Addressing English as a Lingua Franca in Language Teaching Theory and Practice: Challenges and Opportunities

This CPD event was run by Nathan Page (lecturer in applied linguistics at Aston) on May 4th, and was attended by staff and students of the university. The session was based around an overview of major theories and findings in the English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) research movement, and then an application of those to a specific context of language teaching and learning which formed the basis of Nathan’s PhD research.

ELF research tells us that many features of standard English lexicogrammar and pronunciation can be varied with no effect on mutual intelligibility between speakers. It has documented some of the processes involved in maintaining that mutual intelligibility, and has also pointed out which specific features are likely to cause breakdowns in communication and which are not. Given this backdrop, the audience were asked to consider a rather controversial question: to what extent is the teaching of all standard forms of English relevant in English education today?

Of course there are many ways of approaching that question, and certainly matters of educational context and individual identity, aspirations (and so on) are of paramount importance. It was noted that it is not uncommon for teachers or learners to have either ambivalent or openly hostile reactions to some of the concepts and ideas associated with ELF. This issue was expanded upon by demonstrating that – in a Japanese context where the English learners are volunteers preparing to work overseas in diverse global contexts – there certainly must be a strong case for adopting an ELF-type position on teaching practices, and yet some teachers were openly dismissive of global diversity in English, preferring to adhere strictly to standard forms of the language. This was shown to be a complex, multi-layered issue as research from the context shows many reasons which justify an ‘intelligibility based’ approach but this comes with many caveats indicating that some focus on standard forms of English is still important to the volunteers.

Ultimately, the session pointed out that an awareness of the issues raised by ELF is important for all teachers of English, but that the associated concepts represent both challenges and opportunities for classroom pedagogy, largely dependent on context and also learner identity.

If you would like more information, Nathan can be contacted on n.page@aston.ac.uk. He also has an open-source publication available at http://www3.caes.hku.hk/ajal/index.php/ajal/article/view/28 .