International Review of Applied Linguistics (IRAL) volume:47(3):325-345.
The role of the first language (L1) in the learning of a second language (L2) has been widely studied as a source of cross-linguistic influence from the native system (Gass and Selinker, 1992). Yet, this perspective provides no room for an understanding of language as a cognitive tool (Vygostsky, 1978), that is,language as a mediating tool in all forms of higher-order mental processing. Recent findings inboth foreign language classrooms (Antón and DiCamilla, 199; Brooks and Donato, 1994) and immersioon classrooms (Swain and Lapkin, 2000) suggest that the L1 may be a useful tool for learning the L2. This line of research argues that an L1 shared by learnes provides cognitive support that allows them to work at a higher level than that which would be possible if they were just using the L2. This paper reports findings of a study which analyzes the use of the L1 and its functions in the oral interaction of twelve pairs of undergraduate EFL learners with low proficiency in the target language while engaged in three collaborative tasks (jigsaw, text reconstruction and dictogloss). Our findings indicate that the L1 is an important took for these learners and that there is task-related variation in its use.