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Korean J General Edu > Volume 16(1); 2022 > Article
Students’ Perceptions of L1 Use in Online EFL Classes -A Case Study of Beginner-Level Korean College Students


The purpose of this case study is to investigate Korean college students’ perceptions about the use of L1 in a general English class conducted entirely online amid the COVID-19 pandemic situation. More specifically, the current study aims to better understand the perceptions students held about the language choices made by the instructor, including the advantages and/or disadvantages of using L1, as well as their perceptions on how the use of L1 should be implemented in the online EFL class. The language choices engineered by the instructor for this class were designated into three forms; English and Korean pre-recorded video lectures, English-only Zoom classes, and Korean-only feedback via Zoom and email.
The main source of data was a survey questionnaire consisting of multiple choice questions, the Likert-scale, and open-ended questions. A total of 69 mostly first-year college students taking the course during the fall semester of 2021 responded. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze responses to the multiple-choice questions and the Likert scale ratings. Responses to open-ended questions were analyzed using the content analysis method.
Analysis of data showed that students hold a prevailingly positive view of L1 inclusion in the online English classroom for academic, managerial, and affective purposes. Students believed that the use of Korean was especially helpful for managerial and academic purposes, for it assisted them in developing a strong understanding of the content delivered and in following the flow of the online lectures. Students also showed a strong desire to include Korean for affective purposes, such as to help ease anxiety and to help them cope with low confidence due to their feelings of possessing inadequate language skills to clearly articulate themselves in English. In regard to the social benefits of L1, students also viewed this positively. However, views were not as high as shown in the other cases of the benefits they perceived, likely due to the complexity of online social interactions. To the question about what languages should be utilized as mediums of instruction in the online English class, the students commonly agreed that English should be the primary language, but that L1 should be allowed to be used to some extent. Their reasons for needing L1 particularly in the online English learning environment were also discussed, some of which were the lack of nonverbal cues to understand the instructor’s lectures and the absence of immediate help when faced with difficulties.
The results of this study indicate that L1 certainly holds a positive role in the minds of beginner-level EFL students. The findings also suggest that inclusion of L1, when used prudently, can act as a valuable scaffolding tool to help beginner-level students achieve the goals of the class in an online setting.


본 사례연구의 목적은 코로나19 상황으로 인해 비대면으로 이루어진 교양영어 수업에서 대학생들의 모국어 사용에 대한 인식을 조사하는 데 있다. 특히 본 연구는 교수자가 모국어와 영어를 수업에서 혼용했을 때 학생들의 반응은 어떠한지, 모국어 사용의 장점과 단점이 무엇인지, 그리고 온라인 영어수업에서 모국어가 어떻게 사용되어져야 하는지에 대한 학생들의 인식을 밝히고자 하였다. 연구 대상 수업의 교수자는 수업상 매개어를 세가지 형태 즉, 영어와 한국어를 혼용한 동영상 강의, 영어로만 진행된 줌(Zoom) 실시간 화상 수업, 줌을 통해 한국어로만 제공된 피드백과 이메일 서신 등으로 구분하여 사용하였다.
본 연구의 주요 자료는 선다형, 리커트 척도, 개방형 질문 등으로 구성된 설문지를 통해 수집되었다. 2021학년도 가을 학기 네 분반 수업을 수강한 학생들 중 총 69명이 설문에 참여하였다. 선다형 질문과 리커트 척도 질문은 기술통계를 사용하여 분석하였으며 개방형 질문의 분석에는 내용 분석 방법이 사용되었다.
자료 분석 결과, 대다수의 학생들은 비대면 수업 상황에서 모국어를 사용하는 것이 수업관리, 학업, 정서적인 측면에서 바람직하다고 여기는 것으로 드러났다. 특히 학생들은 수업관리와 학업적인 측면에서 한국어를 사용하는 것이 자신들에게 도움이 되었다고 느꼈는데 이는 교수자의 모국어 사용으로 인해 수업의 내용을 이해하고 비대면 강의의 흐름을 쫓아가는 데 수월했기 때문으로 밝혀졌다. 또한 학생들은 불안감을 낮추고 부족한 영어 말하기 실력으로 인한 좌절감을 극복하는 등 정서적인 측면에서도 한국어 사용이 바람직하다고 인식하였다. 모국어의 사회적 측면에서의 장점에 대해서도 학생들은 긍정적인 반응을 보였으나 다른 측면에 비해 그 정도는 낮았다. 비대면 영어 수업에 적당한 매개어와 관련된 질문에 대해서는, 영어가 주요 매개어의 역할을 해야 하지만 모국어도 어느 정도 혼용되어야 한다는 의견이 대부분이었다. 비대면 영어학습이라는 특수한 환경에서 모국어 사용이 필요한 이유로는 교수자의 강의를 이해할 수 있는 비언어적 단서의 부족과 어려움에 대한 즉각적 도움의 부재 등이 언급되었다.
본 연구 결과를 통해 모국어 사용은 초급 레벨 영어 학습자들에게 긍정적으로 작용한다는 가능성을 보여주었다. 또한, 비대면 영어 수업에 모국어를 적절히 사용할 때 이는 초급 레벨의 학생들이 수업의 목표를 달성하는 데 도움을 줄 수 있는 역할을 할 수 있음을 시사하고 있다.

