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Teaching EFL vs Teaching ELF (English as a Lingua Franca)

A lot of you are probably familiar with the acronym EFL, or English as a Foreign Language. Some of you probably have heard as well about the acronym ESL, English as a Second Language, but more recently on this blog I’ve been talking a lot about the acronym ELF , English as a Lingua Franca. And more specifically, I’ve been talking a lot about teaching ELF.

So in this video I want to look at teaching English as a Foreign Language, EFL, and teaching English as a Lingua Franca, ELF, and compare them to see how they would differ.

So what is the difference between teaching EFL, English as a Foreign Language, and teaching ELF, English as a Lingua Franca?

Let’s perhaps start with the first term, teaching EFL, and look at some of the most typical assumptions that I think a lot of us have when it comes to teaching English, and more specifically teaching English as a Foreign Language.

Teaching EFL: Some pedagogical assumptions and principles

So what are some of the characteristics of teaching English as a Foreign Language?

First of all, the focus is on conformity with a standard native speaker model. In other words, your students are encouraged to imitate the language that ‘native speakers’. And I say ‘native speakers’ in inverted commas because it’s not all ‘native speakers’ that we encourage our students to imitate, but those that we perceive to be ‘native speakers’; those who speak standard English.

So in here although for shorthand I’ll just say ‘native speaker’, whenever I say that, remember that I mean a specific group of ‘native speakers’ who speak the privileged standard ‘native speaker’ English.

A second characteristic would be the fact that standard pronunciation, standard ‘native speaker’ pronunciation is seen as the only appropriate goal for our students. I wrote more about it here.

And number three: this leads to the idea that having a foreign accent is something bad. As a result, historically, in many of the published materials there has been a rather narrow range of ‘non-native speaker’ voices. For example, in a recent study by Si (2019), who analysed popular business English course books (such as Market Leader), only 16% of all voices in the recordings were found to be ‘non-native speakers’. And even more shockingly, only 0.5% of them had a foreign accent.

As researchers such as Matsuda point out, in published materials there are also mostly interactions either between two ‘native speakers’ or between a ‘non-native speaker’ and a ‘native speaker.’ This is of course despite the fact that most English users worldwide are ‘non-native speakers’.

Another thing that we might see as a characteristic of an English as a Foreign Language approach is the fact that switching languages, translanguaging, code switching, to use more linguistic terms, is seen as something negative. Now think about it: I’m sure you’ve been in situations either in your classroom, or maybe in an exam, where a student all of a sudden switched between languages from English maybe to their first language, or maybe to another language that they know; and they used an expression from that language, a word, maybe they translated an idiom from another language that they know to English.

What would our typical reaction to that be? And I’m included in this because I’m guilty of this myself as well.

It would probably be negative, right? On an exam we might grade them down because we see them as not using standard ‘native speaker’ language, we see they as translating from the first language, code switching, and we see that as something negative.

In teaching EFL, there is also emphasis, or at least historically there has been a lot of  emphasis, on what is perceived as native speaker culture. I still time and time again come up against ‘native speakers’ who will argue that they are entitled to the privilege that they enjoy in English language teaching because of the knowledge of the target native speaker culture.

Now another thing that happens in teaching EFL is that ‘non-native speakers’ will be very, very rarely used as language models. If you for example want to model pronunciation or a particular grammar feature or some vocabulary, who is going to be a model for that?

Well, 99% of the time it’s going to be a standard ‘native speaker’ voice.

Finally, there is also very little discussion of the global spread of English, and its implications for teaching and learning English, as well as of native speakerism and its impact on English language teaching.

So to sum up, the EFL approach to teaching English in many of its assumptions, core beliefs and practices is very native speakerist. It puts those perceived as ‘native speakers’ as the only and default correct language and culture models.

And I would argue that as a result it serves to further perpetuate native speakerism (Kiczkowiak & Lowe, 2018), or the idea that those perceived as ‘native speakers’ are superior, not only
linguistically but also pedagogically.

So let’s now look at the other option which is teaching ELF, teaching English as a Lingua Franca. And let’s zoom in on some of its characteristics and how it might differ from teaching EFL, English as a Foreign Language.

