How to tackle native speakerism by writing materials that promote English as a Lingua Franca

We all know that there’s a huge problem in ELT. Around three quarters of all jobs are for ‘native speakers’ only.

There is still also quite a widespread belief in our profession that ‘native speakers’ make better teachers.

That they’re more proficient.

Have wider vocabulary. Intuitive feeling for collocations. Intimate knowledge of the culture. The list goes on.

Whether the argument stands to scrutiny is a topic for another post. However, the problem is that these positive beliefs about ‘native speakers’, and the implicit negative ones about ‘non-native speakers’, do not only give rise to discriminatory recruitment policies.

They are also at the very core of how we’ve been teaching English.

What do I mean by this?

Well, when we teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) or English as a Second Language (ESL), we emphasise conformity with a standard ‘native speaker’ model (as an aside, this standard has often little to do with how ‘native speakers’ use language in reality, and in itself is an idealisation).

When we teach pronunciation, we often see foreign accent as negative, and the more ‘native-like’ the pronunciation, the better.

When we teach communication, ‘native speaker’ norms of communication are assumed as the default correct ones. The list goes on.

These assumptions would probably work very well if English WAS a foreign language, such as Polish.

After all, if you’re learning such a widespread and globally useful language as Polish, you’re very likely learning it exclusively in order to be able to interact with ‘native speakers’ of that language and their culture. So it makes perfect sense in this case to focus in teaching on ‘native speaker’ language and their culture.

However, the case with English is fundamentally different. It is NOT used as a foreign language, but as a global lingua franca. In fact, our students are on average much more likely to use it to communicate with other ‘non-native speakers’, rather than with ‘native speakers’.

So why would we still insist on teaching ‘native-like’ pronunciation?

Why emphasise ‘native speaker’ idioms which might not be transparent globally?

Why default to ‘native speaker’ communicative norms?

Why focus on ‘native speaker’ culture?

If we want our students to become successful user of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), and not merely as a foreign or second language, we need to better reflect the reality of the English language.

And this reality is that English has become the global lingua franca used primarily by ‘non-native speakers’.

As a result, we might need to promote not only an ELF mindset, but also an ELF skillset.

What do I mean by this?

To promote the ELF mindset, we need to first raise our students awareness of the fact that English IS a global language. It is also important to critically reflect in class and discuss issues such as native speakerism, intelligibility and accents, as well as discriminatory recruitment policies.

Second, we need to promote skills that will help our learners use English successfully in international, lingua franca contexts. A focus on communicative strategies that have been shown to facilitate communication in ELF contexts is vital. We should also emphasise intelligibility when teaching pronunciation to help our students be easily understood to the widest variety of English users possible. 

Ok, but how do we go about it? How do I adapt my course book? How can I create lesson plans that promote both the ELF mindset and the ELF skillset? 

Especially if I’m already a busy teacher with a lot going on.

With busy teachers and materials writers like yourself, I’ve developed this FREE on-line training How to Write Materials and Lesson Plans for Teaching English as a Lingua Franca. This 45-minute training will give you practical ideas for promoting both the ELF mindset and skillset in your lesson plans and materials, without having to put much additional work in.

And making this transition from EFL to ELF will not only help our profession tackle the native speakerist beliefs outlined at the beginning of this post, but also make your materials truly innovative and global.

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