1. Introduction

The English language is taught worldwide and has become an essential skill for those living and working in a competitive global society (Lee, 2014; Nunan 2003). As Byun et al. (2011) have stated, English’s status as a global lingua franca has resulted in the growing necessity for English competency to participate and cooperate in multiple fields, such as business, diplomacy, academia, and science and technology. Currently, several non-English speaking countries include English as a part of their standard curriculum to help students learn the skills necessary to keep up with industry standards dictated by global demands. South Korea (henceforth, Korea) proves no different, as English has been an integral part of the public-school curriculum and is currently taught from the 3rd grade through high school (Mani & Trines, 2018). English is also taught heavily at the university level, where students are often required to take a certain number of courses taught in English (Kim et al., 2016).
The initiative to teach English in Korea is well-established; however, opposing views exist between how English instruction should be approached and what methods should be employed. The approach of how English is taught has remained a topic of debate (Kohi & Suvarna Lakshmi, 2020; Tsagari, 2018). Specifically, the primary schism exists between utilizing an English-only (EO) or English medium of instruction (EMI) approach, through which the teacher employs virtually sole use of the target language, versus allowing a greater degree of the learner’s first language (L1) to be used by both the students and teacher. Inclusion of the learner’s L1 ranges greatly and includes techniques such as using translation, codeswitching, translanguaging, and even full use of the L1 to negotiate a greater understanding of the target language.
Currently, English education in Korea leans heavily towards utilizing an EMI when teaching English classes. Implementation of the Teaching English through English (TEE or TETE) policy established by the Korean Ministry of Education in 2001 stipulates that 80% or more of English courses must be conducted in English (Choi, 2014). EMI is also used heavily at the university level, especially in general education English courses. As of 2013, Korea’s top 10 universities offered 30 percent of their lectures in English (Mani & Trines, 2018). However, the way in which EMI is implemented is not always clearly defined, and its effectiveness is still debated. In the study surveying 2,444 Korean university students, 37.1% claimed they understood less than 60% of their EMI classes (Lee & Hong, 2015). Furthermore, only a mere 24.1% believed their English skills have improved as a result of classes conducted through an EMI. The difficulties imposed by EMI are also felt by some professors who may simply opt to provide their lectures in both English and again in Korean to satisfy EMI requirements (Kim et al., 2016).
The aforementioned studies suggest that more investigations are needed to find out how a shared L1 can be utilized in ways to help students better understand and achieve the goals of the class. To this end, the principal aim of this research is to introduce one of the ways to utilize the shared L1 between students and teachers and to investigate how the use of L1 can contribute to creating a more conducive learning environment within the context of English as a foreign language (EFL) taught at the university level.
Due to safety precautions and complications precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the context of this study was classes conducted entirely online. While the uses of a shared L1 and its benefits have been well documented in terms of more traditional in-person classroom settings (Auerbach, 1993; Cook, 2001; Cummins, 2008; Brooks- Lewis, 2009; Tamimi Sa’d & Quadermazi, 2015; Van der Meij & Zhao, 2010; Yao, 2011), the context of this study posed a unique opportunity to better understand how the use of L1 could benefit students working within an online setting. While governments and school administrations are working quickly to reopen schools safely, it is likely that the use of technology, specifically the use of online learning environments, will persist and be used in unison with more traditional in-person teaching methods in the future. In this sense, it is necessary to examine how L1 was utilized in the English classroom conducted remotely and how students perceived their English learning experiences. Insider perspectives are expected to shed light on the considerations for use of L1 in both online and offline language teaching.
The central questions that guided the current research are:
  1. How do students perceive the ways that the instructor implemented both their shared L1 and English as mediums of instruction in their online EFL classes?

  2. How do students perceive L1 and English should be utilized by both the teacher and learners in the online EFL classroom?

2. Literature Review

2.1. Acceptance of L1 in the English Learning Context

English language teaching in Korea, as well as much of the English teaching community, has predominantly been guided by teaching methodologies based on a monolingual approach, through which strict use of the target language is used (Auerbach, 1993, 2016; Cenoz & Gorter, 2011). A monolingual or English-only (EO) approach is rooted in the theory of the direct method, which stipulates that stringent use of the target language must be maintained and any artifacts of learners’ L1 be eliminated completely (Larsen-Freeman & Anderson, 2011). Advocates for this approach argue that complete immersion in the target language provides the best learning environment. Johnson and Swain (1994) also add that the driving principle behind immersion in the target language is to provide learners with the maximum amount of comprehensible input to ensure optimal acquisition. Jacobson and Faltis (1990) support this theory by stating that one of the primary reasons for the need to maintain a strict separation between languages is to prevent any cross-contamination, which may inhibit students from fully internalizing a second language.
The theory behind an EO approach appears viable at face value, but its fault lies in the lack of consideration for the students’ and teachers’ identity and background knowledge. Although English alone is the primary focus with an EO approach and the use of any other languages in the classroom is limited or outright prohibited, it cannot fully remove a teacher’s or learner’s L1. According to Auerbach (1993), teaching English as a second language (L2) has been entrenched in an ideology that emphasizes the exclusive use of the target language, but the issue with this approach is that it attempts to erase individual learners’ own backgrounds. The attempt to remove L1 from the classroom may also have negative effects on teachers as well. As findings from a study by Tsagari and Giannikas (2018) show, some teachers, despite seeing value in using the L1, felt guilty about its use and believed using L1 somehow compromised their professional ability, ultimately restricting its use. This false sense of guilt is likely imposed by erroneous ideological norms that have persisted in English language teaching, through which continue to impede learners’ opportunities to benefit from the use of their L1. Cook (2003) maintains that second language learners generally access their L1 when processing the L2 because a student’s L1 is permanently in the learner’s mind. This means that a student’s L1 will play a role in their learning process regardless of whether it is used by the teacher or not, and therefore it should not be ignored or isolated. McMillan and Rivers (2011) assert that use of the learner’s L1 provides additional support that enables students to produce a higher quality of work as opposed to being restricted to using only the target language. McKay (2012) further supports this by affirming that a learner’s existing language knowledge is an integral part of their personal and social identity, and it is therefore important to preserve and allow access to that information. Essentially, it is impossible to entirely detach the learner from their L1 and the background knowledge it carries.
Research has shown that disregarding the student’s L1 could even potentially have adverse effects (Auerbach, 1993; Cummins, 2009). The knowledge that students possess in their L1 can allow them to better understand linguistic concepts and negotiate meaning with classmates or a teacher who shares the same L1. This existing background knowledge remains a valuable tool for bridging the divide between first and second languages (Cenoz & Gorter, 2011, 2013; Cook, 2001; Cummins, 2008). This is especially relevant in a Korean EFL setting where the majority of students, and many teachers, share a common L1. In a study conducted by Kim et al. (2016), 523 students from Korean universities were surveyed on their feelings about classes taught with an EMI. Results showed that 85% felt that L1 inclusion would benefit students when explaining difficult concepts, and 62.6% of the students did not participate in EMI classes willingly, citing lack of confidence in their English skills. Their participation in EMI classes was due simply to the school’s policy, and it appears that the need for L1 was critical to promote a positive learning environment.
Although the debate continues, acceptance of the student’s L1 has been well established in multiple EFL contexts. Brooks-Lewis (2009) found that the attitudes of learners in an EFL setting were “overwhelmingly positive” towards the inclusion of L1 in the classroom, and that they favored its use over complete erasure. In addition, many teachers with knowledge of their student’s L1 will adopt its use to some degree, which proves the teachers recognize the potential role L1 plays (Levine, 2003; Liu et al., 2004). Van der Meij and Zhao (2010) showed that both teachers and students who share a common L1 hold a positive view of codeswitching, through which L1 and the target language are used together to negotiate meaning and better understand the contents of the class. Findings in other studies (e.g., Kohi & Suvarna Lakshmi, 2020; Lee & Lo, 2017; Shabir, 2017; Tamimi Sa’d & Quadermazi, 2015; Tsagari & Giannikas, 2018; Yao, 2011) further confirm that teachers and students who share a common L1 hold positive attitudes towards the inclusion of L1. Ultimately, teachers and students recognize the integral nature of the learner’s L1 background and understand the evident value it holds.

