For quite some time now, I have been trying to lower my adult students’ affective filters about their pronunciation difficulties. These affective filters (proposed by Stephen Krashen) “(…) acts to control the amount and quality of input learners receive.” (Thornbury, 2006 p.8).

Affective filters can include motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. Anyone who has taught or teaches adults (especially in beginner levels) knows adults usually have higher affective filters than teens do. In my experience, these filters are usually high for adults because they were “conditioned” (by traditional teaching and the world before globalization) to think that to be a fluent speaker means to speak in a way that a native speaker can’t notice that you are not a native speaker.


I am not going to start the whole native speaker /accent discussion in this post. For an interesting post on the topic you can read Sandra Possas’ post on the issue, earlier this month here in the blog. But I do believe it’s our duty, as teachers in a very globalized world to make our students realize that should not, by far, be their objective when studying English.

They should focus on their intelligibility, on communicating intelligibly. By communicating I mean both producing and understanding language (their listening skills in this case). After all, I don’t see the importance of not being identified as a native speaker because I have flawless pronunciation. I consider myself as a fairly fluent speaker of English and yet most people (native speakers of English included) cannot really tell where my accent is from. Maybe because it’s a big melting pot of all the different experiences, influences and phases in my life. But I can communicate and get my point across. That makes me a fluent speaker.

It is my belief that students should be exposed to a wide range of accents, so they can be prepared to communicate to people speaking all types of English.

At the last IATEFL Conference in Harrogate I attended a session about ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) by Katy Simpson and Laura Patsko. I have always been a bit skeptical about ELF (it always made me think of Esperanto) but that session made me see I was wrong. I learned that according to Barbara Seidlhofer, ELF can be defined as:

“any use of English among speakers of different first languages for whom English is the communicative medium of choice, and often the only option.”

During the session Laura and Katy explained the importance of ELF and it resonated to me. My students will also use English (most already do!) with speakers from the most varied origins, native and non-native. And I have to prepare them for that. Pronunciation, as it was pointed out in the session has great influence not only in being understood, but also being prepared to understand. What was more surprising to me was to find out many of the features of pronunciation I worked with my students are not that important to intelligibility.

It has certainly made me rethink some things and research more on the topic. If you’re interested you can take a look at Katy and Laura’s blog about ELF (with resources and activities to use with students, as well as their IATEFL presentation.)

At least now I have one more thing to back me up when talking to my students and convince them on focusing on intelligibility.



ELF Pronunciation. (retrieved in April, 2014)

Possas, Sandra. Britanico ou Americano. on April 22, 2014)

Thornbury, Scott. 2006. An A-Z of ELT. Macmillan.

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Cecilia Lemos has been working with ELT since 1993 and is an Academic Coach for Educate Bilingual Program. She has worked a teacher trainer, writer, coordinator and teacher, presenting at local, national and international language teaching events. She’s a member of IATEFL’s Teacher Development SIG committee. Her main interests are feedback, correction and lesson observation.

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