The Changing Face of English
by Abdullah Coskun
English has taken up a new status as the world’s lingua franca enabling English users to communicate across cultures for various purposes mostly with non-native speakers from various L1 backgrounds. Considering not only the increasing number of non-native users of English but also the learners’ purpose of learning English, there seems to be a need for a switch from EFL (English as a Foreign Language) to ELF (English as a Lingua Franca), the difference of which has been nicely pointed out by Jenkins (2004). She suggests that speakers of EFL utilize English mainly to communicate with NSs (native speakers) of English generally in NS contexts and their purpose in learning the language is to speak like a NS. On the other hand, speakers of ELF use English primarily to communicate with other NNSs(non-native speakers) from various L1 backgrounds and in NNS settings and there is no point for these speakers in trying to speak like a native-speaker. This current change in the number and the purpose of English learners in EFL settings is likely to influence some of the important curriculum components, such as the place of the local non-native teacher, intelligibility, intercultural communication and teacher education the curriculum development in ELT.
The Local Non-Native Teacher
Despite attempts to promote the non-native teacher in the ELT world, course book writers, curriculum developers, school directors, teacher educators, testing professionals and even non-native practicing teachers seem to take their stance on the side of the native-speaker whose definition has not even been agreed on yet. Therefore, it would be true to say that most teachers of English are under the bombardment of the native-speaker norms and have a tendency to hold the idea that the goal of learning English is to help students become as native-like as possible. This goal seems irrelevant in contexts where learners’ interest in learning English mainly lies on utility purposes like finding a job, having access to better education, communicating people from different language and culture backgrounds rather than integrating into the British and the American way of living. Moreover, as Canagarajah (1999) claims, non-native teachers have made up 80 percent of all the English teachers around the world and there is a growing recognition that the responsibility for implementing the curriculum and pedagogy should be given to the local teachers. Canagarajah has also rightly pointed out that local non-native teachers are supposed to know the expectations, beliefs, capabilities and assumptions of local learners and they are more aware of the importance of developing a curriculum matching with the learning culture in the community.
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.
The cultural content of the English curriculum also needs to be focused for an ELF curriculum that will help learners use the language as an instrument for intercultural communication. The cultural content in most of the English course books are full of with culturally loaded inner circle themes related to actors in Hollywood, the history of Coca-Cola and pumpkins in Halloween. These topics might not appeal to a learner who has nothing to talk about these topics or who finds them irrelevant to learn for an effective ELF communication. It would not be fair to suggest that the target language culture should not be taught in our classrooms at all but as discussed earlier, I would hold the belief that the model to take in developing a curriculum should not merely be the native-speaker culture. Course book writers and curriculum developers should be more ELF conscious and incorporate as many different cultures as possible including the culture of the target learner. By this means, our learners can benefit from the power of English as a way to resolve conflicts with a better tolerant understanding of the globe consisting of different cultural values.
The ideal trend in teaching culture seems to be the inclusion of the international culture in the English curriculum. International culture materials can be exemplified as typical Japanese wedding, German festivals, Italian food, Brazilian dance, British politeness and Turkish festivals. As for international culture, the question how “international English culture” can be limited may come up. As the scope of internationalism is so wide, there needs to be a framework to narrow down the Englishes and cultures to incorporate in an ELF curriculum or the course book. To illustrate my framework, if Turkey has close links with its neighboring countries such as Greece, Iran and Russia, it is important to teach the cultural and linguistic patterns of these countries as English learners in Turkey might be in need of communicating with people living in these countries by means of English. The way people in these countries behave in certain situations, initiate and end a conversation, eat and establish eye contact should somehow be included in the curriculum.
The ELF movement needs practicing teachers’ support to have its place in the classroom. If a change has been intended in English education, the first place to initiate the action plan is the teacher education faculties because English teachers learn how to handle the ELT profession mostly at the university. If they are educated in link with the ELF research, they can easily adapt to the changing status of English that seems to be a strong option for the future of ELT, especially in the expanding circle countries like Turkey. Teacher education programs should be restructured in accordance with the requirements of ELF, which can be summarized as follows:
1. Expose teachers (learners) to varieties of English beyond the Inner Circle;
2. Help to deconstruct the myth of the native speaker
3. Integrate methodologies that are valued in the local context and reflect students’ actual needs and interests
4. Foster language development through increased target language exposure, consciousness-raising activities, and feedback
5. Encourage collaboration between local and outside experts
6. Instill in participants the value of on-going reflective practice and lifelong learning endeavors. (Snow et al., 2006)
The importance of the local teacher in curriculum development, the issue of intelligibility in English pronunciation, the types of cultural content to include in the curriculum, and the teacher education policy have been focused throughout this response paper. To conclude, in a global world where most people learn English as a Lingua Franca, English teachers should be aware of the importance of themselves as trained local non-native teachers who know that teaching pronunciation and culture should also be based on international standards, not only the native-speaker norms.
Ahvenainen, T. (2005). Problemsolving Mechanisms in Information Exchange Dialogues with English as a Lingua Franca. Licentiate thesis. University of Jyväskylä.30 Nov 2006.
Canagarajah, A. S. (1999). Interrogating the ‘native speaker fallacy’: Non-linguistic roots, non-pedagogical results. Non-Native Educators in English Language Teaching. Ed. G. Braine. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 77-92.
Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: OUP
Jenkins, J. (2005). ELF at the gate: the position of English as a Lingua Franca. Humanising Language Teaching, 7(2), retrieved May 4, 2007 from
Snow,M.A, Kamhi-Stein,L& Brinton,D. (2006). Teacher Training for English as a Lingua Franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics,26, 261-281. Cambridge University Press
Abdullah Coskun is an EFL teacher at Abant Izzet Baysal University,Turkey. He has BA and MA in ELT at Abant Izzet Baysal University,Turkey and is currently a PHD candidate. He can be contacted at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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