Finally, after many previous unsuccessful attempts, I had a paper published in ELT Journal (yay!). ELTJ is one of my favourite ELT peer-reviewed journals for several reasons, but one of them is undoubtedly their focus on practice. The papers published there are short, to the point, and the researchers always try to highlight what practical implications their findings have for ELT practice.
Similarly, my paper Seven principles for writing materials for English as a lingua franca aims to bridge the gap between English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) research that has been conducted over the last two decades and ELT material writers or teachers. And continuing this trend of bridging the gap, and because I’m acutely aware of the prohibitive costs of access to academic publications, I’ve decided to summarise the main ideas of the paper for you.
So if you’re a professional materials writer or a teacher who enjoys creating lesson plans for your students, and you’re interested in trying out a different approach to your day-to-day practice, then continue reading.
Before we start, though, let’s first look at what ELF means
Defining English as a Lingua Franca
There’s no denying that English is the international lingua franca of the world. This has led to an unprecedented situation where over 80% of English users are ‘non-native speakers’ of the language, and this number is probably only going to continue to grow.
You can then think of ELF as a use of English or a communicative situation in which people from different countries, most of whom are unlikely to be ‘native speakers’, are using English as their chosen means of communication. Such ELF contexts are often business meetings, higher education, travel and conferences.
This is fundamentally different from the contexts in which we might use other foreign or second languages we learn. Even with languages as global as Spanish or Arabic, the vast majority of learners are probably studying it in order to interact with ‘native speakers’ of that language. So of course it makes perfect sense to expose them to ‘native speaker’ culture, language, pronunciation, etc.
However, we can safely assume that most students will use English in ELF contexts. As a result, aiming to sound ‘native’, for example, is much more questionable. So you can also think of ELF as a third paradigm distinct from EFL and ESL.
That’s why when I say teaching ELF, I don’t mean it in the same sense as when you might say ‘teaching British English’. Teaching ELF does not refer to teaching a particular variety of English (ELF is NOT a variety or dialect). Teaching ELF refers to a set of research-based pedagogical principles that inform what you do in class or what you put in your materials and lesson plans.
So for example, while one of the beliefs behind teaching EFL/ESL is that students should aim to attain standard ‘native speaker’ pronunciation and reduce their foreign accent, when teaching ELF, the aim would be for students to attain internationally intelligible pronunciation. Whether they sound like they’re from London, New York, Tokyo or Bogota is irrelevant.
You can read up more on teaching ELF in this blog post and also in the book Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: The Journey from EFL to ELF, which I co-wrote with Robert Lowe.
Principle No 1: Raising students’ awareness
There is research evidence to show that some students have a preference for standard ‘native speaker’ English, particularly as far as pronunciation is concerned. In addition, students are used to how the English language and its users have been typically presented in course books. That’s why it’s vital to raise their awareness of both native speakerism (learn more about what native speakerism is here) and ELF.
This can be done through a variety of listening or reading texts, but also easily feature in speaking and writing lessons. Students can be encouraged to:
- reflect on the global spread of the English language,
- discuss how they feel about their accent and what pronunciation model they’d like to imitate (and why),
- consider what it means to be a successful user of English,
- think about what characterises a good English teacher,
- reflect on whether job ads for ‘native speakers’ only are justified.
For more ideas, download these 4 activities for free:
Principle No 2: Intelligibility rather than ‘native-like’ pronunciation
Since Jenkins’ initial research in the early 2000s, numerous other studies have been published (see reference list below), all of which suggest that intelligibility in international contexts isn’t really connected to sounding more (or less) like a ‘native speaker’. You can read more here about why it is a myth that ‘native speakers’ are better models of pronunciation for our students.
What all this research suggests is that there are certain pronunciation features which our students need to realise correctly in order to be clearly intelligible:
- consonant sounds (except the <th>)
- consonant clusters
- vowel length
- nuclear stress.
These have often been referred to as the lingua franca core. Note, however, that they do not constitute an accent of English. They’re simply a list of features that have high impact on pronunciation in international contexts.
To it, we should also add the ability to accommodate your pronunciation as an absolutely vital skill.
In contrast, other features have been shown to have little or no impact on pronunciation. These are:
- vowel quality (except the long vowel in skirt)
- word stress
- features of connected speech
- weak forms.
The interesting, but very concerning, issue is that most course book still focus predominantly on the above four features, rather than on the lingua franca core.
This is strange because as teachers I’m sure we want to focus on the language points that have the highest surrender value, right? So for example when teaching lexis, I’m sure many of us would start off with the lexis that a) is high frequency b) our students need to function in English.
And I think the same principle should apply to pronunciation.
For more on this, watch this video. where I explain how to teach pronunciation for ELF use.
Principle No 3: Using ‘non-native speakers’ as language models
Research on course book shows that while we have moved a long way forward, ‘non-native’ voices are still clearly underrepresented. Think about a typical course book exercise with a listening.
The voices on the recording are most likely put on by actors, and at least one of them is likely to be a standard ‘native speaker’ voice.
After the listening, students might be presented with a language point, say question tags.
Now guess who will be the model for this language point?
Yep, the ‘native speaker’ voice.
