ELF 5 Part 4 – Plenary by Cem Alptekin

Cem Alptekin starts his talk  ‘A Usage-Based Approach to ELF identity’, showing two different pictures of elves, showing how even within elves, there are different types and varieties.

In an article published by Guardian by Julianne House, she describes ELF as ‘a stateless language that Europe must embrace, stating that ELF was Europe’s lingua franca’, not an imperialist tool, but a language that recognize the different nationality and different cultures, and allowing individuals to creating their own discourse norms with their own free will with a view to promoting international understanding.

If European Lingua Franca or Euro-English is indeed a variety, then it should be possibility to describe and codify it, and use it for instruction.

Reminding us that Jenkins called ELF is a context variety, ELF is legitimate English, like outer circle speakers, the criteria that applied to outer circle applies also to expanding circle speakers.

Early ELF studies were focused the linguistic features of ELF communication, e.g. Seidlhofer’s early article about lexico-grammatical features that might appear in ELF use, paving the way for the view that ELF is all about language code.

However, recent articles by Seidlhofer and other ELF proponents are more focused on the negotiation of meaning and accommodation among those in the speech community.

It is time to debunk this myth.

ELF is not a language variety.

 

We can relate it to a speech community or geographic region.

The construct of linguistic variety may change when speech community undergo changes.

This would lead to our reconceptualization of ELF that is  more usage- and context-based, one that may still show form and function patterns in its own right. Instead of a fixed structure that restricts and de-limit the forms and use, the code itself evolves, and repeated instances of language use brought about by different functional needs redefines the variety constantly.

Let’s not reduce ELF to a reductionist perspective.

Some mistaken beliefs:

  • Deficient form of English (non-monolithic/code-focused) – no linguistic variety is mono-lithic.  There is no ELF community in a conventional sense.
  • English that functions as a lingua franca (circular/function-focused) – There are millions of Elf users with different communities and using English for different purposes. But what is clear is that the form is not based on NS-norms. The emphasis is on function.
  • Contact (pidgin? Without a NS in sight?)
  • English that serves functions in the expanding circle (geographic and ethnic bounds)
  • Insufficient and illegitimate English (pedagogic validity?) – Even ELT teachers believe that ELF is form-reductionist. But no code can exist in a function-vacuum, and no function can exist in a form-vacuum.

Idioms create a sense as they are stored as a chunk in your long term memory.

ELF reflects more metaphoric use than idiomaticity.

Interactions between contextual demands of a globalized world and ELF users’ cognitive systems leads to new schematic and linguistic configurations.

As an example of how ELF can be misunderstood, Friedrich & Matsuda (2010) is discussed. They argue that ELF is an ‘umbrella term’ referring to a ‘function’ because as a code it is non-monolithic (back to basics!)

Functionalising English involves the successful use of communicative strategies across cultures (=strategic competence).

  • They misconstrue Seidlhofer’s position that ELF is a variety;
  • They misconstrue Jenkin’s position by comparing ENL, ESL and ELF when they are completely different constructs – ENL and ESl are acquisitional constructs, whereas ELF describes the form and function mappings used when people with different L1s come together.
  • Narrowing down ‘ESL’, they go against the tide in SLA, distinguishing acquisition and use, the L2 learner and L2 user.
  • Parochialising ‘language variety’ –  However, their calling ELF a variety is neither philosophically accurate nor useful. They subsequently define ELF as a function. There cannot be a function in language variety and no reason why ELF should be presented as such.
  • Ignoring cultural cognition.

An important talk that debunks some of the myths of what ELF is, and encourages us to see ELF as user-based, context-specific, and a fluid dynamism of functions mapped upon evolving forms.

ELF 5 Part 3 – Learners, Materials, Idiomaticity & Pronunciation

Claudia Borghetti spoke on ‘Language versus Intercultural Learning through ELF Interactions: Higher Education Students’ Perspectives’.

Emphasising that NS might not know how language works, let alone how to explain the rules to others, Claudia states that if one feels less judged by their use of English, it would affect their confidence and ability to use English positively. She then goes on to outline the use of Byron’s criteria of measuring intercultural competence in terms of attitude, knowledge, skills and awareness, showing that a successful intercultural speaker is one that is able to negotiate meaning, take an external perspective of oneself and adapt.

 

Reiko Takahashi was up next with her presentation ‘English as a Lingua Franca in a Japanese context: An analysis of ELF-Oriented Features in Teaching Materials and the Attitudes of Japanese Teachers and Learners of English to ELF-Oriented Materials’.