2.2. English Teacher’s Use of L1 in the Classroom

The first language of EFL learners has been widely accepted by both teachers and students to be a viable tool helpful in the classroom. Mohebi and Alavi (2014) found that EFL teachers who utilized the students’ L1 did so for reasons including providing feedback, teaching vocabulary, explaining grammar, building a rapport with students and providing individual help, and general management of the class. Similarly, data collected by Kohi and Suvarna Lakshmi (2020) support that the use of L1 can be beneficial in providing detailed explanations of vocabulary or grammar, providing feedback, class management, and motivating learners. L1 inclusion is also purported to help limit student anxiety (Auerbach, 1993), to develop an environment conducive to student-centered instruction, as well as acknowledging a student’s sociocultural aspects (Sabir, 2017), and to build relationships between students and teachers (Inbar-Lourie, 2010; Marco & Lee, 2013; Yenice, 2018). Findings by Yao (2011) illustrate how a teacher’s use of L1 can help clarify task instruction. By helping students to understand the purpose and directions to completing a task through the learner’s L1, more energy could be focused on processing the task itself in the target language.
The purpose of utilizing the learner’s L1 provides its greatest benefit to students at the beginning stages of language learning. In the case of beginner-level students, reliance on limited L1 assistance has been shown to be especially beneficial (Kohi & Suvarna Lakshmi, 2020; Marco & Lee, 2013). Although advanced students still showed an appreciation for use of L1 to some degree as it helped increase comfort and better understand the content of the class (Tsagari & Giannikas, 2018), as pointed out by Lee and Lo (2017), advanced students were more accepting of an EO approach. This illustrates that the necessity for L1 gradually decreases as the learner improves their language skills. In this regard, the student’s L1 acts as scaffolding to help them achieve an adequate level of proficiency so that less and less reliance on L1 can be tolerated.
While the use of a student’s L1 can provide several potential benefits, it depends greatly on how the L1 is used and to what extent. Yenice (2018) cautions that students may become dependent on L1’s use if it becomes the dominant language in the class. Overdependence on the L1 may result in students stagnating and no longer moving beyond their current zone of proximal development. L1 should be used sparingly and for specific purposes, be it academic, affective, managerial, or social. However, there does not exist a singular rule for exactly how and when the L1 should be used and to what extent. As de la Campa and Nassaji (2009) make clear, the factors that influence the decision about when, how, and why L1 is used vary and may be influenced by personal beliefs about language learning and teaching, classroom setting, or school policies. Therefore, Tamimi Sa’d and Quadermazi (2015) caution that although the learners’ L1 can be a useful tool to facilitate language learning, it can become counterproductive when used inaccurately or inappropriately. Turnbull (2018) and Yenice (2018) echo this by stating that the use of L1 should be used to benefit students but warns that overreliance may potentially interfere with the overall objectives of the class. In a study conducted by Shabir (2017), student-teachers from various linguistic backgrounds agreed that while L1 is useful, specifically for academic and managerial purposes, it should be limited as much as possible so as to give learners maximum opportunities to use the target language. These caveats might appear as an argument for L1 erasure; however, this would be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Clearly L1 is an element that cannot be erased and can be made use of; merely, the question remains as to how to implement it most effectively to achieve the results desired. An added layer of complexity is added to the question of how L1 can be more effectively applied when the context of learning shifts to an online learning environment.

2.3. Online Learning Environments

Since 2020, the world has been afflicted by the COVID- 19 pandemic. The pandemic has had significant effects on how education has been conducted around the globe. In Korea, virtually all schools and universities closed, opting for online learning as an alternative for classes that could no longer be held in-person (Kalenzi & Yim, 2020). As a result, this shift from the physical classroom, where students and teachers met face-to-face, to an online classroom inordinately altered the way in which teachers and students interacted. Adjusting to the online classroom gave rise to many new difficulties that were faced by both teachers and students alike (Bidwell et al., 2020). As teachers and students learned to navigate the online learning environment, certain communicative subjects, such as EFL, may have faced increased difficulty. This increased difficulty may be a result of not only having to instruct students of the goals of the course through regular lessons, but also having to explain how to utilize online tools to participate in classes and complete and submit their assignments.
When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted schools to rapidly alter the mode through which classes were conducted, many teachers and students faced difficulties that continue to persist. In a study conducted by Bidwell et al. (2020), it was reported that students expressed a range of difficulties such as loss of motivation, incompatibility with the learning methods used, lack of classroom structure, and feeling overwhelmed by the idea of having to take an entire course online. Many teachers also echoed the sentiments of students, stating that they initially felt overwhelmed and frustrated, citing issues with class management, organizing and conveying the content of the class in a new way, and being able to connect with students. Many, if not all, of these issues fall into the categories of academic, affective, managerial, and social, which are often the reasons cited for utilizing L1 in the classroom. Clearly the use of L1 alone will not be the answer for all issues encountered in the online EFL classroom; however, it may be a useful tool to aid in helping both teachers and students to work more effectively within the digital landscape.
While the severity of effects brought on by the COVID- 19 pandemic may not last forever, new methods developed during this period will have lasting effects on how education is approached. As schools begin to resume in-person classes, the usefulness of blended learning and online learning environments remains a viable option, another tool to help teachers achieve their goals as educators. However, within the EFL context, based on the circumstances of interacting through online learning environments, questions arise about the efficacy of exclusive EO instruction. There are legitimate concerns about managing a consistent flow within a class while maintaining focus on the primary course goals. To this extent, it stands to reason that L1 inclusion may play a potential role, not only in ways which can be applied to in-person classes, but in helping students successfully interact in an online setting so they can maintain focus on the goals of the course.
The primary role of L1’s use as scaffolding to assist beginner-level students in an in-person classroom remains the same when used in an online classroom. Copeland and Franzese (2021) found that overall, students express a positive view of accepting technology, specifically using online virtual learning environments in an EFL context. However, an essential element of effectively implementing the use of online learning methods is that teachers effectively instruct students on how to navigate and use the online platforms they are working within so that classwork can be completed properly. The authors also acknowledge that by providing instruction in the target language, an added layer of difficulty may have existed; therefore, in this case L1 could potentially aid in providing clearer instructions. An essential role of L1 is to provide clear task instruction (de la Campa & Nassaji, 2009; Yao, 2011), especially in the case of beginner-level students. In order to effectively precipitate the required task, teachers must explain to students what must be done. In the case of English instruction, teachers must decide whether the instructions should be provided in the learner’s L1, so more focus can be spent on the desired task, or whether instructions provided in English are preferable, in which case there lies the potential for misunderstanding. Ultimately the decision remains up to the teacher; however, the potential for L1 to assist in explaining instructions remains.