To me this is yet another reflection of how deeply rooted native speakerism is. After all, who would be a better model of the language than a ‘native speaker’, right?
Now this of course creates a self-fulfilling prophecy when students expect to hear ‘native speaker’ voices. Hence, point 1 about raising awareness.
It also reinforces the idea that a student needs to imitate a ‘native speaker’ in order to become a successful user of the language, which for some students can be demotivating. After all, very few if any will ever achieve this elusive ‘native speaker’ model.
Instead, by using a wide range of ‘non-native’ voices who are successful language users themselves we are showing students that they can also succeed. It also helps make the materials more authentic. After all, the vast majority of English users are ‘non-native.
Principle No 4: Intercultural communicative skills rather than fixed cultural blocks
As with the previous point, course book have fortunately moved quite a long way from red phone boxes, Empire State Buildings and Big Bens, but there is still a long way to go. For example, a recent analysis of the four most popular EFL course books in China shows that the majority of people and place names used referred to ‘Western’ culture, more specifically to the ‘native-speaking’ countries.
Another problem is what Kramsch has referred to as the four Fs of culture: food, festivals, flags, statistical facts, famous people, etc. I think we’d all object if our own culture was presented in such simplistic ways, yet unfortunately this is often how cultures are presented in course books.
So what do we do instead?
We should not only aim to present a wide variety of different cultures and peoples, but also avoid representing culture as static and fixed. Instead, we need to equip learners with the ability to navigate their way through the multicultural world of ELF use, that is, develop their intercultural competence.
Principle No 5: Multilingual not monolingual English use
Think about it – all your students by the very definition are on their way to becoming bi- or multilingual users of English. Yet, what we’ve been doing up to now is instead trying to create fake copies of monolingual ‘native speakers’.
When you look at the English in course books, you will immediately notice that there are no instances of other languages. It’s all just English.
This is perhaps connected to the idea that students’ first language is a unruly source of errors, a hindrance to speaking proper monolingual ‘native speaker’ English.
In reality, however, ELF use is a highly monolingual activity. People codeswitch, mix and match languages all the time. It’s perfectly natural and can serve many communicative purposes.
For example, consider someone writing an email in English to a Spanish speaking colleague and starting off with Hola, todo bien?, and then just continuing in English. Now there is a point to it. They’re probably trying to break the ice, to be friendly, to show interest in their colleague’s language and culture.
Bearing this in mind, I think it’s vital that such examples of multilingual English use are included in course books. And that learners get a chance to reflect on their multilingualism and how to best use it.
If you’re interested in this, download this FREE lesson plan, which comes from our book Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: The Journey from EFL to ELF:
Principle No 6: Communicative skills rather than ‘native-like’ correctness
In a recent overview of over a dozen internationally and locally published course books in the last twenty five years in Italy, Vettorel concludes that communicative skills are neither treated effectively nor consistently by course book writers.
If you think about it, we generally do a relatively good job of helping our students with writing skills. We also try to improve their reading and listening skills by giving them clear strategies they can apply.
However, when it comes to helping students develop communicative skills, it often comes down to: chat with your partner. Oh and don’t forget to use this language we’ve just practised!
ELF research, however, shows that communicative skills are vital in ELF interactions. In fact, much more vital it seems than ‘native-like’ correctness or ‘native-like’ language use.
And this research can also help us inform which communicative skills or strategies we could focus on. For example, in an analysis of ELF interactions in an Italian university with English as medium of instruction, Basso shows that paraphrasing was the most important strategy. Other examples might include pre-empting, self-repair and L1 use (see above).
Principle No 7: Authentic English use rather than ‘native speaker’ only
Many course books these days pride themselves on teaching students authentic English. Some also attempt to make use of corpora to inform their syllabus. Inevitably, however, as Galloway points out, these corpora will be ‘native speaker’ only ones, e.g. COCA.
This leads to a very narrow view of what’s authentic English. In other words, authentic English is produced by ‘native speakers’, a view which seems to be held even by famous SLA scholars such as Mike Long.
This, coupled with not using ‘non-native speakers’ as valid models of the language, only further entrenches some of the key beliefs fundamental to native speakerism.
On a more practical note, it also misrepresents the incredible diversity and variety of Englishes around the world.
The first step would then be to start also looking at ELF corpora, such as ELFA, VOICE or ACE. They can provide you with examples of authentic ELF use in action and also inform which language items or communicative strategies, for example, to focus on.
The second important step would be to include a wide variety of ‘non-native speaker’ voices in the book. In order to be truly authentic and reflective of the global nature of English, a course book should aim to have 20% ‘native speaker’ and 80% ‘non-native speaker voices. Such a change would not only make it more realistic, but also arguably better prepare students to understand the myriad of different accents they’ll hear when they leave your classroom.
Here’s a great FREE lesson plan developed by Carolin Zehne which shows you exactly this principle in action:
Now, over to you: which of the principles above do you already apply? Which do you think you might try soon? Which are you vehemently opposed to?
Let me know in the comments section below.
You can read my paper in ELTJ here: Seven principles for writing materials for English as a lingua franca
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Deterding, D. (2013). Misunderstandings in English as a Lingua Franca: An Analysis of ELF
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