Using Indonesian to Teach English

There are currently many books that discuss the role of first language in second language learning. In Indonesia context, English is commonly taught by using Indonesian as medium. It could both be an advantage and disadvantage that it eases the teacher in delivering the lesson and eases the students in understanding it, but there is also a problem that is caused by employing this method. Here is the elaboration of arguments from Indonesian students.

I have conducted a mini-research that sought to know the effects of using first language, in this case Indonesian, in teaching English as foreign language. Majority of the students argued that the mentioned method eases them in understanding the lesson. However, most of the students self-perceive themselves weak in English.

If we think through premise, it would be little bit strange that the method eases the students in understanding the lesson but they self-perceive themselves weak.

There must be a serious and fundamental phenomenon behind that problem.

Over-emphasizing grammar lesson would be one of the cause of the problem. The paradigm that believes “language is all about structure” leads the practice of teaching too focus on grammar lesson. As the impact, the students only receive tons of formulas to remember and they lose the essence of language as a “vehicle” to convey meaning.

Balancing The First and Target Language

Although this is still controversial 1 for the reason that English teacher should maximize the use of target language to familiarize students with it, it cannot be denied that first language plays important role as a medium in conveying lesson. Therefore, first language use in second language learning is still dominant. In my subjective point of view, ‘balancing’ is the key.

The term ‘balancing’ used here refers to ‘having such understanding on when and how to use first language’. If the lesson is about knowledge or meaning, then using first language would be beneficial. However, if the goal is about ‘target language use’, forcing the students to use target language could become a profitable growth for the students. This is what, in my personal point of view, the teacher sometimes misses.

Balancing might also be understood as the adoption of 50% target language and 50% first language. When this one is adopted, the teacher should firstly understand the level of the students. Heterogeneous class in terms of target language ability matters. Therefore, in determining the percentage of language use, the teacher is suggested to make sure that the students are all in the same level. It is intended to make certain that every students receives the same quality of opportunity to learn the target language.

In my prior experience teaching at bilingual class, the document states that the lecturer Is required to apply 25:75 principle in first semester class, 50:50 principle in third semester class, and 75:25 in higher semester class. In my opinion, the rule is too rigid since the institution did not classify the students based on their level of target language mastery - in other words, the class is heterogenous. As the impact, low level students will be difficult to follow the learning process. Therefore, it is suggested that the application of this rule is better when the institution has applied a set of rules in determining which student goes to which class. In other words, the class should be first homogenous.


  1. doi: 10.1017/S0261444809990310 ↩︎