The Sandwich Technique

by Wolfgang Butzkamm, Aachen University (RWTH), Germany

Let me share with you what I think is the most important single technique in foreign language teaching, i.e. the sandwich technique. It is a prominent feature of C.J. Dodson’s bilingual method (1967) and was probably invented by him. When modeling a dialogue sentence for students to repeat, the teacher not only gives an oral mother tongue equivalent for unknown words or phrases, but repeats the foreign language phrase before students imitate it: L2 => L1 => L2.

German teacher of English: Let me try. Lass mich mal versuchen. Let me try.
Students: Let me try.

With this simple trick, interference from the mother tongue is avoided and students can fully concentrate on repeating the foreign phrase correctly. This bilingual technique makes it easier to establish the foreign language as the working language of the classroom. By and by, the teacher introduces important classroom phrases (bilingually, but just once) in order to create a foreign language atmosphere:

Teacher: Your job is to match the sentences – die Sätze zuzuordnen – to match the sentences.

He/she can also use richer and more authentic texts sooner, for instance in telling stories:

Teacher: And her stepmother scolded her without mercy – schimpfte sie erbarmungslos aus – she scolded her without mercy…

Mother tongue equivalents are always and immediately given in contexts, which is a far cry from isolated vocabulary equations. We have to understand the apparent paradox that by using the mother tongue skillfully we will eventually manage to conduct whole lessons in the foreign language only. For more information see Wolfgang Butzkamm & John A. W. Caldwell (2009). The bilingual reform. A paradigm shift in foreign language teaching. Tübingen: Narr.

A review of the book, written by Alexander Arguelles and published in the RELC Journal 41, 3, 2010 is available here.



10 responses to “The Sandwich Technique

  1. Yes! I feel vindicated! I’ve been chastised by some of my colleagues for years for using some of these techniques (sandwiching, translation). When will this book be available in the States?

  2. Chastised? Yes, official guidelines in many countries still recommend a FL only approach, which, if you ask me, is a scandal. The reason for this is of course the all-too-frequent misuse of the mother tongue. It is an easy option for over burdened teachers, as well as an easy way out for those with a shaky command of the FL. It’s this indiscriminate, unconsidered and unmethodical use which has given the mother tongue in the FL classroom a bad name, and the baby has been thrown out with the bath water. But patent misuse does not preclude proper use. We must once and for all stop the nonsense of the monolingual approach and free teachers from a self-defeating dogma.
    Our German publisher doesn’t have an international office. Try

  3. Thank you–just ordered the book from

  4. wolfgang Butzkamm

    Please write me an email when you’ve read the book. Any comments, criticisms and corrections are welcome: wbutzkamm(at)

  5. Thank you very much for sharing this article.
    I had a discussion about using German in the English classroom and said what this article states. I was told off for my perception – I should try to use words the students understand.
    Well, that was hardly the point, was it?

  6. Wolfgang Butzkamm

    Thank you for your comment. It’s quite revealing. This is what a former student of mine reported: “When our teacher gave us homework where we had to write something about ourselves or our family and someone asked for a particular word, she always said we should use the words we knew. After a while we just invented something because we knew that she was not at all interested in what we wrote but just in grammatical correctness. ..”
    The monolingual principle turns out to be a real communication killer. The simple truth is that the call for real, original and inspired communication and the ban on the MT are conflicting demands. If it weren’t for the monolingual philosophy, the teacher would have allowed the pupils to insert a MT expression and would have tried to provide them with a FL equivalent – so that they can say what they really want to say – in the FL.

  7. Katrin Wartenberg

    I use this technique very successfully in my Chinese language class . By using it, I can introduce some new words which might be interesting and useful at that moment (f.ex. if it’s summer outside but the textbook is still in winter lessons, it makes no sense to say that it is not snowing. Students want to know what “heiß” or “schwül” means in Chinese).
    Usually, I dont use it for whole sentences but for some words or word groups. It works well!

  8. Thanks for the comment. The ad-hoc insertion of a mother-tongue equivalent when the occasion arises comes natural to many teachers. Otherwise many situations that crop up more or less unexpectedly would be left unexploited. Here the mother tongue can serve as a conversational lubricant to keep the wheels of communication moving smoothly (see “Code-Switching in a Bilingual History Lesson: The Mother Tongue as a Conversational Lubricant”. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 1:2, 81-99, downloadable at
    However, when teaching dialogues which can supply learners with a ready reserve of phrases and constructions, giving idiomatic utterance equivalents (instead of just word equivalents) is equally useful. Unfamiliar phrases and constructions can be easily clarified: What’s the matter? (Was ist los?) So what? (Na und?) I’ll be glad to come (Ich komme gerne).

  9. Reblogged this on CLERA blog and commented:
    Another brief post by Wolfgang Butzkamm, this time on the Sandwich Technique, a useful tool towards what could be called Butzkamm’s mission statement: “We have to understand the apparent paradox that by using the mother tongue skillfully we will eventually manage to conduct whole lessons in the foreign language only”.

  10. Hello, my name is Nina Herlina, currently a student of the Indonesia University of education. I am doing my experimental research for my thesis project and am interested to apply the sandwich technique in my project.
    I’ve been waiting for your book “the paradigm shift” which I ordered from amazon. Hope my project run on well.

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