English Only‏‎ in your TEFL Classroom

How To Teach English

Using the students’ MT in a TEFL class was be the basis behind the grammar-translation method, which was largely rejected as ineffective during the middle part of the last century.

Researchers and teachers discovered that translating into the MT as a teaching method simply does not produce the kinds of results our students need. There is rarely any advantage that can be demonstrated by doing so.

Here are some of the arguments against using the students’ MT in the classroom:

•    Referring the student’s MT is simply not necessary. Using examples, pictures and other non-verbal means of communication allow you to negotiate meaning without slipping back into the MT.
•    The more exposure the students have to the TL, the better. The more they are obliged to communicate in the TL, the better.  (The input should be one small step above the comprehensible level – it’s still understandable but it makes them mentally stretch a bit.)
•    Using the MT in class is philosophically contradictory. You’re encouraging them to use the new language as much as possible, but you yourself slip back into their MT.

With this in mind here is a simple but effective technique to encourage English Only in the classroom.

This technique does work well; at the beginning it might need a bit more effort, but before long you should have no problems enforcing this rule.


Prepare a large poster for your classroom. On it, in bold, striking letters, write ENGLISH ONLY and then hang the poster in a prominent place in the room.

Now, whenever anyone says anything that isn’t English, stop the class immediately, point to the poster and call out, “ENGLISH ONLY.”

Do this without fail whenever you hear anything which isn’t English. You need to be consistent here. Importantly, when you do this, make it lighthearted and fun and let the students know that they’re not being punished for speaking their own language, just encouraged to speak English.

Then after a while when the students are used to this, encourage the whole class to join in with everyone in the room calling out, “ENGLISH ONLY,” when they need to.

Soon enough, all you’ll need to do is point to the poster and the class will call out, “ENGLISH ONLY,” while you remain silent.

And soon after that you will find that the students start to stop and correct each other by saying, “English Only.”

In effect it becomes a lighthearted catchphrase.


The advantages are obvious – your students are encouraged to speak English as much as possible, not only when they are interacting with you, but also when they speak amongst themselves.

This chimes in with the idea of full immersion‏‎ where students are placed in a completely English environment in the class to help them use English naturally as an English native speaker would.

English Only is useful for several reasons:

  • the target language‏‎ also becomes a tool to teach itself
  • the students use English as much as possible; especially in non-English speaking countries the students may well get a very limited chance to hear and speak English so making it compulsory in your classroom maximizes those opportunities
  • it reduces mother tongue Influence‏‎; in time the student’s MT will be removed from the process

Quick Tip

If you speak a little of the local language, you can also “accidentally” use a non-English word in the classroom and then call out, “ENGLISH ONLY,” to the class. It reinforces the “fun” nature of this process and can help with students who might feel a bit embarrassed at being caught out.

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  1. Scott Zimmermann

    This sounds great and I will try it. But is not the L1 permissible in some instances? In Techniques and Principles of Language Teaching by Larsen-Freeman, she states: “Judicious use of the students’ L1 is permitted in CLT.” In my own experience, the use of the L1 is rarely “judicious” and serves an an impediment to students’ progress. But how about the use of L1 in low-level classes in particular? It seems there is a gulf between the theory and reality of L1 use in the EFL classroom.

    • Jenny Scott

      I would always use the “English Only” technique in my classrooms without any use of L1. Then, once everyone was completely comfortable with speaking English only in the class, I would occasionally use the L1 to explain certain points but, to be honest, that got rarer and rarer.

      In low-level classes using English only was never a problem (although with complete beginners and in emergencies I would allow L1 when needed).

      Do you find using L1 absolutely necessary? I think the problem is that we have to get away from the belief that many teachers have that they must use it with low level classes and when teaching grammar – which is simply not true.

  2. Steven P

    Does this apply to teaching adults as well or only young children? Thank you!

    • Pete West

      It applies to any age group. 🙂