This debate has been going on for a while now. Much like the debate on non native or native teachers, but let’s not open Pandora’s box just yet.
Let’s take a step back and look at this with common sense and logic.
So, what’s my aim as a language learner? To be able to use the target language effectively in my own situation/context. Business, university, traveling, socialising or watching movies, for example.
If I learn a language using my own mother language, will it help me? Well, this is where the grey area is. Surely it depends on my aim. In a meeting can I ask people to explain in my 1st language? Or while at the cinema? Probably not. My aim is to think in the target language and have the tools to work out areas i don’t quite understand. I don’t need to be bilingual, but enough to interact effectively and the rest will follow. You see if I’m not thinking in the language, I’m translating. If I’m translating, I’m making double the effort to interact and might easily get lost.
Alright. So, how can I train myself to think in the target language?
This has to start early in the learning process. Adopting a zero 1st language attitude is a must. Any well trained trainer should be able to explain most areas in the target language. Occasionally at very low levels, just when there’s a complete breakdown in communication, could the 1st language be used, minimally. We must not create any dependence on use of the 1st language. This is fundamental. Anyhow, it shouldnt be necessary if the learning sessions are carefully prepared to go from what the student knows to what they don’t with a capable trainer. Of course it would be easy for me to learn by having everything translated and explained in my own 1st language, but that wont help me with my long-term goal. Will it?
What tools can help me understand areas I don’t? There are a few. Assuming you know about the subject being talked about, listen for words associated. Key words and indicators. Learn to recognise sounds and link them to words. A qualified trainer will know how to train you for this. When speaking use what you know and fill in the gaps with what you feel is right. Don’t worry about making mistakes. These will be corrected over time.
So, you decide. Personally I would prefer not to be taught using my mother tongue. In fact I learned Spanish this way and now I consider myself nearly bilingual. I think in Spanish or in English depending on the situation.
Let me know your thoughts.