3. Methods

3.1. Research Context and Participants

Based on the literature review on the use of L1 in EFL environments and the instructor’s previous experience of teaching beginner-level classes, the instructor’s and students’ first language, Korean, was employed as one of the mediums of instruction and communication in four General English classes. One of the authors of this study taught those four classes at a four-year Korean university during the second semester of 2021. All four classes were for the beginner level, centering around improving speaking abilities through English presentations. This General Education English course is usually taken by students during the second semester of their freshman year, and the number of registered students for each class was 34 or 35. Around the time this research was conducted, all classes were operated online due to COVID-19; students were required to watch pre-recorded lecture videos for attendance each week and to attend live Zoom sessions every two weeks to do speaking activities together. They were also required to give a short (about two-minute) presentation after each unit of the textbook was finished and longer (about three-minute) presentations for the midterm and final; in total, six presentations were done by the students. One or two weeks after each presentation, the instructor held a Zoom session to provide oral feedback on students’ presentations except the first and final ones.
The instructor created three different approaches for the use of L1 depending on the types of teaching platforms: pre-recorded videos, Zoom sessions, and learning management system (LMS) and email. First of all, when the instructor recorded lecture videos, he first spoke in English and then verbally translated his English explanations into Korean. When there were Zoom sessions during which students practiced their speaking activities in groups or with the whole class, the use of English was mandated. Lastly, the instructor used mostly Korean when giving oral feedback to the students, posting announcements on the learning management system (LMS), and communicating with students via email or LMS message.
Participants in this study were students from the General English classes. Out of 139 registered students, 69 students have participated in the study by completing the survey questionnaire. Sixty-five respondents (94.2%) were freshmen, two (2.9%) juniors, and two (2.9%) seniors. About two thirds of the respondents (63.8%) were female students, and 36.2% were male students. The respondents’ fields of study varied, including Social Sciences (30.4%), Humanities (26.1%), Software (25.6%), Music and Arts (13%), Law (2.9%), Engineering (1.4%), and Math Education (1.4%). One hundred percent of the respondents replied that Korean is their first language.
All the respondents were students from beginner-level classes. According to the school policy, freshman students are required to take a mock TOEIC test, which acts as a placement test. The mock TOEIC test is administered approximately two weeks before their first semester starts. Beginner-level students are those whose placement test scores are lower than 450. However, to be more precise about the student English level, four questions were asked via the survey. The first one was about students’ self- reported English level. By adjusting the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), five levels (i.e., low beginner, beginner, intermediate, high intermediate, and advanced, which are equivalent to A1, A2, B1, B2, and C1 levels of the CEFR global scale respectively) were given as options to choose, and 23 (33.3%) respondents reported that they are the low beginner level (A1), 37 (53.6%) respondents the beginner level (A2), and 9 (13%) respondents the intermediate level (B1). The other three questions asked about students’ receptive and productive abilities. The result shows that students feel most difficult when speaking, followed by listening and reading. For example, in the reading and listening areas of English, 18.8% of the students reported that they had difficulty comprehending the English textbook on their own, and 32.9% reported that they had difficulty (30%) and strong difficulty (2.9%) understanding the instructor’s lectures in English. When it comes to productive skills, 50.7% of the respondents said that communicating in English was difficult (40.6%) or very difficult (10.1%). In summary, the student participants in this study perceived themselves as the beginner-level in general and appeared to be more proficient in the receptive areas of English, reading and listening, than in the productive area, speaking (See Figure 1).
[Figure 1]
Students’ self-reported receptive and productive abilities

3.2. Data Collection

A survey questionnaire was the primary source for the data of the study. Survey questions are divided into three parts. The first one is about the participants’ demographic information (i.e., school year, gender, major, English proficiency level, and first language), and the second part focuses on their perceptions about the ways that L1 has been used in their current General English classes. In the last part, the students’ thoughts about the inclusion of their L1 in English as a foreign language (EFL) class were asked. The survey consists of three types of questions: multiple-choice, 5-point Likert scale, and open-ended questions. For example, the 5-point Likert scale question was used to examine students’ general satisfaction rate along with an open-ended question asking to elaborate their thoughts behind their choice. To find out under what circumstances they preferred English and/or Korean to be used, multi-select multiple choice questions were utilized. Since all the respondents’ first language was Korean, the survey was written and answered in Korean and was translated into English for this article.
The result of the literature review guided some of the survey questions. For example, Question 4 asked how much students agree with the statements about advantages of L1 application in L2 classes. Informed by the research (e.g., Auerbach, 1993; Inbar-Lourie, 2010; Kohi & Suvarna Lakshmi, 2020; Lee & Lo, 2017; Marco & Lee, 2013; Mohebi and Alavi, 2014; Yenice, 2018) on the benefits that L1 inclusion in L2 classes brought out and the purposes that L2 teachers use L1, we developed our own 18 questions under the four domains, academic, affective, managerial, and social, to confirm the advantages that the students may have experienced while taking the current General English classes. In the same vein, we developed another survey question with eight statements about disadvantages of L1 application reported by the previous studies, which mostly focused on its academic and affective aspects.
After the survey questions were completed, an online survey questionnaire was developed in Google Forms, and its link was posted on the board of the LMS of each class at the end of the semester to ask students to participate. Information explaining what the survey is about and how their responses are going to be processed was also included in the post along with messages that they have a right not to respond to the survey. A group message via the LMS system was also sent three times at intervals of one week to encourage participation. Completion of the survey was on a voluntary basis, so no words that sounded obligatory were used at all in the group messages. The survey was also conducted anonymously to protect students’ identity. In total, 69 out of 139 students completed the survey.

3.3. Data Analysis

The respondents’ answers were automatically transferred to an Excel file upon their completion of the Google survey form. The collected data were analyzed differently according to their type. For instance, the descriptive statistics were used to analyze multiple-choice and 5-point Likert scale questions. Frequency counts were employed when displaying the responses to the multiple-choice questions, and percentages were used for Likert-scale ratings.
For the open-ended questions, the content analysis method was used. As for the question asking about the reasons behind their feelings about the way the instructor used both L2 (English) and L1 (Korean) during recorded video lectures, for example, the respondents’ responses were sorted out by the level of their satisfaction rate, from very dissatisfied to very satisfied. The next step was to read those sorted responses thoroughly and repetitively to identify emerging concepts and to use them as coding categories to code the text. After that, the frequency of each concept was counted and displayed in the order of their frequency to figure out the importance and commonality of respondents’ comments. In some cases, relationships among the emerging concepts were investigated to reach a deeper interpretation of the data. To minimize coding errors, coding categories were developed by the two researchers of this study, and they were shared with each other. In the process of discussing and clarifying their meanings together, the coding categories were re-coded, and they were finalized until agreement was reached.

