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The Changing Face of English
by Abdullah Coskun
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Intelligibility
There is a growing research on the diversity of the English language in NNS different settings. The so-called native-speaker pronunciation has also been questioned because it cannot be clearly described. Within the ELF research movement, the term “intelligibility” has gained considerable attention as an alternative to the native-speaker norms.

One of the most important pillars of an effective ELF communication is to be intelligible to the interlocutor and as Jenkins(2000) points out, “there is really no justification for doggedly persisting in referring to an item as ‘an error’ if the vast majority the world’s English speakers produce and understand it” (p.160). By observing non-native learners of English from different language backgrounds in classroom conversations to analyze the causes of problems of comprehension in their use of English, Jenkins set priorities in teaching pronunciation and provides a set of phonological features that are important for intelligibility in communication between NNSs. She developed a “lingua franca core” list (e.g. all the consonants are important except for 'th' sounds as in 'thin' and 'this') requiring pedagogic focus for production in ELF classes and a “non-core” list (e.g. word stress, stress timing) including pronunciation aspects that do not seem to be essential for intelligibility in ELF interactions. In order to help learners become aware of the changing place of English in the world, comprehend English-speaking people from various L1 backgrounds and to avoid communication breakdowns in lingua franca communication, we should provide our students with materials from different intelligible English varieties. Also, accommodation skills like making repairs, paraphrasing and rephrasing that reduce the risk of miscommunication and help learners adjust their English for their interlocutor should be emphasized in an ELF curriculum.

Another point in need of a change within the discussion of pronunciation is the “Common European Framework” (CEF) assessment criteria. CEF has been criticized by researchers like Ahvenainen (2005) who claims that it promotes pluralingualism that includes the idea that all levels of language competence should be accounted for but it still talks about achieving native-speaker competence when drawing up assessment criteria as in the following examples:

  • …sustain relationships with native speakers (level B2)
  • Appreciates fully the sociolinguistic and sociocultural implications of language used by native speakers and can react accordingly. (level C2)
  • Can hold his/her own in formal discussion at no disadvantage to native speakers. (level C2)

These levels indicated in CEF seem contradictory within an ELF framework that calls an awareness and tolerance of variations in English.

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