Blog Other

Helping Students to Stay in L2 with Logical Levels

Working Paper 2012
Brian Cullen, Nagoya Institute of Technology

Ben Backwell, Nagoya City University

All comments and feedback are welcome

  One of the most commonly reported problems in EFL classrooms in Japan is that students switch to Japanese during a task, especially when they want to say something that is important to them. While it is good to see that students are so motivated in a task that they really do wish to communicate, it would be even better if they were equally motivated to say that same thing in L2 (English). After all, while we always want our students to be motivated, the purpose of an EFL class is generally to learn and practice English, and not to use L1 (Japanese) to have interesting conversations. One interesting approach to responding to this issue that we have considered recently is to apply Robert Dilts’ model of Logical Levels. In this model, any behaviour can be viewed at six levels. These are shown below with questions which are useful for thinking at each of the logical levels.

  1. Environment    Where and when is the behaviour taking place?
  2. Behaviour    What specifically is happening in this behaviour?
  3. Capability    What other behaviours are possible?
  4. Beliefs and Values    What does the person believe that supports this behaviour? What is important to the person that supports this behaviour?
  5. Identity    Who is the person when they are carrying out the behaviour?
  6. Spirit    What bigger systems is the person part of and contributing to?

Change can be achieved at any of these levels. Below, we give some simple examples of how this particular behaviour could be changed. Although we have simply sketched out some possibilities for each level, you may find yourself considering many more possibilities. It is especially useful to remember that you can think about each of the levels by thinking about how it is relevant to the Teacher or to the Student. For example, at the level of beliefs and values, what beliefs and values does the studenthave that causes them to switch into Japanese? And what beliefs and values does the teacher have that permits/facilitates this behaviour?


  • Move students to a new location in the classroom.
  • Have students work with a new partner.
  • Use L2 background music, a change in lighting, open windows, a rearrangement of desks, or something else to create an ‘English environment’. Reinforce to students that only English should be used at these times.
  • Put interesting L2 peripheral stimuli in the room – posters of L2 speaking countries, books, art etc. Let these be an indirect influence.
  • Take students out of the classroom and get them speaking L2 in another area of the university. On a sunny day it can be pleasant to be outside speaking with a partner. This subtly suggests to students that the L2 exists outside the classroom and it is ok to use it outside the classroom.


  • Consider closely what is happening in this behaviour. What are the triggers that cause students to change into L1? Can these triggers be changed?
  • Consider Teacher behaviour. Does the teacher speak Japanese? If so, when? And what percentage of the time? Find ways to stay in L2. Use easy to understand L2.
  • For the sake of student confidence, correct minimally and respectfully.
  • When introducing new vocabulary explain in L2 and put in a context that students will understand e.g. if the new word is sneakers point to a students wearing sneakers and ask is she wearing sneakers now? It’s very likely one or more students in the room will know the answer and be able to respond. Use simple yes or no questions to activate learning and understanding of new vocab.


People are always capable of doing alternative behaviours and you can also teach students strategies to extend their capabilities so that they can respond in a different way than switching to L1.

  • Teach circumlocution techniques such as “How do I say …”
  • Teach techniques for gaining time such as: “Just a moment”
  • Encourage students to call on you for assistance if they have difficulty saying something.
  • Show students that they are a resource for each other by putting them in pairs and having them practice questions like “How do I say [Japanese phrase] in English?”

Beliefs and Values

Consider ways that you can help students to install beliefs and values that will support their language learning. Also, critically examine your own beliefs and values as a teacher to consider how your expectations are shaping the actual performance of the students. It is probable that your students believe things such as: “It is unnatural for Japanese to speak English to each other.” You can begin to identify these limiting beliefs and to challenge them. Often the best way to challenge them is to use a metaphor. Or alternatively, you can use an older student as a role-model. If you can get a video of the older student talking about how he/she learned English, the younger students can unconsciously model the beliefs and values of this successful English user. Some beliefs that can support students staying in L2 include:

  • “I always talk to my friends in Japanese and when I talk to them in English, I can learn even more about them.”
  • “This English class is a wonderful opportunity to practice speaking English.”
  • “It’s ok to make mistakes because that allows me to learn more.”


At this level, we ask the question, “Who is the student” or “What role is the student playing during this activity?”.

  • Role plays: e.g. Imagine that you are a German and your partner is Italian. You need to use English as a common language. Use regalia (props) to create a fantasy based on a new identity for the students.
  • In depth students can generate a whole new character for themselves imagining they are a person from the L2 country. They can have a new name, job family, hobbies, age etc and you can have a cocktail party for them to relax and enjoy in their new identity. On any level creating a new character will help penetrate the barriers of social conditioning.
  • Limiting “English Time” to a specified length of time and “pretending to be a foreigner.” You can also consider your own identity within the teaching context. As a teacher, who are you? What is your role?


  • You can ask the students, either directly or through metaphor questions like “What is bigger that you, that you are part of, and that you contribute to?” Japan is a group-oriented society and people are very aware of the needs of the whole group. With careful framing, you can use this to encourage the students to stay in L2.
  • You could say something like, “So we have created a lovely learning community here. And it is up to each one of you to play your part in this community. When you switch into Japanese, your partner and the other students are losing out, so it is good to stay in English and both you and everyone else can really improve.”
  • You could remind students that English will be part of their future and all the opportunities that it will open up.
  • If students focus on their Japanese identity so much that they are unwilling to speak English, you can utilize this by suggestion that “English will give you an opportunity to tell people all around the world how wonderful Japan is.”

Have fun thinking about and exploring the logical levels as your students improve their English. The ideas that we present here are very much a work in progress and we welcome all comments and feedback in order to take these ideas to a higher level.

2 replies on “Helping Students to Stay in L2 with Logical Levels”

While a lot of these strategies are very effective and I do use them in my classes, I think it seriously boils down to whether or not the teacher gives the students the autonomy to decide how much English they want to speak in classt. One thing teachers can do to achieve this goal of stimulating the use of the target language on a deeper psychological level is to ask students to write down what percentage they want to speak in English at the beginning of class and then at the end of class asking them to write down how much English they actually spoke in the class. Otherwise, when the teacher tries to force (or trick) students into speaking English it becomes either an act of complying with or defying the teacher’s orders — two sides of the same coin. I was giving a presentation on this topic once and a teacher from the audience described how in his classes he had the “Zone of Proximal English” — when he got close to the students, they all started talking in English; and when he moved out of this zone, they all reverted back to speaking in Japanese. It is a good illustration of the point I am making here. LOL

Thanks as always for sharing your experience. I agree completely with you that tricking the students isn’t the appropriate way to address this issue. The key is definitely giving and getting students to use autonomy. In terms of this Logical Levels model, this is all above the Behaviour level. We need to give them the ability to choose (Capabilities level), the belief that it is a valuable choice to use more L2 in the classroom (Beliefs & Values), and probably most importantly we need to do this without threatening them at the Identity level. I love the technique that you give of having students write down their target and achieved English percentages. I’ve used it myself for years for particular speaking activities and it sets up a motivational time-limited space that can really help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *