ew months back on TEFL Equity Advocates, I had the pleasure to talk to prof. Jennifer Jenkins about English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and its influence on ELT and the status of non-native English speaking teachers. Prof. Jenkins is one of the most prominent figures in ELF scholarship, and has published numerous books and articles on the topic. You can find her full biography below the interview.

How would you define English as a Lingua Franca?

Jennifer Jenkins: Until fairly recently I’ve defined ELF as a contact language used by people who don’t share a first (and often any other) language. More recently, I’ve reconceptualised ELF, bringing its multilingual essence to the fore, called it English as a Multilingua Franca, and defined it as “multilingual communication in which English is available as a contact language of choice, but is not necessarily chosen” (see Jenkins J. 2015, ‘Repositioning English and multilingualism in English as a Lingua Franca’, available here)

Some people think of ELF as a variety of English, along the same lines as Nigerian, Australian or Hong Kong English are varieties. Is this the right way of thinking about ELF?

No, this is completely wrong. In the earliest days of ELF research, before we had sufficient empirical evidence, we did believe that it would be possible to describe the English use of speakers from the non-mother tongue and non-postcolonial English-speaking countries in similar ways to the latter. However, it soon became clear that a ‘varieties’ approach was inappropriate for the use of English that transcends national boundaries, and ELF researchers moved on to exploring how English is used in this way. Mauranen’s notion of ‘similects’ (see Mauranen A. 2012, Exploring ELF, Cambridge University Press) is particularly helpful in this respect. According to this notion, speakers from the same first language background have a certain amount in common in their English because of their shared first language. But how their English develops depends entirely on who they communicate in English with, and the majority of their interlocutors will be speakers of other languages than their own. Hence, the English of one first language speaker of, say, Korean, may be very different from that of another first language speaker of Korean simply because they communicate with different constellations of other first language speakers. And thus, we can’t talk of ‘Korean English’.

McKay (2002, p.1) claims that “the teaching and learning of an international language must be based on an entirely different set of assumptions than the teaching and learning of any other second or foreign language”. Do you agree? If so, what are the practical implications of ELF scholarship for English teachers? In other words, how do we teach ELF?

It’s too early to talk about an ‘ELF pedagogy’ (though see the various publications of Martin Dewey on this subject). At the moment, we still need much more empirical information about how ELF used in a wide range of contexts and among speakers of a wide range of different first languages. But McKay is certainly right, in my view, that an ELF pedagogy will need to be very different from traditional foreign language pedagogy. For example, it will need to focus far more on diversity across speakers and on accommodation skills (adjusting your language to make it more relevant for your particular interlocutors at that moment, including avoiding local idiomatic language), and will also involve the use of languages other English, and so will advantage multilingual ELF users, whereas in the past it has been native English speakers (often monolingual) who have been considered the most advantaged in ELF communication.

Some scholars have criticised EFL/ESL course books for being dominated by American and British English models and language norms. Do you see any room for a course book that features more example of World Englishes and ELF users?

I’m not qualified to talk about World Englishes, as this is a very different field from that of ELF (see my answer to the first question). But I do agree that there is plenty of room for course books that focus on particular World Englishes varieties and that American and British norms are becoming increasingly irrelevant globally, given that their speakers are in such a small minority of the world’s English users. When it comes to ELF, I do believe there is room – lots of room – for course books that promote the kinds of intercultural learning and awareness that will facilitate ELF communication. But it’s probably too a bit early for these books to be written. And of course until the international testing boards bring themselves into the 21st Century, it will be difficult for teachers to follow some kind of ELF syllabus, as their learners will then fail the outdated ‘international’ tests they’re often required to take, e.g. for university entry.

How can ELF scholarship contribute to our rethinking of the current situation where NS of English from the Inner Circle are seen as ‘owners’ of the language and its only correct models?

I think this is already happening. When people first hear about the notion of ELF, they’re often rather sceptical. But once they’re read some of the research and got used to this major paradigm shift, they tend then to change their minds completely. Native English speakers begin to become more aware of the ideological issues involved in the spread of English. Meanwhile non-native English speakers begin to appreciate their often substantial linguistic skills (far greater than those of monolingual native English speakers – though this isn’t to say that all native English speakers are monolingual), and to realise that the way a North American or British person speaks English isn’t particularly relevant to them unless they will mainly be engaging in English with such people.

Do you think ELF and NNEST scholarship should feature more prominently and be discussed during teacher training courses such as CELTA or DELTA? Why (not)?

Yes, definitely. ELF is already mentioned on these teacher training courses (Dewey has written about this). However, it doesn’t yet feature prominently enough, and it tends to be described inaccurately (e.g. as a ‘variety’ of English, which it isn’t), and/or in contradictory ways. Until pre-service teachers develop a good understanding of ELF, they won’t be in a position to prepare their learners for the vast majority of communication in English in which they’re likely to be involved in their future lives.

In a recent article, Kumaravdivelu (2014, p.17) wrote that “seldom in the annals of an academic discipline have so many people toiled so hard, for so long, and achieved so little in their avowed attempt at disrupting the insidious structure of inequality in their chosen profession”. What do you think still needs to be done in order to bring about greater equality between NS and NNS in ELT?

This is a very big question. But in my view, if ELF was more widely accepted, non-native English speakers would gain substantially in status – and the opposite for native English speakers. As I said in my first book on ELF:

“It will be interesting in years to come to see whether the term ‘native’ undergoes another change in connotation. In the days of empire, the natives were the indigenous populations and the term itself implied uncivilized, primitive, barbaric, even cannibalistic. With the spread of English around the globe, ‘native’ – in relation to English – has assumed newer, positive connotations. ‘Native speakers’ of English are assumed to be advanced (technologically), civilized, and educated. But as native speakers lose their linguistic advantage, with English being spoken as an international language [i.e. ELF] no less – and often a good deal more – effectively by non-native speakers, and as bilingualism and multilingualism become the accepted world norm, and monolingualism the exception, perhaps the word ‘native’ will return to its pejorative usage. Only this time the opposite group will be on the receiving end.” (Jenkins, J. 2000. The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford University Press, p. 229).

Fifteen years later, I think this is happening.

Thanks again for agreeing to do this interview.

jennifer jenkinsJennifer Jenkins holds the Chair of Global Englishes at the University of Southampton where she is also founding director of the Centre for Global Englishes. She has been conducting empirical research into English as a Lingua Franca for over 25 years, and has published extensively on the subject, including three monographs: The Phonology of English as an International Language (OUP 2000), English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity (OUP 2007), and English as a Lingua Franca in the International University (Rutledge 2014). She is also the author of a university course book, Global Englishes, Routledge (2015, 3rd ed.).

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