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#qskills – How do I motivate my students to speak English instead of their native language in class?




Today’s question for the Q: Skills for Success authors: My students are always using their native language in the classroom. How can I motivate them to speak English instead?

Joe McVeigh responds.

We are no longer taking questions. Thank you to everyone who contacted us!

Look out for more responses by the Q authors in the coming weeks, or check out the answers that we’ve posted already in our Questions for Q authors playlist.



  1. The suggestion in the 2 minute video is basically: “make the classroom a safe environment to make mistakes in English” and thus remove any embarrassment a student might have about speaking English and making mistakes.

    Of course allowing mistakes in class is a great idea. But it doesn’t address specifically *how* to have your students speak English, it just provides an environment where your students *can* speak English.

    For a practical method of getting your students to speak English I’ve had great success with English Only. It goes hand-in-hand with having a “safe” classroom environment but actually gets the students speaking English rather than just providing them with an environment where they can speak English.

    It’s here: https://tinyurl.com/oq38toz if you’d like to read about it.

  2. Hi, Jenny,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, an English only policy is certainly one way to go, and something that has improved the use of English in the classroom for many teachers. As you point out in your posting on your own site, if you’re going to use it, you need to implement it at the beginning of the course and be consistent in how you enforce it. I was curious about WHY students were speaking English in class. If it is just for socializing or fooling around, then I’m all for encouraging students to use only English. But there are times when low-level students are using their native language to try understand what is going on in the class or in their textbooks. I hate to see students reprimanded for using a strategy for learning that may work for them.

  3. The poster idea is interesting and I do it in some way not using the poster but putting my students comfortable to say what they what in their native language and after telling them to say it again in English. And they are really surprised when they understand they can do it in English I can see it when they smile in a pleasurable way like they were saying ‘I said it”in English. So encouragment is one of the keys to put your student using English in the classroom.

  4. That’s a great point, Angélica. Students are more motivated when they feel successful. Often as teachers we feel that we need to challenge our students and give them tasks that will really require them to work very hard in order to succeed. But sometimes it can be very helpful to give them tasks that they can accomplish without too much difficulty and then feel a sense of pride in what they’ve done.

  5. I agree what he said about the problem. I’m sure he has a lot to say. There are a couple of other things we can do. One important thing is that Teachers must insist on speaking English in the classroom and never give up. Another important thing is to create reasons why they may possible want to speak on. Teachers should choose a real topic that students talk in their daily life or any topic which is interesting to talk on. When students are mentally and cognitively engaged the needs for speaking may emerge. In another word teachers should think about provocative sentences – questions to start a conversation in the class.

    • alper, I agree with your idea about creating reasons for students to speak. Real, engaging topics that engage students on a variety of levels are ideal. That’s what we were looking for when we selected the essential questions that form the backbone of each unit in Q: Skills for Success!

  6. What I try to do in the classroom is enforce an English Only Policy. If students are caught speaking in their native tongue, they pay a minimal amount. I also do during the first day is to encourage them to think in English. By thinking in English, that would encourage them to speak in English.

  7. I think all these suggestions, including the ones mentioned in the video, are great tools for teachers, but one must keep in mind that every class is different with different students who have different goals. A classroom full of students with exceptionally outgoing personalities will have less qualms about overriding the English-only policy, while a classroom full of students who are have a better grasp of the English grammar than of their speaking abilities will be relatively easy to manage linguistically. Also, a more heterogeneous mix of different L1’s will get students using English, as a vehicle for basic communication rather than just to appease the teacher, more easily.

    That said, some of the following have helped me as a teacher of low-level students (again, dependent on the context and the overall makeup of the student demographic):

    – Allow students to assume ‘new’ identities in the classroom. Role-playing takes the pressures off of students in their linguistic performance, and it allows them to separate their language skills from their identities (since there are students who can communicate quite fluently in English but, at times, choose not to). Some students may eventually find that it’s easier for them to express and communicate in another language when they’re ‘actors’ in that language. (very similar to what teachers do in the classroom)

    – I’ve implemented a piggybank system where instead of being reprimanded and losing face in front of their peers, they’re fined whenever they’re caught using their L1. Students respond positively to this idea, and especially to the fact that the money collected will be used toward an end-of-semester party. Of all the classroom management tools I’ve dabbled in, this is by far the most successful one I’ve used in class.

    Nevertheless, I agree with the ‘safe environment’ we teachers must create for our students; we just have to be careful with not letting our students take advantage of it.

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