 

Using the following criteria, Takahashi measures how ELF-Oriented the materials used in Secondary and High School English education in Japan:

  1. Number of characters featured that are from outer circle and non-Japanese expanding circle countries;
  2. Number of words uttered by these characters;
  3. Use of either outer or expanding circle country other than Japan as location for dialogues;
  4. Type of communication existing between NNSs with no NSs.

 

It was found that some of the materials in Japanese coursebook indeed featured outer circle English usage, illustrating with an example that showed the use of Singlish, with a focus on how Singlish is more simplified than English, e.g. ‘Cheaper, can or not?’

 

Although NNS characters are found in Japanese coursebooks, no NNS varieties were found in the audio materials.
In a survey, most students wanted to have more of a variety of nationalities in their coursebooks (e.g. 1 NNS, 1NS and 1 Japanese in conversation).

 

However, Japanese teachers expressed fears about including ‘non-standard’ varieties as it might be dangerous, or not needed by high school students.

 

Purposes of using ELF-oriented materials or introducing ELF features should thus be clearly communicated, and students should know that they are not to be imitated but are there for the purpose of awareness raising and exposure.

 

Takahashi’s conclusion seemed to favour the use of NS-normative standards in the language used in coursebooks, while featuring a variety of characters from different countries.

 

After a break, Valeria Franceschi gave a talk on ‘Culturally-loaded language and ELF: Idiomaticity in Cross-cultural student interaction in university settings’.

 

In examining a sample of 130 tokens, of which 103 types of idiomatic language had been identified (phrasal verbs and routine formulae were excluded from her definition of ‘idioms’), she demonstrated the following by categorizing idioms into social functions, communicative strategies and managing content (not ELF-related):

  • Frequent use of pragmatic markers noticed (kind of, like, something, something like that), and often used as a distancing device;
  • Idiom use was related to re-phrasing in communicative strategies: Repetition and rephrasing was used to increase explicitness;
  • Idioms were used to reinforce concepts, for topic introduction (cataphora), for gettings attention, and for buying the speaker time to think;
  • Idioms were used to mitigate criticism and potential face threats, and controversial topics;
  • Idioms used to build solidarity and social cohesion, often through use of humour;
  • These findings coincide with the VOICE corpus findings that pragmatic markers tend to cluster around the use of idioms.

Franceschi also found that speakers often signaled comprehension by backchannelling, and backchannel items were frequent in the data;

In the Q&A to Franceschi’s session, Mauranen  commented that if we relax our criteria as to what we consider idioms, we would see creative language use everywhere.  Marie-Luise Pitzl then questions how we draw the line between what is idiomatic and what isn’t and suggests that this line on its own could be seen as NS-normative.

 

Valeria Franceschi on Idiomaticity

The day ended for me with Milan Stanojevic’s research findings in her talk ‘Profiles of Successful and Less Successful Learners of English Pronunciation in Croatian Primary Schools’.

 

She found that…

Best pronouncers (using the Lingua France Core as a basis for measurement) were:

  • Not always the most highly motivated;
  • Knows what L1 Englishes there are;
  • Are aware of Global English;
  • Have extensive exposure to external sources such as uses of Web 2.0 tools e.g. Facebook, where they can interact and produce English.

 

Meanwhile, the less successful pronouncers were:

  • Not particularly motivated;
  • Completely unaware of inner circle Englishes (They think that English = England and that’s it);
  • Unaware of Global English;
  • Have only passive exposure to English, e.g. through songs and film.

 

Milan Stanojevic on Pronunciation

Suggesting future research possibilities that look into the question of whether a successful learner = a successful speaker, Stanojevic then goes on to ponder a question from the audience as to whether students from her monolingual Croatian class would use different pronunciation features when talking to other people who do not have the same L1, leaving the audience to think about the accommodation skills of our students when put in an intercultural scenario.

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A full day of useful research findings and lots to think about…

But meanwhile, I must go worry about the findings of my own research that I will be presenting tomorrow morning…

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No one has cracked a joke or shared a personal anecdote in the presentations I have seen today…this is a far cry from the TEFL talks that I am used to…

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Do I tweak my presentation so that I do it straight-laced?

Or should I stay as the mad hyperactive Chia that the TEFL world is more used to seeing?

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Funny how I am often told that I am too academic in the TEFL world, and now I feel like I am not academic enough…

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Neither here nor there…

A familiar feelings of diaspora sets in…

Or is it just nerves?

