English as a Lingua Franca: should we change our teaching?

Should teachers reconsider their focus on error correction, bearing in mind that the majority of non-native speakers operate in an English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) environment? When all the ELF speakers of the world are communicating very effectively on a daily basis despite having habitual errors, is it really important to correct little mistakes like an incorrect preposition?

Characteristics of English as a Lingua Franca

  • Lack of 3rd person singular ‘s’ in present simple – He work for Microsoft
  • Missing definite articles – He’s just gone to shops
  • Insertion of definite articles when not needed – We took photos of the Trafalgar Square at the weekend
  • Pluralising uncountable nouns – informations, advices, staffs
  • Overuse of certain ‘all-purpose’ verbs – do, make, have, take, put
  • Overuse of ‘that’ clauses – I want that we discuss the…
  • Reliance on a ‘one size fits all’ question tag – They are going to come, no?

(Adapted from Seidlhofer)

If these characteristics of ELF appear every day in innumerable pieces of communication, should we as teachers attempt to correct these deviations from Standard English, when they are clearly not impeding intelligibility?

Should we abandon the native speaker as the benchmark of correctness, as Jennifer Jenkins has proposed and create a new definition of an ELF expert speaker, regardless of whether or not someone happens to be a native speaker?

I wrote a recent blog with a film review containing some of the characteristic English as a Lingua franca ‘mistakes’ and with some accommodation, I think that it is a successful piece of communication. Is it good enough? Or should teachers always demand that learners endeavour to produce as near as possible to Standard English?

I think that students’ wishes should be accommodated, as far as possible, so that students get what they are paying for. In a 1-2-1 class this is easily achievable, but obviously more difficult in a group environment – even with a fantastic, completed needs analysis! 🙂

In my experience, most learners want immediate teacher correction when they make the slightest mistake. (However, even this has to be continually managed with sensitivity, as it’s easy to find yourself in a situation where a tired or stressed student can become demotivated with constant error correction.)

Even though most students profess a desire to speak like a native, Ivor Timmis suggests that we should not urge learners to conform to Standard English norms, but at the same time it is ‘scarcely more appropriate to offer students a target which does not meet their aspirations.

Contrastingly, Vicky Kuo believes that despite the successful ‘international intelligibility’ of error-strewn ELF, this should not necessarily have any repercussions on syllabus design and she defends the native speaker as the ‘appropriate pedagogical model’.

Should teachers change or modify what we teach considering the global importance of an accommodating ELF?

Bren Brennan

About Bren Brennan

Bren initially trained here at SGI and then joined the staff in 2005. Since 2006, he has taught abroad in Budapest, Berlin and now at Mondragon University in Spain. He returns to teach at SGI London every summer and completed the SGI Trinity DipTESOL in 2011. He also regularly writes posts for students here.
This entry was posted in English as a Lingua Franca, Professional Development, Reflecting on Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to English as a Lingua Franca: should we change our teaching?

  1. Roberto Di Scala says:

    I found your post by chance and I am very glad I did. I am interested in ELF and the need / possibility to change something in the traditional syllabi taught at school. I teach at a vocational school in Italy, and I think that students should be given some hints about ELF along with full awareness of the national variety of English normally taught (in Italy, this variety is traditionally British English).
    Teachers should be able both to master a specific variety of English and to make their students aware of a sort of ‘common core’ of basic grammar and syntax information which may be regarded as an ‘ELF common core’. Mine are just first-hand thoughts about the whole question which, I reckon, needs further insight.
    Please feel free to contact me via email if you are willing to discuss the topic further.
    Regards,
    Roberto Di Scala

  2. Pingback: Is listening to radio really TEFL Diploma revision? « TEFL-ish

  3. Bren Brennan Bren Brennan says:

    A BESIG online workshop today on ELF/ Attendance is free. You can access the webinar here…
    http://www.besig.org/events/online/workshops/Workshop11.aspx

  4. Pingback: English as a Lingua Franca – what’s it all about? (Part 1 of 3: English around the world) - Teacher Training Blog

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