Seven easy steps you need to follow to teach English as a Lingua Franca

A few weeks back I wrote a post about the three reasons why I think we need to rethink our current approach to teaching English (EFL/ESL), suggesting we start teaching English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). To recap, teaching ELF can:

  • provide a more realistic and authentic input, thus better preparing our students to use English outside the class
  • equip students with the right strategies they need to succeed, which makes you a more effective teacher
  • help tackle native speakerism by moving away from some of the problematic native speakerist beliefs and practices

If these reasons make you think, hey, I might want to give it a go!…

…the next question is obviously:

How do we teach English as a Lingua Franca?

That’s why in this post I want to share with you seven easy-to-follow steps you can implement in your teaching right away.

Before we dive in, though, let me emphasise that by teaching ELF, I don’t mean teaching a set of linguistic or grammatical features, nor a particular variety of the language, such as British or American English. What I mean when I refer to teaching ELF is a set of pdeagogical principles on which you can base your classroom choices. Some of these might be quite similar to what you already do, while others vastly different from what you might typically do when teaching EFL/ESL.

So let’s dive into it and explore the seven principles you can follow to start teaching ELF.

1. Emphasising intelligibility

Traditionally, especially when teaching pronunciation, the focus has been on a standard ‘native speaker’ model, the assumption perhaps being that our students need to closely imitate ‘native speaker’ speech in order to be intelligible. This is also reflected in a rather negative view of a ‘foreign’ accent.

However, ELF research clearly shows that this is false. It also shows which pronunciation features we should focus on (e.g., consonants, consonant clusters), often referred to as the Lingua Franca Core (Deterding, 2013; Jenkins, 2000; Zoghbor, 2011). While of course more research is needed, there does seem to be sufficient evidence to give us clear indications as to which pronunciation features we should focus on in order to help our students improve their pronunciation.

In addition to being more research-based and realistic, such an approach has the added bonus of tackling the idea that ‘native speakers’ are by definition always better models of the language. Inevitably, if our students are exclusively presented with standard ‘native speaker’ model of pronunciation and evaluated on their proximity to that model, it is likely that they might start believing that a ‘native speaker’ pronunciation is always better, while a ‘foreign’ accent is something negative.

2. Focusing on internationally intelligible pronunciation

No, it doesn’t mean ‘native-like’ pronunciation.

In fact, evidence shows that ‘native speakers are frequently the least intelligible in ELF contexts (Kirkpatrick, Deterding, & Wong, 2008; Smith & Rafiqzad, 1979). I wrote about that in this blog post. Also, research shows that features typical of ‘native-like’ pronunciation, such as weak forms or assimilation, might actually REDUCE intelligibility.

Interestingly, research also suggests that a focus on Lingua Franca Core pronunciation features (see above) can improve students pronunciation more than a focus on standard British or general American English (Rahimi & Ruzrokh, 2016; Zoghbor, 2011). Therefore, it seems important that we rethink the idea that standard ‘native speaker’ pronunciation should be the ultimate goal for our students. See my video here about how you can put it into practice.

3. Using a wide variety of ‘non-native speaker’ recordings

It’s no secret that more than three-quarters of all English users are ‘non-native speakers’. As a result, your average student is much more likely to use English with a Brazilian, a Spaniard, a Russian or a Chinese, than they are with a Brit, an American or an Australian.

Since this is the case, we need to give students exposure to the accents they will hear outside the classroom. And give them strategies for how to better understand these accents. In order to do this, you could ask yourself – and your students:

  • who are my students likely to interact with?
  • who do they have problems understanding?
  • what contexts will they be listening in (e.g. a university lecture)?

You can watch this video I recorded for more details.

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4. Using interactions between ‘non-native speakers’

Bearing in mind the points raised above, on average, an authentic interaction is unlikely to feature two ‘native speakers’, or even one ‘native’ and one ‘non-native’. Most interactions in English your students will engage in will feature predominantly, or exclusively, ‘non-native speakers’.

Thus, it is important to use examples of such interactions to model communicative strategies, for example. This will better prepare our students to use English in real life and might also help tackle the native speakerist notion that ‘native speaker’ language use is dominant.

5. Using a wide variety of ‘non-native speaker’ recordings

Numerous researchers point out that unfortunately stereotypical images of ‘native speaker’ culture predominate in course books (Rai & Deng, 2016; Shin, Eslami, & Chen, 2011). When other cultures are present, they are likely to be depicted in a rather stereotypical fashion too – think of the four Fs (food, fashion, flags, famous people).

However, if our students are to become successful users of English, they need the ability to navigate their way among a myriad of different peoples, first languages and cultures. And this is precisely what intercultural communicative skills can provide.

6. Using ‘non-native speakers’ as models of the language

When we are using a listening or reading passage, for example, as a model of a particular language point, be it grammar, lexis or pronunciation, the chances are VERY high that it will be a ‘native speaker’ who our students are asked to model.

This creates the idea that ‘native speakers’ are the only appropriate models, while ‘non-native speaker’ language is deficient.

In contrast, using models of proficient ‘non-native speakers’ (especially if they’re well-known or work in a similar domain to your students) can be very motivating. After all, if they managed to successfully learn English, I can do so too!

7. Raising students’ awareness of ELF and native speakerism

Before doing any of the above, it is probably a good idea to raise our students’ awareness of the fact that English is a global lingua franca, and that there are sound pedagogical reasons for this new approach to teaching.

Likewise, if we are serious about tackling native speakerism, which I imagine you are since you are reading this blog, we need to start discussing the issue with our students. As any ‘taboos and issues’ topic, it’s bound to generate a good debate and engage students. Here are five sample activities you could use with your students.

So perhaps at this stage you are thinking:

OK, that’s great, Marek, but…

  • How do I do any of the above specifically?
  • Do you have any example lesson plans I could use?

If you’d like to explore these ideas in practice, sign up for my FREE training below.

Sign up for this FREE training

You will learn exactly how to teach ELF and get practical classroom ideas and activities for teaching communication, intercultural skills, pronunciation, lexis and grammar, and MORE!

Hey, I hate spam too. Your email is 100% secure with me, and you will only get quality content. Unsubscribe with one click.

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What ELF means in practice

How to help your students communicate more effectively

How to teach intercultural communicative skills

How to improve your students' pronunciation and listening skills

And much, much more...


  • Deterding, D. (2013). Misunderstandings in English as a Lingua Franca: An Analysis of ELF Interactions in South-East Asia. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language : new models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kirkpatrick, A., Deterding, D., & Wong, J. (2008). The international intelligibility of Hong Kong English. World Englishes, 27(3–4), 359–377.
  • Rahimi, M., & Ruzrokh, S. (2016). The impact of teaching Lingua Franca Core on English as a foreign language learners’ intelligibility and attitudes towards English pronunciation. Asian Englishes, 18(2), 141–156.
  • Rai, L., & Deng, C. (2016). Glocalisation and English language education in Chinese context. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 14(1), 127–144.
  • Shin, J., Eslami, Z. R., & Chen, W.-C. (2011). Presentation of local and international culture in current international English-language teaching textbooks. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 24(3), 253–268.
  • Smith, L. E., & Rafiqzad, K. (1979). English for Cross-Cultural Communication: The Question of Intelligibility. TESOL Quarterly, 13(3), 371–380.
  • Zoghbor, W. (2011). The Effectiveness of the Lingua Franca Core (LFC) in Improving the Perceived Intelligibility and Perceived Comprehensibility of Arab Learners at Post-Secondary Level (University of Leicester). Retrieved from

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