ELF 5 Part 2 – Teacher Education

The gorgeous view from the conference centre at Bogaziçi University

The elective sessions  at ELF5 are grouped into blocks of 2/3 speakers, each with about 30 minutes to present their research.

For the first elective session of the day, I chose 3 sessions on Teacher Education and ELF.

First up was Marie-Luise Pitzl’s talk – Preparing teachers for an ELF future: What we CAN tell them. Having read quite a few articles by Marie-Luise Pitzl, I found myself quite star-struck to sitting in front of her.

Quoting Dewey (2007), Pitzl reminds us that we can no longer regard language norms as fixed, pre-determined, and tied to a particular geographical or cultural centre, and that teachers should adopt a different approach to ELT, reassessing the way we select materials, methods, and approaches to testing, and promoting a pluralistic approach to competence and a flexible view of language.

On one hand, you have a global phenomenon,

And on the other, local contexts and local conditions.

And it is thus important to raise awareness amongst teachers and teacher trainees of this sociolinguistic reality and its teaching implications.

Marie-Luise Pitzl

Here, Pitzl outlines the ELF component of here teacher training course.

Aims

  1. Familiarising sts with core concepts (ENL, ESL, EFL, World Englishes, ELF, lang variation, variety, speech community)
  2. Intro some descriptive ELF findings and linking them to ELF local contexts.
  3. Raising awareness of what an ELF perspective might mean for ELT – shifting perspectives
  4. Giving sts the opportunity to try out diff cooperative teaching methods.
  5. Triggering reflective processes (on predominant NS models, own experience, own ideals, goals and standards discrepancies, challenges)

Course schedule

  1. Into and organizational matters
  2. The roles of English today – past and present developments, models for international English
  3. World English : Basic notions
  4. The ownership of English : From ENL, ESL, EFL, to ELF
  5. ELF description 1: Phonological characteristics – Intelligibility, the Lingua Franca Core and suggestions for teaching
  6. ELF Description 2: Lexico-grammatical characteristics: Processes of language variation and change (Jigsaw method)
  7. Implications for the conceptualization of ELF – variety
  8. Implications for ELT – Teaching ELF?
  9. ELF Pragmatics and Basic notions
  10. ELF Pragmatics : Negotiation of meaning and strategies for achieving understanding
  11. ELF Pragmatics: Correctness, effectiveness and multilingual repertoires
  12. ELF Pragmatics: Idioms, metaphors and metaphorical awareness
  13. ELF, teacher identity and communities of practice.

Activities used include Jigsaw activity (lexicogrammar, Interviews (teacher identity), Roleplays, etc.

Next up was Lili Cavalheiro on Bringing New ELT Policies and ELF to Teaching Training Courses.

 

Lili Cavalheiro

Aims for teaching ELF

  • To challenge the appropriateness of the NS model
  • Reconsider the inner circle as no longer providing the only adequate cultural content and the need to include materials from one’s own source culture
  • Critically analyse the cultural content and reflect on one’s own culture in relation to that of others as a crucial exercise.

While emphasizing the NNS teachers’ advantage of sharing common cultures and common goals with their learners, Cavalheiro reiterates Tim McNamara’s point made at the opening plenary about the inappropriacy of CEF descriptors, giving the following example:

C2 – Appreciates fully the sociolinguistics and sociocultural implications of language used by NSs and can react accordingly.

She then goes on to remind us of Seidlhofer (2011) paper on CEF’s lack of differentiation between the study of modern languages and EFL and ELF.

Still referencing Seidlhofer (2011), Cavalheiro then suggests that on a macro-level, teacher training courses should not only look at the nature of language and communication through language awareness, but also through communication strategies, intercultural communication, and sociolinguistics.

On a micro-level, we should take our teacher trainees’ context into consideration and develop a curriculum that fits into a more general framework of communication.

Last but not least, we should help trainees develop critical thinking of materials, and help them with not just what materials are being used, but how they are used.

The third presenter was Lucilla Lopriore speaking about ELF and Early Language Learning: Multi-lingualism, Language Policies and teacher Education

Lucilla Lopriore

 

Early introduction of English to YLs mean plurilingualism. This means that classrooms will no longer be monolingual.

Parents want a NS teacher because they think it means their kids would pick up the ‘right’ pronunciation.

Multilingualism in Europe

The primary classroom population in Europe is mainly multilingual and multicultural.