Teaching English as a Lingua Franca: Some pedagogical assumptions and principles

So there are some fundamental differences between teaching EFL and teaching ELF. I wrote about the principles for teaching ELF more extensively here. And also on how to write materials for teaching ELF.

So I’ll be brief in this post.

The first main difference is that when teaching ELF, the focus is on intelligibility and the ability to communicate successfully in international contexts rather than on conformity with standard ‘native speaker’ models. In other words, we want to focus on communicative skills in our classes. Here’s a lesson plan to help you do this.

Second, instead of having standard ‘native speaker’ pronunciation as the only goal that our students should  spire to, when teaching ELF, we focus on intelligibility in international contexts. In other words, on clear pronunciation in international contexts and being easy to understand to a wide variety of people. You can read in more detail what this would involve right here.

Third, when teaching listening, you would want to use a very wide variety of ‘non-native speakers’ in your recordings. You can see exactly what 5 steps you should follow in this video. But in a nutshell, you would basically want to do a needs analysis with your students to find out who they are going to be using English with.

And just bearing the numbers in mind, that there are probably four or five times as many ‘non-native speakers’ as there are ‘native speakers’, the chances are that your students are much more likely to interact with other ‘non-native speakers’ than they are with those perceived as ‘native speakers’. And you really need to reflect that in your materials.

What you also want to do when you teach ELF is to have a lot of genuine interactions between people from different countries in which those perceived as ‘native speakers’ are in a minority.

And again, this simply reflects the reality of the English language: those who speak it as the first language constitute perhaps 20 percent of all people who use English.

Another really important difference with teaching EFL is that when we teach ELF, rather than emphasize the target culture of those perceived as ‘native speakers’, we want to emphasize intercultural communicative skills. In other words, we want to help students be able to navigate their way in between a myriad of different peoples, cultures, and first languages. Here’s more on this including a sample lesson plan you could use.

Another aspect that I think is vital as well when teaching ELF is to use non-native speakers as models of the language. This can involve models of pronunciation, and I’ve done another video about how you can use non-native speakers as valid models of pronunciation, but they can also model grammar and vocabulary.

So use those recordings of ‘non-native speakers’ to showcase to students that these people can also be great models of the language for them. This can be really motivating, because it simply shows them as well that they as second language users of English can also reach that proficiency level.

And finally, when teaching ELF, we need to raise students’ awareness of English as a Lingua Franca and of native speakerism. Here are a few activities to help you do this.

Teaching EFL vs Teaching ELF

So to sum up, there are some big differences between teaching EFL, English and Foreign Language, and teaching ELF, English as a Lingua Franca.

If I could summarize them in one sentence, the main difference is that those perceived as ‘native speakers’ are no longer at the center of the language, no longer seen as the only default standard that all students should aspire to imitate; on the other hand, what’s emphasized when teaching ELF is the global nature of the English language and the fact that most people who use it are ‘non-native speakers’.

If you really want to dive in deeper to teaching English as a Lingua Franca and learn how you can help students communicate more effectively in international contexts, then consider joining TEFL Equity Academy, where I have several teacher training  courses that will show you exactly how to teach English as a Lingua Franca and tackle native speakerism.

References: 

Kiczkowiak, M. (In press). Pronunciation in course books: English as a Lingua Franca perspective. ELT Journal.

Kiczkowiak, M. (2017). Confronting native speakerism in an ELT classroom: Practical awareness-raising activities. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 6(1).

Kiczkowiak, M. (2020). Seven principles for writing materials for English as a lingua franca. ELT Journal, 74(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccz042

Kiczkowiak, M., & Lowe, R. J. (2019). Teaching English as a lingua franca: The journey from EFL to ELF. DELTA Publishing.

Matsuda, A. (2012). Teaching Materials in EIL. In L. Alsagoff, W. A. Renandya, S. L. Mckay, & G. Hu (Eds.), Principles and Practices for Teaching English as an International Language. Routledge.

Si, J. (2019). An analysis of business English coursebooks from an ELF perspective. ELT Journal, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccz049

Syrbe, M., & Rose, H. (2016). An evaluation of the global orientation of English textbooks in Germany. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 12(2), 152–163. https://doi.org/10.1080/17501229.2015.1120736

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