classroom which make use of the mother tongue as a

support system.

Several questions, concerns, and issues come up when considering the use of students

native language in the classroom. Proponents cite research that shows that strategic use of the

first language (L1) helps in the acquisition of the second language (L2) while opponents argue

that the native language causes interference in the learning process and thus should be removed.

For my argumentative paper, I chose the research question: Should English learners be

encouraged to maintain and improve their native language? I will be discussing some facts that

support my claim regarding the importance and benefits of using the mother tongue to facilitate

the learning of English (Herrmann, n.d). I will present both sides of the argument regarding this

issue. I will present facts and evidences that show that bilingual children exhibit significant

cognitive advantages in comparison to monolingual children. I will provide data and statistics to

show that bilingual children do very well in standardized tests and other cognitive tasks (Garcia,

2009). I will also refute objections to my side of the issue.

Being a trilingual myself and an English teacher, I am glad to have a chance to research this

topic because it is related to my profession as well as my personal experiences. I plan to be an

ESL teacher and work with English language learners, and I will be better prepared to help them

now. I will also be armed with all the data and statistics that prove my point. I will be able to

rebut those who think that the native language causes interference in learning and are against

using it as a resource. I hope my research will shed light on the problems and solutions involved

in the teaching of English to Els, and hopefully educators will see the benefits in encouraging the

use of the native language in their classrooms. My research will help me be more successful in

my career.


Escamilla, K. (2009). Review of the book English language learners: developing literacy in

second language learners - report of the National Literacy Panel on language-minority

children and youth, by D. August & T. Shanahan. Journal of Literacy Research, 41, 432-

452. doi: 10.1080/10862960903340165

Garcia, G. (2009, Dec.23). History of bilingual education in the United States. Learning Resources. Retrieved from

Herrmann, E. (n.d.). Help or hindrance? Use of native language in the English classroom.

Multibriefs. Retrieved from:

Levitan, J. (2015, May 12). Bilingual students need support in their native language. Education

Week. Retrieved from http://

Myers, A. (2014, March 25). Students learning English benefit more in two-language

instructional programs than English immersion, Stanford research finds. Stanford Report.

Retrieved from