The realities of early language learning implementation vary widely due to variety of factors:

  • National language policies
  • The assumption that earlier is better
  • Parental pressure
  • New media (access to foreign lang through the internet)
  • NNS teachers
  • Emerging new literacies

(Hoffman 2000, Edelenbos et al 2006 etc)

She appropriately draws the 3 sessions to a close with a quote from Henry Widdowson (2012):

The first step is to raise awareness of teachers that there is an alternative way of thinking about the subject they teach, based on an understanding of English as a lingua franca. We need to overhaul our descriptive systems and deconstruct our established concepts…and this involves quite a radical re-thinking about the relationship between what we know about the language and what we do with it…between the teaching and learning of the language as a subject.’

ELF 5 Part 1 – Opening Plenary by Tim McNamara

Opening the conference : Music as a Lingua Franca


The ELF conference starts today in Istanbul, Turkey, at the gorgeous Bogazici University.

After a smooth registration and a few welcoming opening speeches, Professor Tim McNamara delivers his opening plenary on Assessment and ELF.

Here is a summary.

Previously, much has been written about ELF and testing.

Jenkins (2006) challenged Cambridge in resisting implications of ELF.

Taylor (2006) wrote about the difficulties and challenges with applying ELF to testing.

Leung & Jenkins have recently stressed again the importance of recognizing ELF in language testing (in press).

Critique on how criteria of language testing has acted as a roadblock has also been articulated by Seidlhofer.

e.g.

Here are some surprising descriptions in the CEF descriptions

B2       Conversation – Can sustain relationship with NS without unintentionally amusing or irritating them or requiting them to behave other than they would with a NS.

B2       Informal Discussion with Friends – Can keep up with an animated discussion between NS.

Whole section on ‘Understanding conversation between NS’ in CEFR, with no description for those of A1 level (as if to say forget about it).

Assumptions are that

–       The interlocutors are assumed to be NS

–       The responsibility for successful communication is held to lie with the NNS

–       English treated only as a foreign language, like other foreign languages (Seidlhofer, 2011)

Instead

What would ELF test look like (Harding, 2011)

–       Ability to tolerate and comprehend diff varieties of English

–       Abiltiy ot negotiate meaning

–       Ability to use Phonological features crucial for intelligibility

–       Awareness of appropriate pragmatics

–       Ability to accommodate

These are reflected in ICAO language proficiency requirements

Because international aviation is an ELF setting,

And air traffic controller communication with pilot, either of whom may be NNS.

Simultaneous communication going on between single air traffic controller and several pilots.

Recognition of ELF character of communication : compulsory requirements

1. Standard radiotelephony phraseology: Standardized set of words and phrases for use in all routine communication (restricted language)

2. Plain language:

  • The spontaneous creative and non-coded use of a given natural language used only when standardized phraseology cannot serve an intended transmission.
  • User with high prof must accommodate their uses of English
  • Use of a lot of repetition verbatim e.g. readback and hearback

ICAO’s analysis of language as a factor in fatal avaiation accidents

–       incorrect use of standardized phraseology

–       lack of plain language prof

–       the use of more than one language in the same airspace
Thus ICAO prof test policy

Criteria : Pronunciation, structure, vocab, fluency, comprehension and interactions.

If NS, then immediately highest level and not need to test

Lack of faith in validity of tests and policy

Doing the ICAO tests in

Korea:

–       Test content in multiple versions published online

–       Repeated attempts allowed until version prepared for appeared

–       All personnel now compliant

Japan

–       Professionally made test for Level 4 rejected

–       80% of personnel would lose jobs

–       Easier test used

–       All personnel now complaint

Study into miscommunication (fatal!) in Korea

–       Miscommunication due to failure of NS to adhere to ICAO policies

–       Use of fixed phrases vs spontaneous speech

–       Accent, word choice, speed of NS pilots.

–       Preference of Korean pilots for communicating with  Japanese ATCs, *(because the Japanese adhere to ICAO convention with  meticulous precision) cf problems in US,  e.g.LAX

–       Miscommunication often due to NS waffling, or lack of professional competence (he didn’t know about the adjacent airways).

–       An experienced controller is able to know what is happening with just one word.

Tim McNamara on Professional Competence affecting Communicative Effectiveness

Lack of validity with ICAO prof tests (and designers are NSs)

Strong performance criteria

–       Judging performance against real-world criteria

–       Incorporating ability for use (Hymes 1972)

–       Testing all participants (NS and NNS)

Weak performance criteria:

–       Focus on lang prof alone, narrowly conceived

–       Judging against lang criteria only

–       e.g. using ELF stimulus material in listening

–       cf Korean pilots pre for new destinations by listening to Vietnamese voices.

