Three reasons why you need to start teaching English as a Lingua Franca

Recently, you might have seen me post quite a lot about English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) on this blog. So perhaps, you might be wondering:

  • what’s the big deal about ELF?
  • why does Marek want me to start teaching ELF?
  • how the heck is it related to TEFL Equity’s fight against native speakerism?

That’s why in this post I wanted to answer these questions and  give you three reasons why you should start teaching ELF (rather than EFL or ESL). Ready?

We all know that English has become the global lingua franca of international communication, primarily used by its ‘non-native speakers’.


  • ‘native speakers’ are still commonly regarded  as the ideal language models our students should aspire to
  • they’re also seen as ideal teachers.

This idea which has been frequently referred to as native speakerism.

You probably know full well that it leads to widespread discrimination in ELT recruitment with the vast majority of vacancies in the private sector being advertised for ‘native speakers’ only. But, what you might not have realised, is that native speakerism  also leads to a situation where we emphasise ‘native speaker’ pronunciation, vocabulary and culture in our classes and materials. This is despite the fact that research shows that ‘native speakers’ (especially monolingual ones) are frequently the least comprehensible English users in international contexts.

So on the one hand, we know that English is an international lingua franca. Used primarily for communication between ‘non-native speakers’.

On the other hand, we still teach it as if it was a foreign language. Used primarily to communicate with its ‘native speakers’.

And to top it off, we have the problem of native speakerism.

I believe that we can tackle these issues if we start teaching English as a Lingua Franca, rather than as a Foreign Language.

Benefit no. 1 of Teaching ELF: Promote Equality and Tackle Native Speakerism

The way I learned English and the way I was taught how to teach English also planted and cultivated the idea that ‘native speakers’ perhaps indeed are not only better models of the language, but also better teachers.

They have the right pronunciation.

They have an intuitive feel for the language.

They know the culture.

And as a ‘non-native speaker’ teacher, I don’t and can’t ever have any of that.

It does deep down make you feel inferior.

And worst of all, this emphasis on ‘native speaker’ models of the language in teaching and learning only further justifies the idea that ‘native speakers’ are entitled to better jobs.

That what matters most in a teacher is not how well they can teach, but whether they are a ‘native speaker’.

So I would argue that the first benefit of teaching English as a Lingua Franca, rather than as a foreign language, would be to address native speakerism.

More specifically, by moving to teach ELF rather than EFL/ESL, you’d be addressing some of the most fundamental beliefs and practices that help normalise, spread and justify native speakerism Let me give you three examples:

  • teaching pronunciation – using ‘non-native speakers’ as valid models and focusing on intelligibility will help address the idea that ‘native speaker’ pronunciation is superior
  • teaching culture – focusing on a wide variety of cultures and on teaching intercultural communicative skills can help tackle the idea that you need to learn about ‘native speaker’ culture, which of course only a ‘native speaker’ can provide, in order to be proficient
  • teaching listening – introducing a wide variety of Englishes can not only better prepare your students for the real English out there, but also to address the idea that it is ‘native speaker’ recordings students should be listening to in order to improve their English

Benefit no. 2 of Teaching ELF: Help Your Students Succeed

My experiences as a teacher and student of English also did not prepare me for the sheer variety of Englishes out there.

Learning and teaching English as a foreign language prepared me to interact with ‘native speakers’. To understand their pronunciation. The peculiarities of idioms and phrasal verbs. How their culture was reflected in the way they used English.

That would have been fine if I mainly interacted with ‘native speakers’.

But of course I didn’t.

I have used English mainly with other ‘non-native speakers’. So the EFL approach failed me in a way. It failed to show me how to interact in this highly multilingual English. How to navigate my way among a myriad of different cultures. How to understand countless different accents.

So the second benefit of teaching English as a Lingua Franca, rather than as a foreign language, would be to better prepare our learners to be successful users of the language in international, lingua franca contexts.

Benefit no. 3 of Teaching ELF: Engage and Motivate Your Students

When I learned English as a student, the aim (even if not expressed explicitly) was for us to speak English as closely as possible to how a ‘native speaker’ would.

When I studied to be a teacher in university, we quickly learned that there were only two correct types of pronunciation: British or American English. Any deviation from the two was wrong. And meant a failed exam.

I also remember learning a lot (both as a students and a teacher) about the culture of English-speaking countries, primarily British and US culture.

Inevitably, it gave me the impression that in order to be a successful user of English, you had to imitate ‘native speakers’. The closer you got, the better.

Of course, you never quite get there. So you continue worrying about having a foreign accent. About misplacing the word stress. About forgetting the third person ‘s.

This can be very demotivating for many students. Constantly striving to achieve what they are constantly failing to achieve.

So the third benefit of adopting an English as a Lingua Franca approach to teaching would be motivating your students. Showing them they can succeed and become highly proficient multilingual users of English. Without having to worry about not speaking like a ‘native speaker’.

To sum up, if we are serious about tackling the ideology of native speakerism, apart from the necessary advocacy work, we also need to rethink how we teach English. As any ideology, native speakerism is made to seem normal and common sense by powerful and deeply ingrained discourses (e.g., ‘native speakers’ are better models of pronunciation) and social practices (e.g., predominantly using recordings of standard ‘native speaker’ accents). And these discourses and social practices aren’t going to go away unless we actually change the way we teach the language.

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