4. Results and Discussion

4.1. Perceptions About the Way L1 Was Used in the Current English Class

In an attempt to answer the first research question, the students were asked how they felt about the distinctive ways in which their first language (L1), Korean, was used in their online English classes. Table 1 shows their answers.
<Table 1>
Students’ satisfaction rate with the ways Korean was used in their English classes online
Questions 1 2 3 4 5
Very Dissatisfied Very Satisfied
1. How do you feel about the way the instructor used both English and Korean during recorded video lectures? 0% 0% 7.2% 29% 63.8%
2. How do you feel about the instructor’s decision to compel students to use English during Zoom live sessions? 1.4% 13% 31.9% 33.3% 20.3%
3. How do you feel about the instructor’s use of Korean when giving feedback, posting announcements, and communicating via email? 0% 0% 2.9% 20.3% 76.8%
First, Survey Question 1 asked how satisfied students were with watching pre-recorded video lectures where the instructor’s English explanation was followed by its Korean translation. More than half of the students (63.8%) responded that they were very satisfied, 29% were satisfied, and 7.2% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied; no student showed dissatisfaction with the way that L1 was used. Question 1A was a follow up question that asked students to explain their choices for Question 1, which are shown in Table 2. Most students attributed their satisfaction with the instructor’s use of Korean to being able to develop an increased level of comprehension of the material presented in the lectures. With their comprehension level increased, the students rarely missed important contents and instructions the instructor provided during video lectures, which helped them to complete their work on time and in a proper manner and to stay less worried.
<Table 2>
Students’ comments expressing satisfaction on the use of Korean
Reasons for Satisfaction Student’s Comments
Increased English Comprehension Level (59) Improved Understanding (36) - I easily understood what the professor was trying to say in English because he said it again in Korean.
- Although adding Korean translation made video lectures longer, it was fine because it helped me to understand the course content better.
- He explained the parts that I missed in Korean again, so I could understand and study better.
Staying on Track (11) - He used both Korean and English when talking about assignments, so I was able to complete them smoothly.
- I was able to check whether my understanding of the professor’s instructions was correct or not right away, so I didn’t miss a thing even when I couldn’t understand his English.
English Improvement (8) - I could understand his English explanations by listening to his Korean translations, and I learned how to express some Korean words and sentences in English.
- I was satisfied because I could confirm whether what I heard in English was correct or not while listening to the Korean.
Emotional Stability (4) - I became less worried about whether I had missed something important or not because the professor repeated it in Korean again.
- I felt more closer to English when Korean and English were used together, and I felt sometimes proud of myself when I saw myself following the class well.
Survey Question 2 focused on the instructor’s implementation of English-only for classes held live over Zoom. During these classes students were encouraged to use only English while engaging in speaking activities. About half of the students showed positive (20.3%) and very positive (33.3%) attitudes towards the English-only policy, but the other half showed that they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied (31.9%), dissatisfied (13%), and very dissatisfied (1.4%). The most apparent reason for the students’ satisfaction may lay in their belief that using English is an integral part of English class, therefore students must make use of the language. The next most frequently mentioned reason for their satisfaction was based on an understanding that learners must speak English in order to improve their language skills. On a practical level, some students stated that the obligation to use only English resulted in greater opportunities to use the language, which further helped them improve. Examples of the students’ positive comments are shown in Table 3. With the belief that speaking English leads to improvement prevailing among the students, the instructor’s attempt to get students to use only English was positively accepted. Ultimately, because the class met the student’s expectation of how they believed an English class should be conducted and what would be required to improve their English, they showed a general satisfaction with the English-only policy during the Zoom sessions.
<Table 3>
Students’ comments expressing satisfaction of the English-only approach
Reasons for Satisfaction Student’s Comments
Belief (37) Improvement (21) - We need to use English to improve it.
- As we use English more, it will help us become closer to English, overcome fear of English, and improve our English proficiency.
- No matter how uncomfortable and difficult it is, we need to use English to improve our English skills.
Nature of English Speaking Class (16) - The essence of College English 2 (English class) is in using and speaking English.
- This class is College English 2 which focuses on English speaking, so it is right to use all English.
- I don’t have confidence in my English, so I feel uneasy when I try to use it. However, it is inevitable that it must be used.
Opportunities to Use English (7) - I rarely had a chance to speak English before, but it was good to have such a chance in this class.
- I haven’t spoken English for a while. However, the professor pushed us to use English, so I couldn’t help but try to use it, which turned out to be helpful.
However, the students’ satisfaction with the English-only policy during Zoom lessons was not as high as the case of pre-recorded videos in which both English and Korean were used; the satisfaction rate dropped by about 40%, and neutral and negative attitudes sharply increased accordingly. As shown in Table 4, one of the dominant reasons that led to the students’ dissatisfaction with using only English stemmed from their low English proficiency. Many students commented that it was not “easy for them to communicate” during the Zoom lessons because their English level was too low and that they lacked confidence to speak. Some students also pointed out that they felt a sense of burden when they were forced to speak their imperfect English in front of other students, and some others felt awkward because they were not accustomed to using English to communicate in class. These emotions intensified when they were forced to speak using only English. As a result, the students became more hesitant to participate in speaking activities, which led to having less opportunities to use English in class.
<Table 4>
Students’ comments expressing dissatisfaction of the English-only approach
Reasons for Dissatisfaction Student’s Comments
Difficulty Communicating (25) - It was difficult to make a sentence that expressed what I wanted to say on the spot.
- I saw many students had a hard time communicating in English and struggling to find the right words.
- Communicating in English is too difficult. Cramming education was all I received in middle and high school.
Feelings of Pressure and Uneasiness (18) - I felt a lot of pressure, so it was not easy to use English.
- It felt awkward to speak English.
- I understand that I should speak English because I am taking English class, but it did not go well, and I often felt frustrated.
Disappointing Results (7) - I doubted the point of having group activities when group members did not know what to do.
- I felt bad when I saw my classmates remaining silent during the Zoom sessions because they had a hard time speaking in English.
- Many students felt uneasy, so the participation rate dropped.
- There were some questions to ask during live Zoom sessions, but I couldn’t come up with a sentence so I gave up asking.
