The Lingua Franca Core and if/how we might teach it

This is the final post in a three-part series based on workshops recently held at SGI in London on the topic of English as a Lingua Franca (“ELF”).

Awareness and research of ELF has been growing steadily over the past 15 years or so, but there still don’t seem to be many people in the English language teaching industry who really appreciate what it’s about, which makes it hard to have an informed opinion on what it might mean for their practice.

The SGI workshops were intended to introduce ELF to teachers and generate some discussion about its implications.

The previous post in this series asked you to identify from the following list which features of pronunciation you thought would be most important to produce accurately for a learner who uses English as a lingua franca (as opposed to using it as a foreign language).

  • consonant sounds
  • vowel quality (e.g. /æ/ vs /e/)
  • vowel length (e.g. /iː/ vs /ɪ/)
  • schwa and weak forms
  • consonant clusters (e.g. /str/ in ‘street’)
  • word stress
  • nuclear stress (e.g. ‘I’ll be working next SUNDAY’ vs. ‘I’ll be WORKING next Sunday’)
  • connected speech features (e.g. elision, assimilation)
  • stress-timing
  • tone

Drumroll please…

Based on Jenkins’ (2000) research, in ELF interaction (i.e. when two non-native speakers of English who don’t share a first language use English to communicate), it is important for them to accurately produce the following pronunciation features in order to understand each other:

  1. All consonant sounds, with the following provisos:
  • no need for /θ/ and /ð/ (common substitutions like /f/ and /v/ are OK, as long as they’re consistent)
  • /r/ should be the rhotic version, as in General American pronunciation, and always pronounced where it occurs in spelling
  • /t/ should always be pronounced /t/, not as a glottal stop (e.g. in some London accents) or similar to a /d/ (e.g. “leader” and “litre” sound very similar in General American pronunciation), especially when it follows /n/ (e.g. in “winter”)
    2. Vowel length must be preserved
    3. Vowel quality is not that important, but:

    • /ɜː/ must be preserved
    • whatever vowel qualities are used must be consistent (e.g. don’t swap randomly between the American and southern British pronunciations of ‘class’)
      4. Nuclear stress should be placed appropriately
      5. Consonant clusters should generallynot be simplified (e.g. by dropping a consonant), but in some cases it’s OK to add a very short vowel between consonants to ease articulation

    In other words, an error in any of these areas might result in a breakdown of ELF intelligibility.

    Jenkins called this list the Lingua Franca Core.

    Outside this ‘core’ of essential pronunciation features, there is room for learners to transfer aspects of their own L1’s sound system (e.g. not using weak forms).  This is the ‘foreign accent’ (for want of a better term) that we’re all familiar with.  And it’s part of their identity, which they might like to express when they’re speaking English.

    The other side of intelligibility is, of course, what goes on in the listener’s ears/head.  The LFC is just a set of guidelines for production, but when it comes to reception, learners will need exposure to a wide variety of L1 and L2 accents, and will need to be taught how to deal with this variation.

    (This skill is called accommodation, but it wasn’t covered in the SGI workshops on which these posts are based, so won’t be covered in further detail here.)


    What might all this mean for classroom practice?

    Clearly, the implications of ELF and the LFC are quite broad-ranging.

    But really, teaching pronunciation based on the Lingua Franca Core (or “LFC”) isn’t that much different from teaching based on any other set of pronunciation features:  the teacher needs to be aware of the learners’ needs and goals, and teach and correct them accordingly.

    And materials do exist for working on most, if not all, LFC features (I say “not all” because many published materials are based on native speaker models, which aren’t relevant for ELF, so some parts of some exercises are not that useful).

    And in terms of accommodation, if you teach in a multilingual classroom, the learners will already have exposure to a wide range of other L2 accents (though that doesn’t mean they’ll automatically understand all of them easily!).  If your students all share the same L1, you might have to find recordings of ELF interaction to use in class (there’s a CD with Walker’s book—details below).

    One thing Jennifer Jenkins has always been very clear about is that the LFC is not necessarily for everyone, and is not necessarily an ‘easy option’.

    But then, neither is RP, which is what coursebooks are commonly based on, at least in Europe.

    The LFC is simply an alternative to RP, or General American, or Scottish English, or New Zealand English, or whatever other accent we might offer students as a guide in the classroom.

    In other words, if students want and/or need to sound like a native speaker, fine.  Their teacher’s job is to help them!

    But if this isn’t the case (and based on current statistics, we might have to accept this)… have they actually been offered any alternative?  When is the last time you discussed the issues in this blog post with your students?




    I am indebted to the following literature for statistics on worldwide English usage, definitions of terms such as ELF and EFL, details of the Lingua Franca Core, and evidence that accented speech is not necessarily the same as unintelligible speech:

    Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language (2nd edn.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Derwing, T. M. & M. J. Munro (1997). ‘Accent, intelligibility and comprehensibility.’ Studies in Second Language Acquisition, Vol. 20, Issue 1, pp. 1-16.

    Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an International Language: New models, new norms, new goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

    Seidlhofer, B. (2001). ‘Closing a conceptual gap: the case for a description of English as a Lingua Franca.’ International Journal of Applied Linguistics, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 133-158.

    Walker, R. (2010). Teaching the pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


    Important note: The phenomenon of ELF impacts all areas of language, not just pronunciation.  In the recent SGI workshops, we only talked about ELF as related to teaching pronunciation—and so the same is true of these blog posts.


    Related Posts…

    ELF – What’s it all about? Part 1 0f 3: English around the world
    ELF – What’s it all about? Part 2 of 3: Variation, accent and intelligibility
    All of our posts on English as a Lingua Franca, click here.

    This entry was posted in English as a Lingua Franca, Professional Development, SGI CPD Club and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Lingua Franca Core and if/how we might teach it

  1. Pingback: ELF pronunciation – what’s involved and why we might teach the core sounds | Lauraahaha

  2. Pingback: ELF pronunciation – what’s it all about? | Lauraahaha

  3. Pingback: ELF: Variation, accent and intelligibility - Teacher Training Blog

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