Among the arguments Barry listed:
- Pictures are patronising - we wouldn't use them with adult learners
- Translations are clearer than pictures
- English is in children's minds anyway, so do not shy away from using it
- Pictures demand too much use of memory which can be threatening - use written words to support listening as much as possible
- Showing words develops literacy in both languages
- Showing words enables pupils to see morphological patterns in both languages
- Creating pictures is a poor use of teacher time - it's inefficient
One of the first course books in the UK to use pictures to any significant degree (beyond pure decoration) was Mark Gilbert's Cours Illustré de Français (1966) which used stick men drawings and simple black and white illustrations of everyday life. The pictures had a purpose and were part of a methodology, the so-called oral situational approach, a kind of structured direct method. The pictures were used as a stimulus for question and answer oral work where the aim was to avoid English as much as possible. Language would be presented orally first, with the written word being introduced at a later stage. Every attempt would be made to explain and demonstrate meaning and structure in the target language. Learning L2 becomes, therefore, something like learning L1 - the classic argument of those who support so-called natural language learning approaches.
This became the orthodoxy which many teachers and some applied linguists have challenged. Why avoid English at all cost? Why not take advantage of what the child knows from their own language if it is quicker and more effective to do so? Why make children suffer with endless target language which often confuses, threatens and subsequently fails?
The criticism needs to be met head-on.
If we use L1 more we may get a quicker immediate understanding of the language, but we lose so much. The process of using TL as much as possible, as long as it is handled in a sensible, structured way, using gesture, pictures, realia and texts, provides the large amount of "comprehensible input" which most applied linguists would argue brings about long term acquisition and internalisation of vocabulary and syntax.
Images, in particular, are an extremely effective way of avoiding the interference of English. (Opponents argue that English does not interfere, it helps.) They can be motivational, suggestive and amusing. Crucially, they attract the eye and help hold attention. They are not patronising at all if you know why you are using them (and maybe explain to classes why you are using them).
In addition, pictures can provide useful cultural input. Like video, they can bring a bit of the traget language culture into the classroom.
Fundamentally, though, they are an important part of a tried and tested method. Opponents argue that results show these methods do not work. I argue, on the contrary, that if pupils get little success in language learning, it is down to other factors such as the general motivation of English speakers, lack of time and frequency of teacher contact, or just poor use of the methodology by teachers.
Yet I would not argue for a total avoidance of L1 in the classroom. Flexibility is needed. When explaining a complex pair or group work task it is often more efficient to give a brief explanation in English rather than a laboured one in the TL. Translating can be convenient, a change, a good challenge. Children appreciate clarity, so if you are losing the class, something has gone awry. Furthermore, learners and teachers vary and may respond in different ways. But if we overuse the first language, there will be a cost in terms of long term improvement in comprehension and fluency.