Survey Question 3 sought to find out how satisfied the students were with using only Korean when the instructor gave oral feedback on the students’ presentation assignments over Zoom, posted announcements on the class LMS, and communicated via email or the LMS messaging system. The results show that nearly all of the students (97.1%) were satisfied (20.3%) or very satisfied (76.8%) with the use of Korean, and 2.9% remained neutral. The reasons that students showed support for the use of their L1 correspond to the reasons found in the case of video lectures. Sixty- one out of 69 respondents commented that the use of Korean helped them to “fully,” “accurately,” and/or “quickly” understand the instructor, whether spoken, or written, so that they could “follow the class better,” “complete tasks in time,” and/or “fix their problems and answer questions more easily.” In particular, it was frequently mentioned that Korean was the most suitable language to meet the purposes of providing feedback, posting announcements, and for email correspondence. For example, one of the respondents stated, “I liked using Korean because what’s important when receiving oral feedback is whether I can accurately understand the feedback and fix my problem accordingly.” Essentially, the student viewed the purpose of receiving feedback from the instructor as a means of helping them clearly understand what weaknesses needed to be addressed to aid them in improving their performance in the next presentation. Thus, the use of Korean was determined to be the most suitable medium of communication to meet the intended purpose considering the student’s English level.
Survey Question 4 focused on understanding whether the students had experienced the advantages of the use of L1 in the following four areas, academic, affective, managerial, and social, as suggested by the previous research (e.g., Auerbach, 1993; Inbar-Lourie, 2010; Kohi & Suvarna Lakshmi, 2020; Lee & Lo, 2017; Marco & Lee, 2013; Mohebi and Alavi, 2014; Yenice, 2018). To begin with, Table 5 shows that most students (from 87% at minimum to 92.4% at maximum) agreed or strongly agreed that the way the instructor applied Korean as a medium of instruction to their classes was advantageous for academic purposes. It helped them to learn textbook content clearly (#1) and quickly (#2), learn English better in general (#14) and English words, expressions, and grammar in particular (#4), and understand the instructor’s feedback (#7). From the affective perspective, it was agreed or strongly agreed in the range from 79.7% to 92.8% that the use of Korean functioned positively in ways to reduce students’ anxiety about watching pre-recorded video lectures (#5) and to lower their stress level (#12) so that they could feel more relaxed (#13) and be more active in asking the instructor questions (#8). In addition, the use of L1 seemed to help the students to successfully manage their learning while taking the class. Most students (from 82.6% to 97.1%) agreed or strongly agreed that they were able to better understand the instructions given for assignments (#3) and administrative instructions (#10), to remain more focused on the video lectures (#6), and to eventually complete the course (#11). However, when it comes to managing group activities, it was noticeable that the agreement rate (73.9%) did not appear to be as high compared to the other managerial aspects of the use of Korean although it was still considered high.
<Table 5>
Students’ thoughts on the advantages of using Korean in their online English classes
Questions 1 2 3 4 5
Strongly Disagreed Strongly Agreed
Academic Aspect 1) Comprehend the content of video lectures more clearly 0% 1.4% 5.8% 44.9% 47.8%
2) Understand the content of video lecture more quickly 1.4% 1.4% 7.2% 33.3% 56.5%
4) Better understand English words/ expressions/ grammar 0% 2.9% 5.8% 44.9% 46.4%
7) Better understand feedback on presentations 0% 2.9% 10.1% 31.9% 55.1%
14) Learn English better 0% 1.4% 10.1% 43.5% 44.9%
Affective Aspect 5) Reduce my anxiety about viewing lectures 2.9% 1.4% 7.2% 33.3% 56.5%
8) Become less hesitant to ask the instructor questions 1.4% 1.4% 17.4% 30.4% 49.3%
12) Take the class with a reduced level of stress 0% 4.3% 7.2% 40.6% 47.8%
13) Take the class in a more relaxed state 0% 2.9% 4.3% 43.5% 49.3%
Managerial Aspect 3) Better understand what to do to complete assignments 1.4% 4.3% 5.8% 26.1% 62.3%
6) Focus more intently on video lectures 0% 2.9% 14.5% 39.1% 43.5%
10) Join/view class and complete required activities 0% 1.4% 14.5% 34.8% 53.6%
11) Complete the College English 2 class 0% 0% 2.9% 46.4% 50.7%
18) Had Korean been allowed during group activities, the group activities could have gone more smoothly. 0% 8.7% 17.4% 40.6% 33.3%
Social Aspect (Participation) 15) Maintain a higher level of engagement in class 0% 1.4% 13% 40.6% 44.9%
16) Had Korean been allowed during group activities, I would have participated in them more actively. 0% 8.7% 24.6% 34.8% 31.9%
Social Aspect (Relationship) 9) To develop a better relationship with the instructor 0% 0% 10.1% 46.4% 43.5%
17) Had Korean been allowed during group activities, I would have developed a better relationship with classmates. 0% 8.7% 24.6% 39.1% 27.5%
Some social benefits in terms of participation and relationships that the use of L1 brought out in the previous research were also found in this study. More than four- fifths (85.5%) of the respondents positively responded that it helped them to participate more in class activities (#15) and 89.9% mentioned that it helped them to develop a better relationship with the instructor (#9). However, as both of their agreement levels dropped to 66.7%, the students did not seem to agree as much as they did with the other social functions of Korean that its use would have helped them to engage more in class and group speaking activities (#16) and to develop a closer relationship with their group members (#17) even if Korean had been allowed. Based on these results, we can reason that the use of L1 functions to improve online interactions and relationships among students and manage group activities to a certain degree, but that L1 alone would not be enough to achieve these purposes. It is also questionable whether English alone could achieve these goals and it raises the question whether this may simply be a limitation of online learning.
The students’ perceptions about the concerns or disadvantages of L1 use in English class were also checked through Survey Question 5 (Table 6). For academic purposes, most respondents (from 76.8% to 95.8%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that the way that Korean was used in their English classes negatively affected their English improvement (#2) and English learning experiences (#7), interfered with their effort to think in English (#6), or lowered the opportunities to be exposed to English. When exploring potential disadvantages of L1 from the affective aspect, 95.7% of the respondents believed that the way that Korean was used in their classes was not against the nature of English class (#3), and 94.2% and 95.6% chose respectively that they were not disappointed (#4) or confused (#5) when two languages were used as mediums of communication.
<Table 6>
Students’ thoughts on the disadvantages of using Korean in their online English classes
Questions 1 2 3 4 5
Strongly Disagreed Strongly Agreed
Academic Aspect 1) The opportunities to be exposed to English decreased compared to only when English would be used. 40.6% 36.2% 15.9% 5.8% 1.4%
2) It negatively affected my English improvement. 75.4% 20.3% 0% 2.9% 1.4%
6) It interfered with my effort to think in English. 71% 21.7% 4.3% 1.4% 1.4%
7) It negatively affected my English learning experience. 71% 18.8% 5.8% 1.4% 2.9%
Affective Aspect 3) It was against the nature of English class. 75.4% 20.3% 1.4% 1.4% 1.4%
4) I was disappointed that nglish was not the only medium of instruction. 78.3% 15.9% 1.4% 2.9% 1.4%
5) I was confused when two languages, Korean and English, were used. 79.7% 15.9% 0% 2.9% 1.4%
To summarize, the students in this study appeared to agree with the advantages posed by the use of L1 as researched in previous studies. However, the potential managerial benefits posed by the use of L1 during group activities was not perceived to be as high as anticipated. In addition, the social benefits of L1 were also felt less during online group activities. One of the reasons for this may be due to the fact that interaction through live Zoom classes differs vastly from interaction between students in a physical classroom. The dynamics of interpersonal interactions and the relationships that can be forged between classmates in-person seems to be absent, or at best lacking, in the online learning space. Regarding the potential disadvantages of the use of L1, it was interesting that the students in this study did not see its disadvantages, although it was somewhat agreed that the opportunities to be exposed to English could decrease with L1 inclusion.