Tests need to:

–       Define difficulty/ability measurement continuum

–       The more challenging the task that a person can manage, the higher their ability.

–       Ability and difficulty are measured on a single scale

–       Cf high jump – ability expressed in terms of the height of the bar.

Test takers need to :

–       Negotiate

–       Deal with variation

–       Accommodate

–       Repair

–       But traditional criteria still used

–       Issue of pairing –cf diving – build in ‘degree of difficulty’?

–       Issue of distinguishing contributions of individuals for score reporting purposes.

Assessing NS Perf

–       Research on NS performance on communicative tests (Most NS can’t get 9 on IELTS)

–       Problem of requiring NS to be tested

–       Problem of motivation – hospital example – assessment of moral qualities.

Conclusion:

Thinking about testing and ELF raises broader issue in language testing: performance tests.

Cost and complexity of performance tests have seen return of indirect measures. E.g. in Pearson Test of automated assessment of speech – NS norms central

There are constructive directions in language testing research which can inform ELF testing

But change won’t happen without a struggle – we may be in for a long wait

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At the end of his talk, Ana Mauranen says the issue of testing NSs is a valid one, so as to ensure equal starting point.

Tim McNamara answers: NS have a strong political & social advantage so do not expect them to give it up without a fight.

Another audience member asks how he seems to be talking about specific purpose testing. But what about general English testing?

His answer: We can apply specific purpose context to general context. e.g. emphasis on communicative competence, ability to accommodate with our language use and accents, etc.

And with this opening plenary, ELF5 is now in full swing…

 

My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 2

Monday, the 19th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

The IATEFL BESIG PCE

This was apparently the first year that saw all the different SIGs each having their own PCE, thus accounting for the very long queue seen at the registration desk on Monday morning. The conference organizing committee members were operating super efficiently though, and managed to move the masses relatively quickly.

The theme of the BESIG PCE this year was ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) and I was the first speaker up. After giving an overview of what ELF was from the point of view of my personal journey, I spoke about my conversion into ELF and how my exploration into the factors that affect the perceptions created by NNSs on fellow NNSs. See my IATEFL Online interview here for a summary of my talk. Also see these blogposts by Phil Wade and Eduardo Santos regarding the interview I gave.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Below are some tweets that were shooting around while I was speaking.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan asks audience: “Is ELF Globish?” hm…. Audience doesn’t seem to think so.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan has a great ear for accents.

‪@IHLondon:    We’re so proud of Chia! RT @bethcagnol: @chiasuan is such a lovely speaker! 🙂 Lots of presence and poise.

‪@kit2kat:    Great hearing @chiasuan talk at last SO energetic and engaging about #ELF 🙂

@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan says perhaps we should shift our teaching to helping our sts communication with other non-native speakers.

‪@bethcagnol:     @chiasuan says it’s about the impressions you are creating of yourself.

‪@cleve360:    @chiasuan discussing politeness as “mutual maintenance of face” in context of ELF.

‪@kit2kat:    Politeness – a mutual maintaining of face 🙂 @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan suggests exploring levels of directness.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan conducted an insane amount of ELF research.

‪@jenverschoor:    Attending the BESIG PCE. Listening to @chiasuan talking about “The Research Design”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan compared the perceptions NS have towards NNS. And NNS perceptions of NNS.

@brad5patterson:    Go chia!!!! ENJOY Jen RT @jenverschoor: Attending the BESIG PCE. Listening to @chiasuan talking about “The Research Design”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan “principle of charity” — the understanding, compassion, for a NNS’s simplified English usage.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan I wish I got that when I speak French!!

‪@kit2kat:    Is politeness set in stone or dependent on the dynamism of a fluid interaction? @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @phil3wade @chiasuan Well…that’s debatable. The French correct foreigners because the French think they are helping them.

‪@bethcagnol:    @phil3wade @chiasuan The French don’t know that it’s impolite in dozens of nationalities to correct foreigners.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan Nobody ever corrects me.The foreigner teachers used to even criticise the local’s speech.1 said ‘truc’,scarred 4 life!

‪@cleve360:    Extraordinarily useful session on ELF by @chiasuan, great mix of theory and practice, audio examples. Audience is enthralled

‪@kit2kat:    Requests – as always ‘context’ overrides linguistics! @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan “Help students know that there are different strategies of politeness”.

‪@NatalieGorohova:    @chiasuan “Native speakers may not have the skills that the non-native speakers need”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan ELF and Intercultural Communication go together!

