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First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning (review)
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Reviewed by
M. Turnbull & J. Dailey-O'Cain (Eds.) (2009). First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning. Toronto: Multilingual Matters. Pp. xi,206, US$39.96 (paper).

The premise of First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning is that there is a place for the first language (L1) in the communicative second language (L2) classroom. Rather than viewing recourse to the L1 as 'unfortunate,' Turnbull and Dailey-O'Cain approach L1 use by teachers and learners as a natural phenomenon. As they point out, code-switching is normal among bilinguals and multilinguals at all levels of proficiency, including 'budding bilinguals,' or L2 learners. To demonstrate this and explore the conditions under which code-switching occurs, the editors have assembled nine classroom-based studies that involve a variety of program types: late immersion (McMillan & Turnbull); dual immersion (Potowski); dual language (Fuller); primary school foreign language (Nagy & Robertson); university foreign language (Blyth; Dailey-O'Cain & Liebscher; Macaro); computer-mediated communication (Evans); and workshops (Levine).

The studies also include a range of L1/L2 combinations (English/French, Chinese/English, Spanish/English, Hungarian/English, German/English, English/German); learner ages (children, adolescents, adults); proficiency levels (beginner to advanced); and research perspectives (second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, pedagogy, curriculum design, discourse analysis).

The acceptance of code-switching as natural behaviour by bilinguals is in stark contrast with one of the core principles of Canadian French immersion, namely that 'learning is best achieved when teachers and students use French exclusively' (p. 15). Since Ministry of Education documents in several Canadian provinces specify that the L2 (French) should be the only language of communication in the French immersion classroom, it is not surprising that teachers view the prohibition of the L1 in their classes as representing best practice for L2 learning. Indeed, according to Turnbull and Dailey-O'Cain, most teachers are not aware that beyond French immersion, many educators and researchers worldwide now hold the view that 'judicious and theoretically principled L1 use' can promote L2 learning (p. 15).

Macaro is an important presence in the volume. Although he wrote only one of the nine chapters, his identification of a continuum of perspectives on target language (TL) and L1 use is outlined in the Introduction and addressed by several other authors. At one end of the continuum, we find what Macaro calls the virtual position or the exclusive use of the TL by teachers and learners. Those who hold [End Page 408] this position see no value in L1 use and argue for the crucial importance of providing classroom learners with the maximum possible number of input and output opportunities to promote L2 learning. This is not the position that Macaro, the editors, and the other contributors support. As Turnbull and Dailey-O'Cain point out in their Introduction, the virtual position has been challenged by research findings in several areas. First, teachers vary in their use of the TL, even in those contexts where exclusive use of the L2 is expected. Second, learners use their L1 even when teachers ask them not to do so. Third, the L1 can function as a cognitive tool in L2 learning, and teachers can facilitate learning by making judicious references to the L1. Finally, there is the argument that 'codeswitching is a part of bilingual interaction' (p. 7). This line of reasoning leads us to the other end of the continuum, the optimal position. According to Macaro, optimal use

is where codeswitching in broadly communicative classrooms can enhance second language acquisition and/or proficiency better than second language exclusivity. In other words, optimal use of codeswitching by the teacher involves a judgment to be made about the possible detrimental effects of not drawing the learners' attention to aspects of their first language, or not making comparisons between the first and second languages.

(p. 38)

Turnbull and Dailey-O'Cain state their goal clearly in the first footnote, which is 'to develop the concept of optimal first and target language use in second and foreign language teaching and learning in a variety of contexts' (p. 187). They have done this well. The intended audience would appear to be those who adhere to the optimal position...