4.2. Perceptions About How L1 Should Be Applied in Online EFL Classes

The second part of the survey questionnaire sought to answer the second research question: How do students perceive L1 should be used in online EFL classes? Survey Question 6 was about what language(s) the students believed an instructor should use in an online English class, and Table 7 shows their answers. More than two fifths of the respondents (44.9%) argued that the English instructor should use “mostly English, but Korean when needed” (44.9%), another two fifths (40.6%) responded “English and Korean, half and half.” The third most selected choice was “mostly Korean, but English when needed” (11.6%), and “English only” came next (2.9%). No respondent chose “only Korean.”
<Table 7>
Students’ perceptions about language(s) to be used in online English classes
Questions All in English Mostly English Half & Half Mostly Korean All in Korean
6. What language(s) do you believe the instructor should use in an online English speaking class? 2.9% 44.9% 40.6% 11.6% 0%
7. What language(s) do you believe learners should use in an online English speaking class? 5.8% 59.4% 21.7% 11.6% 1.4%
Survey Question 7 asked what language(s) learners should use and to what degree in an online English- speaking class. The results showed that “mostly English, but Korean when needed” was selected the most (59.4%), followed by “half and half” (21.7%), “mostly Korean but English when needed” (11.6%), “English only” (5.8%), and “All Korean” (1.4%). It was generally agreed that learners should use English but should also be allowed to use Korean to a certain degree when needed. In addition, as in the case that the rate of “mostly English” (59.4%) was two times more than the rate of “half and half” (21.7%), the students themselves seem to believe that they should use English more than Korean, even in a situation when Korean may be allowed.
Survey Question 8 asked under what circumstances do students feel the instructor should use Korean if they would take the same class again online, and Table 8 shows their choices in the order of frequency. First, the use of Korean was considered important across all the three platforms, video lecture, Zoom, and LMS and email, when instructional accuracy and clarity (e.g., announcing assignment information, providing administrative information, answering their personal questions) were needed. The students appeared to consider it especially important that they were able to comprehend without any confusion what the instructor intended for managerial purposes (such as how to do and submit assignments, what to be careful of when filming presentations, and by when to submit midterm and final presentations), which was integral to their successful completion of the class. Secondly, many students responded that it was important to use Korean for academic purposes. However, it seemed that L1 was needed more when the aspects of English language itself (e.g., word definition, expressions, and grammar) were explained rather than when the content of the course was lectured and practiced, such as how to organize a presentation. Lastly, Korean was considered an important medium for the instructor to use when feedback on assignments was discussed.
<Table 8>
Students’ perceptions on how Korean could be used by the instructor in an online class
Place Activity Type n %
Video Lecture When explaining assignments 50 72.5
When giving instruction for administrative purposes 37 53.6
When explaining words/ English expressions/ grammar 36 52.2
When giving lectures about textbook content 23 33.3
When checking answers to textbook exercises 16 23.2
Zoom When notifying important administrative information 49 71
When giving feedback on presentations 34 49.3
When giving instruction for administrative purposes 33 47.8
When asking questions related to speaking activities 21 30.4
When answering students’ questions related to speaking activities 19 27.5
LMS & Email When posting information about assignments and mini presentations 47 68.1
When posting administrative information 46 66.7
When answering questions via email or LMS message 34 49.3
When posting presentation rubrics 20 29
The students were also asked under what circumstances they should be allowed to use Korean in their current online English class (Survey Question 9). As Table 9 shows, their answers did not significantly differ from the circumstances under which the instructor should use Korean. For example, when requesting instructional accuracy and clarity and when consulting the instructor over the results of their presentations, they thought they should be allowed to use Korean. Although the instructor’s use of Korean was not strongly requested during the live speaking activities over Zoom (30.4% and 27.5%), the students requested more Korean even when conducting speaking activities. The students wanted to be able to use Korean when they faced difficulties speaking English during class or group activities (75.4% and 75.4% each). Lastly, the students saw that Korean was needed more in formal situations like when practicing English during Zoom classes rather than in informal situations like when having daily conversations.
<Table 9>
Students’ perceptions on how Korean could be used by learners in an online class
Platform Circumstance n %
Zoom When stuck/facing difficulties (mental translation, word choice, sentence formulation) during speaking activities 52 75.4
When stuck/facing difficulties (mental translation, word choice, sentence formulation) during group speaking activities 52 75.4
When consulting the instructor over the results of mini presentations 51 73.9
When asking the instructor about the instruction related to group activities 43 62.3
When having daily conversation with group members 30 43.5
When having daily conversation with the instructor 29 42
LMS & Email When asking the instructor questions about the class 49 71
The last set of survey questions (10 and 10A) focused on determining which environment, between online and offline, the students felt the use of Korean was more necessary and why. About half of the students (65.2%) chose that Korean is needed in both online and offline environments, followed by “needed more in offline classes” (18.8%), and “needed more in online classes” (15.9%); no respondent chose “not needed in either online or offline classes.” Regardless of whether the class was held online or offline, the respondents pointed to their low English level as the reason for their choices. Those who thought Korean was needed more in an offline environment added that they would have more difficulty understanding English because they would not be able to pause or replay the instructor’s lecture as they could do with pre-recorded videos viewed online. These students also stated that they would feel more nervous or overwhelmed when speaking to people in a live setting. In addition, there are other factors like noise or distractions that could hinder their English listening comprehension in the offline setting, which could be remedied through the use of Korean when necessary. Those respondents who chose Korean as being needed more in online classes primarily pointed out the limitations of online communication such as its heavy reliance on voice and lack of nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and mood. The example comments on each choice are shown in Table 10.
<Table 10>
Students’ comments on what environment(s) necessitate the use of L1
Options Students’ Comments
Needed in Both an Online and Offline Class (65.2%) - I don’t see a difference between Zoom and offline classes when it comes to the use of Korean.
- What is important is whether students can follow the class well regardless of whether it is online or offline.
- Whether online or offline, there are always students who have a hard time understanding and using English.
Needed More in an Offline Class (18.8%) - If we come across some difficult English in in-person class, I don’t think we can easily search the Internet as we can during online classes.
- I can replay the video until I understand it, but if I fail to understand the professor’s lecture in an offline classroom, I cannot catch up easily.
- I think I would feel more nervous speaking English in an offline setting than online.
Needed More in an Online Class (15.9%) - I can ask my classmates right away if there is something I missed. However, it is not easy to have such friends next to me when I take the class online.
- I cannot ask the professor questions right away when I watch video lectures. I can email the professor, but it is not like asking him face to face and receiving a direct answer.
- I can only hear the professor’s voice when I watch video lectures. Except for ppt slides, there are no other clues to check like his body language or facial expressions, so it makes it harder to follow the lecture when he speaks only in English.

