Using L1 Semantic Prompts

Steven Asquith, Kanda University of International Studies

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: L1 prompts, speaking support, learner confidence 
  • Learner English level: Beginner 
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school and above 
  • Preparation time: 15 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-45 minutes
  • Materials: Worksheet

While working as a JHS teacher, I found that one of the most effective methods of encouraging learners to produce longer, more complex, spoken responses was to employ L1 prompts. Usually in JHS, speaking tasks are either limited to a single grammatical form or start with the construction of a written text which is then memorised and performed. However, with the aid of Japanese prompts learners can mentally construct what they want to say, as they say it. This enables them to speak more naturally in English, and focus on meaning rather than form. By using Japanese students’ native language as an aid to support the English-speaking practice, learners’ confidence can be developed.


Prepare a worksheet (see Appendix) showing the target question with possible responses and elaborations. For instance, a question aimed at practicing perfect and past tenses asking about a particular experience. The response would then describe this experience using the target language with a pre-specified number of sentences. The worksheet also needs to include a table for collecting speaking partners’ responses and a brief writing section. 


Step 1: Explain to learners the importance of mentally rehearsing English to improve oral fluency. Personally, I provide an example of rehearsing useful Japanese phrases in my head prior to arriving for a first day at a new school. Emphasise that this is not memorising, but mentally rehearsing how to use what is already known, and that it can be done at any time or place. 

Step 2: Demonstrate an exchange using the target language which includes some elaboration. For instance, regarding a favourite place visited, you might include: where you went, what you did, and your impressions. Learners are then instructed to think of similar responses, in this case between three to five sentences, and practise saying these to themselves without writing them down. Usually, I also allow enough time so that less confident learners can be given suggestions if necessary.

Step 3: Students then interview classmates and record responses in a table using the L1, in this case, Japanese. Students are told to record the gist of the information, which can then be reassembled into their words, rather than becoming preoccupied with precise translations.

Step 4: Once learners have completed the table–typically around four classmate interviews–students then come to the teacher, and using the Japanese response record as a prompt, detail classmates’ answers using the third person.  

Step 5: Finally, students record their response and that of their classmates in writing, and this is submitted and checked for errors. 


Being able to integrate different grammatical forms and sentences to produce coherent oral communication is one of the most difficult skills for Japanese students to develop. Using this format has enabled my JHS students to successfully produce far more complex responses than would normally be the case. This principle of using the L1 as a prompt to support spoken production could easily be adapted to other levels. By harnessing the L1 as a prompt, and encouraging learners to mentally construct and rehearse spoken exchanges, the oral proficiency and confidence of learners can be greatly improved.  


The appendix for this article is available below.