If you’ve recently heard a lot about teaching pronunciation for English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) use, but are confused as to what it actually means, watch the video below where I explain exactly what it’s about and how to apply it in practice.
Developing Lingua Franca Core
First of all, we can’t talk about the Lingua Franca Core (LFC) without mentioning the seminal work by Jennifer Jenkins at the end of the 90s and early 00s.
She was the first one to ask herself a question: how come my students’ pronunciation is intelligible to one another even if it doesn’t sound anything like the native speaker pronunciation I’m teaching them?
This seemingly obvious question is actually a really important change of mindset. Up to then good pronunciation = ‘native-like’ pronunciation. On the other hand, bad pronunciation = ‘non-native’ pronunciation.
However, there is clearly no objective justification for it. The justification is much more ideological. And it’s based on native speakerist beliefs.
Instead Jenkins wanted to objectively measure which pronunciation features were important for intelligibility. In a nutshell, she:
- recorded conversations her students were having
- identified instances of misunderstandings
- identified those due to pron
- identified features of pronunciation that led to those misunderstandings.
This led her to propose what she called Lingua Franca Core, or LFC for short. If you want a more detailed overview of all the pronunciation features on LFC, check out this video.
Lingua Franca Core Pronunciation Features
But to give you a quick overview here, LFC is a list of pronunciation features that are important for intelligibility in international contexts. They are:
- consonants (except the <th>),
- consonant clusters,
- ɜː vowel as in bird,
- vowel length and
- nuclear stress.
On the other hand, features of connected speech, vowel quality, or weak forms are not part of the LFC.
Numerous studies have been done since that initial research by Jenkins. For example, David Deterding and his colleagues have investigated this in South East Asia, while O’Neal in Japan (see the reference list below). And all these other studies have largely confirmed Jenkins’ initial findings.
Word Stress And Lingua Franca Core
However, one area where there is still some debate is word stress. For example, in a very large study, David Deterding found very, very few instances where misplaced word stress would lead to misunderstandings. Out of over 170 examples where mispronunciation led to miscommunication, only about 4 or 5 included misplaced word stress. In addition, these words also had other problems (e.g. mispronunciation of consonants).
But some other smaller scale studies did show that it can be important for intelligibility. For example, in a very recent study, Lewis and Deterding did conclude that misplaced word stress can have an impact on intelligibility.
My own position on it is that while word stress can in some cases cause misunderstanding, the likelihood is rather small. Therefore, word stress should be much less of a priority when teaching pronunciation than for example consonants.
Coming back to LFC, it is a list of pronunciation features that are vital for being easy to understand. It is not an accent or a dialect of English.
You can see LFC more as a research-based guide as to which pronunciation features are the most important for intelligibility, and which are less important.
What does all this mean in practice?
To me, it means that we need to rethink which pron features we prioritise in class. If you look at course books (CBs), even at Elementary level, they prioritise features of connected speech, for example. Yet, research clearly shows that connected speech is NOT important for having clear pronunciation. In fact, it might make you less intelligible.
On the other hand, very little work is done on the LFC features. In fact, in a recent study (still under review in a journal, but will share as soon as it is published) analysing five widely used global CBs, I found that less than 30% of pronunciation slots included LFC features.
Think about it. 70% of all pron practice in these CBs focused on pronunciation features NOT important for intelligibility. In some of these books, that percentage was as high as 90!
But surely, if we want to help our students be easier to understand, to develop clear pronunciation, we should be focusing in class primarily on features that are important for intelligibility, right?
That’s why I think it’s vital we use LFC as a guidance as to which pronunciation features should be prioritised. It’s important we abandon the old mindset that all pronunciation features are equally important for intelligibility. Or worse still, that all of our students need to work towards ‘native-like’ pronunciation.
If you want to know more about teaching pronunciation for English as a Lingua Franca use, check out my courses on TEFL Equity Academy.
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- Deterding, D. (2012). Intelligibility in spoken ELF. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, 1(1), 185–190. https://doi.org/10.1515/jelf-2012-0011
- Deterding, D. (2013). Misunderstandings in English as a Lingua Franca: An Analysis of ELF Interactions in South-East Asia. Mouton de Gruyter.
- Deterding, D., & Lewis, C. (2019). Pronunciation in English as Lingua Franca. In X. Gao (Ed.), Second Handbook of English Language Teaching (pp. 1–15). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-58542-0_41-1
- Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language : new models, new norms, new goals. Oxford University Press.
- Jeong, H., Thorén, B., & Othman, J. (2017). Mutual intelligibility of Malay- and Swedish-accented English : An experimental study. Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 7(1), 43–53.
- Jeong, Hyeseung, Thorén, B., & Othman, J. (2020). Effect of altering three phonetic features on intelligibility of English as a lingua franca: a Malaysian speaker and Swedish listeners. Asian Englishes, 22(1), 2–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/13488678.2018.1536817
- Lewis, C., & Deterding, D. (2018). Word Stress and Pronunciation Teaching in English as a Lingua Franca Contexts. CATESOL Journal, 30(1), 161–176.
- O’Neal, G. (2015). Consonant clusters and intelligibility in English as a Lingua Franca in Japan: Phonological modifications to restore intelligibility in ELF. Pragmatics and Society, 6(4), 615–636. https://doi.org/10.1075/ps.6.4.07one
- O’Neal, G. (2019). The accommodation of intelligible segmental pronunciation. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation, 5(1), 119–138. https://doi.org/10.1075/jslp.17002.one
- Walker, R. (2010). Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford University Press.
- 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]. https://lra.le.ac.uk/handle/2381/9635