5. Conclusion and Implications

The first research question asked how beginner-level students perceive the instructor’s use of both their L1 and English as mediums of instruction in an online EFL classroom. By and large, students appeared to show overwhelming approval for the use of L1 in the online EFL classroom. Based on the reasons cited by students, it appears that L1’s primary function was to help them better understand what was required and how to best improve. In this case, the use of L1 was implemented effectively to aid students in managerial and academic purposes. Students also held positive views of using both English and Korean during pre-recorded video lectures, citing that the inclusion of L1 primarily assisted them in developing a stronger understanding of the content delivered and in following the flow of the lectures. In both cases of receiving feedback and viewing pre-recorded video lectures, the use of L1 acts as scaffolding to help beginner-level students function competently in the class and understand clearly the content presented and what was expected of them.
In the case of live Zoom classes, where an English-only policy was imposed, students’ satisfaction dropped significantly. Although students’ personal beliefs show they understood the purpose of using only English and felt they must make a strong effort to use more English themselves, they became apprehensive when it came time to use the language. Students felt anxious and lacked confidence to use the language in front of others, which ultimately led to them having less opportunities to use the language. Ironically, the EO policy was implemented to provide students with more opportunities to use English, but it ran counter to that purpose for some students. While it may be favorable to have students use as much of the target language as possible when performing speaking activities and it also corresponds to many students’ beliefs, it may benefit them more to have the option to use some L1 in the form of codeswitching when needed. In this case, the use of a student’s L1 can act both to assist in affective purposes to help ease their anxiety, as well as academic and managerial purposes to help them negotiate meaning through the use of both languages to complete the desired task and increase their participation in speaking activities.
Advantages and disadvantages of the use of L1 were also asked, and it was generally agreed that the use L1 fulfilled its academic, affective, managerial, and social purposes as found in other previous studies. However, it appeared that students had some doubts about its social benefits in building closer rapport with their group members and participating more actively in speaking activities during their small group meetings over Zoom in particular. This does not mean that the use of L1 does not have its social benefits during online small group activities; instead, it can be reasoned that interactions among students in the online environments can be more complex than in the offline environments so that the use of L1 alone has its limitation to produce those social benefits as it could do in other social cases. As for the possible disadvantages discussed in the previous studies, the students in this study did not seem to agree that they experienced such adverse effects of using L1.
The second research question sought to understand students’ perceptions on how the use of L1 should be conducted by both the teacher and students in the online EFL classroom. All the respondents agreed that there was a need for some degree of L1 by both the teacher and students in the EFL classroom. The respondents’ choices for circumstances under which L1 is needed mirror many of the advantages cited in the first portion of the survey, which further support the use of L1 for academic, affective, managerial, and social purposes. In addition, no evident preference was found in the environment of using L1 between online and offline, but the reasons cited by the respondents who chose either offline or online can provide some suggestions for teachers who try to use students’ L1 in their online teaching environments. For example, one of the primary reasons cited was that with pre-recorded video lectures posted online, students were able to confirm their understanding of English lectures by listening to the Korean explanation afterward. They also had the advantage of viewing the video multiple times to develop a greater understanding of the material presented. In contrast, a live class would not afford students the opportunity to review the class, so gaining a clear understanding the first time could be aided by the inclusion of L1 used in unison with English.
It appears that students see value in the inclusion of L1 for several reasons in both online and offline settings. This is not to say that L1 should be used indiscriminately or intentionally injected into all aspects of the class; in fact, quite the opposite seems to be the case. Teachers should make an effort to provide adequate help so that students can perform the required work and achieve the goals of the course, but in certain instances, they must choose what is most important. For example, more effort can be put into explaining the instructions of an activity in the target language simply to provide students with greater exposure, or instructions can be given in the L1 so that students can focus the majority of their energy on using the target language to accomplish the desired task. Essentially, the use of L1 acts as another tool in a teacher’s repertoire, and it should neither be overlooked or overused. Few tools grant teachers such a broad potential of benefits in such a wide range of functions as the L1.
Based on the results of this study, and in line with previous research, the level of students should be seriously considered when implementing their L1 in an online class. While one of the key principles of utilizing EO is to give students maximum opportunities to receive input and use the language, this will not work if students lack adequate skills to function competently in an EO setting. Therefore, beginner-level students may benefit from a higher percentage of L1 being allowed (Kohi & Lakshmi, 2020; Marco & Lee, 2013), while more advanced-level classes may rely less on L1, and in some cases may even view EO instruction to be of greater value. This understanding supports the idea that L1 should act as scaffolding to assist beginner- level students attain a higher level of proficiency so that reliance on L1 can be gradually diminished. As stipulated in prior research, it is vitally important that the purpose and amount of L1 used be considered carefully so as not to threaten the goals of the class (Tamimi Sa’d and Quadermazi, 2015; Turnbull, 2018; Yenice, 2018). Therefore, while L1 clearly has a valid place in the online EFL classroom, it should be used prudently and for specific purposes that will best aid students in attaining the goals of the class.
As Kim et al. (2016) point out, it is important that teachers have the language skills necessary to conduct classes using an EO medium of instruction, particularly in the case of advanced-level students. Likewise, it would stand to reason that teachers of beginner-level students would also benefit from having the language skills necessary to utilize L1 in the classroom. At the very least, even a basic knowledge of the student’s L1 could provide a great benefit for academic, affective, and managerial purposes. As shown in prior studies by Brooks-Lewis (2009) and Sabir (2017), teachers with a working knowledge of their students’ L1 were able to accurately assess and understand what was going on in the class. Although alternative teaching methods may exist to help teachers cope with the absence of their student’s L1, based on the results of this study, students appear to hold strong beliefs that L1 is an essential tool for learning. Absence or prohibition of this tool could exacerbate students’ feelings of anxiety (Auerbach, 1993).
This study has sought to understand how L1 can be used to aid students in the online EFL classroom, but it is not without its limitations. One of the primary limitations of this study is that its findings remain in the case of the participants who were all taught by a single teacher. While this does not discount the results, it is understood that these findings illustrate a narrow slice of student perceptions. Additionally, the perceptions of students may be biased based on what methods they have been exposed to and how successful of an experience they have had with them. In this case, students may have gravitated towards the use of L1 because it was implemented, and they felt it yielded positive results. It is also important to keep in mind that online learning environments encompass a wide range of how students and teachers interact. For example, interaction through pre-recorded videos is a one-way flow of information that is highly teacher- centered. In contrast, Zoom meetings can be used to engage more with students and provide instant feedback. LMS or email messaging may also provide an opportunity to deliver prompt feedback and engage with students while also affording them time to process information. With a greater understanding of how students perceive the beneficial use of L1, it’s important to consider how it can be used across different online learning environments. For example, perhaps more English in pre-recorded videos, and more L1 for Zoom meetings may produce different results. Further research may seek to understand how the use of L1 in online EFL classes might fare under differing teaching contexts to enlarge the scope and understanding of how L1’s use is perceived in the online classroom.


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