English as a Lingua Franca and Some Implications for English Teachers

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ENGLISH AS A LINGUA FRANCA AND SOME IMPLICATIONS FOR ENGLISH TEACHERS Penny Ur TESOL France Colloquium 2009

Initial Concepts and Assumptions

Probably between two and three billion people speak English. These may be defined according to Kachru’s three circles: inner, outer, expanding (Kachru, 1992).

expanding circle

outer circle

inner circle

Kachru, 1985

Probably between two and three billion people speak English. These may be divided into Kachru’s three circles: inner, outer, expanding (Kachru, 1992). But today the majority of English speakers are located in the outer or expanding circles, using English as a lingua franca (ELF). It is used for: academic purposes; political negotiation; tourism; entertainment; business and finance; information; interpersonal relationships …

Most educated speakers of other languages are at least bilingual. Both centrifugal and centripetal trends are developing: a proliferation of local ‘Englishes’, side by side with a generally comprehensible ‘standard’ variety.

Some general implications

The user of English as a lingua franca

May be either ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ Is typically bi- (or multi-)lingual, or bi-dialectal ‘An English-knowing bilingual’ (Alptekin, 2005) Is likely to be skilled in communicative and comprehension strategies.

The fully competent speaker of English as a lingua franca
A speaker with a wide vocabulary, accurate grammar, easily understood accent. May or may not be originally a native speaker.

Three circles redefined?
Perhaps it is more useful, therefore, to define the three circles of users of English internationally simply in terms of their level of competence in the language rather than in terms of where they live and whether or not they are ‘native speakers’.

ELF Speakers

Limited

Competent

Fully competent

Adapted from Rajadurai, 2005

Some implications for English teachers worldwide 1
The language to be taught

Various options:
1. One of the mainstream native varieties 2. A ‘common core’ reduced syllabus 3. Varied models: diversity 4. A world standard model

A native model
Advantages:
- Accepted by many teachers and learners - Prestigious - Defined and codified - Clear basis for materials and tests

A native model
Disadvantages:
- Not the variety used by most fully competent ELF speakers - May not be appropriate for ELF contexts - Difficulty of deciding which native variety to choose - Full competence not usually achievable

A ‘common core’ syllabus
The argument: we need to teach for communication, and a lot of users of English as a lingua franca are communicating perfectly effectively with limited vocabulary and non-standard grammatical usages. So maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about teaching wide vocabulary and ‘accurate’ grammar.

What are our priorities?
Some applied linguists claim that many so-called errors are in fact ‘variant’ forms commonly used by many users of English as a lingua franca and therefore should not be corrected. Examples: She go The people which…

A ‘common core’
Advantages:
- includes common ‘unproblematic’ variants - does not include ‘difficult’ vocabulary - universally comprehensible - at present being researched and documented

A ‘common core’ code
Disadvantages:
- fully competent ELF speakers don’t accept or use it. - no evidence that it represents the most common / acceptable forms worldwide. - unacceptable to most teachers, learners, materials writers and test designers.

Diverse, flexible models
Rather than set up a code which all users of ELF have to follow, it is surely time that we recognised the diversity among users and the multiplicity of uses to which English is put worldwide and think in terms of varied processes of interaction rather than a single prescriptive model. Prodromou, 2007: 40

Diverse, flexible models
Advantages:
- ideologically acceptable - allows for local variation - sidesteps need for codification and...
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