ELF in my lesson?

British or American? Learners all over the globe have for long asked their teachers and peers which English they speak. Nevertheless, much more importantly than having a major focus on one of the main dominant varieties of English, it is crucial to raise learners’ awareness to the importance of being more and more used to being exposed to as many varieties of spoken English as possible in today’s world.

ELF – English as a Lingua Franca – is a worldwide phenomenon (exactly – not a variety of English) that has a major impact on global communication, especially between non-native speakers of English (NNSs), who massively outnumber native speakers (NSs). It is estimated that around 2 billion NNSs use English in communication nowadays, and around 350 million NSs (for further reference, please check Kachru’s three-concentric-circle model). With these figures, it is impossible not to address ELF in our lessons if we aim at enabling our learners to become better communicators in this globalized world.

A first step towards training learners’ ears is bringing to our lessons a variety of accents to expose learners to. Varieties of NSs’ accents is fundamental, but helping learners get more acquainted with the peculiarities in the speech of other speakers whose first language is not English, I dare say, is equally important. With this, not only are we aiding learners to achieve success in communication by being more intelligible, but we are also helping them become more tolerant towards differences. It is then definitely our job to find sources that lend themselves to this purpose and that contribute to the pedagogical purposes you have in mind.

Dr Jennifer Jenkins, one of the most commonly ELF-associated names, has come up with a series of features pertaining to ELF, some of which include grammatical and lexical features (such as dropping the third person –s and not using idioms in international communication), and a considerable amount of phonological features that have turned into yet another acronym: LFC – Lingua Franca Core. Most of the changes tend to focus on segmental phonology (individual sounds), especially on consonant sounds such as the dark /l/ and th- sounds, short and long vowel sounds, and consonant clusters (for more information, I suggest a post entitled What is the Lingua Franca Core?, by Laura Patsko, and Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca, a book by Robin Walker).

During the latest IATEFL Conference in Manchester, a number of speakers highlighted the importance of bringing ELF to our learners’ world and, more importantly, of making it relevant to them. Practical activities such as drilling minimal pairs should focus not only on the sounds that may cause difficulties for learners in your context, but should also aim at helping learners avoid intelligibility problems when communicating with the world. In order to help teachers find such information, some online corpora (such as the VOICE – Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English) with spoken recordings containing samples of speakers from all over the globe can inform teachers of the choices to be made for the activities in their lessons.

All in all, I believe that our lessons should contribute as much as possible to exposing learners to as many varieties of English as we can, and to helping them become more aware of the differences so that they are more successful when interacting in English. I would also like to share a list of references on the subject of ELF and on the history of the English language (and how it became such an important tool for communication!):

Crystal, D. (1997) English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Graddol, D. English NextWhy global English may mean the end of ‘English as a foreign language’. London: British Council.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J. Current Perspectives on Teaching World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (article available online)

Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walker, R. (2010). Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  (an interesting website with important information on the role of English today) (a fun yet factual version of the history of English)



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Catarina Pontes

Catarina Pontes is a senior consultant for Troika. She is an ICELT main course tutor, and Cambridge Assessment English Team Leader . A DELTA holder, and currently doing her MA with NILE, she is also a conference speaker and has published articles on ELT and EFL. She is the co-author of "Getting into Teacher Education - a Handbook", and is currently the coordinator of IATEFL's Pron SIG.

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