‪@kit2kat:    😀 @chiasuan just used a triangle – @Lydbury will be pleased!!! 😀

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan says we should encourage discussions in the classroom about the levels of politeness.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan cites Theater of the Oppressed.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan suggests filming conversation bits and playing them for sts to discuss appropriateness, politeness, etc.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan My wife tried being polite.Someone called her ‘luv’ so she went round saying it to everyone.

‪@andivwhite:    Live interview scheduled with @chiasuan at 12:15. She’s amazing. Check it out: http://bit.ly/yfJ3t2

‪@phil3wade:     @andivwhite @chiasuan She’s the DA. Watch out!

Photo by Mike Hogan

Following my talk on the pragmatics of ELF politeness and a lovely coffee break, Evan Frendo followed with a talk on the miscommunications in ELF scenarios, and Almut Koester on metaphors in ELF. I must apologise for not being there for these two talks as I had to run off for the IATEFL Online interview. But you can read about their talks using the #besig #iatefl hashtags on Twitter, or join BESIG as a member for access to videos of all the PCE talks.

Evan Frendo - Photo by Mike Hogan

Vicki Hollett, the organizer of the BESIG PCE came on next, and started talking about developing competence in ELF scenarios. Quoting Alessia Cogo’s definition of accommodation strategies, Vicki states that accommodation is about the adjustments you make to your speech according to the context and who you are talking to. Showing how Alan Firth’s ‘Let it Pass’ principle might work in an example about ‘cheese blowing’, Vicki then goes on to say that when the information is crucial, it is found that interlocutors do not simply let it pass. Instead, they go to great lengths to clarify.

Vicki Hollett on ELF

Accommodation is not simply letting it pass, it includes turn-taking and calibrating for competence in a way that we English teachers already naturally do in our daily interactions with our students. In a very clear example of the different turn-taking, meaning negotiation and discourse strategies, Vicki shows the audience videos of two groups of students doing the same task. The group consisting of Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese and Swiss participants took some time at the beginning to decide who was to begin speaking, and displayed features such as the use of long silences and pauses, and allowing one person to hold the floor without interruptions. The other group consisting of Venezuelans, Brazilians and Spanish speakers, on the other hand, used more interruptions, cooperative overlapping and fewer pauses when discussing. The former, named ‘Bowling’ had a Highly Considerate Conversational Style, while the later, named ‘Rugby’ had a Highly Engaging Conversational Style. Those with mixed conversational styles were named ‘Basketball’. Through this video, Vicki not only shows us the different discourse styles, but also the importance of raising our students’ awareness of such differences.

In the next part of her talk, Vicki goes on to talk about vague language versus direct language. Stating that although clarity is often of utmost importance in ELF communication, we must not neglect the relationship benefit in ambiguity and vague language. Words like ‘whatchamacallit’, ‘approximately’ and ‘kind of’ can maintain an informal atmosphere without being committed. The use of euphemisms like ‘wellness centre’ for ‘hospital’, ‘dental appliance’ for ‘false teeth’, ‘facilitation payments’ for ‘bribes’, all have their social purposes.

However, some utterances can hold different illocutionary forces for different people. The utterance ‘Are you suggesting that we should make our staff redundant?’ could come across aggressive and defiant and perhaps a precursor to a challenge, but could this only be a perception of the NSs? It is often found that in NNS speech, performative verbs such as ‘suggest’, ‘advise’, ‘promise’ etc are used not to create a highly marked sentence but simply to clarify the speech act.

In a key point that echoed my talk, Vicki emphasized the importance of not oversimplifying the issue by giving learners lists of stock phrases but instead allow for more discussion of the contexts in which they are used and how they are used. For example, simply telling students that in the UK culture, it is rude to disagree directly, and to make a disagreement more polite, students have to simply use formulae like ‘I’m afraid I don’t quite agree with you’ or ‘I agree with you up to a point but…’ Interlocutors who are slow to agree may often use tactics like claiming they partly agree and apologise, but this is not taking into account of other strategies like the asking challenging questions and hesitation, or of the fact that once the disagreement is clear, speakers are usually more forceful and disagree more openly.

Often, it is not the linguistic choice per se, but the context and the status of the interlocutors that differentiates, say, an order from a request. It is also perhaps a misnomer to say that we employ more distance and formality the more we are unfamiliar with a person. Using the ‘bulge’ in Nessa’s theory of speech behaviour and social distance to explain why we are sometimes more polite to acquaintances than to strangers, Vicki hammers home the point that the exploration of context is the way to go in the classroom. Publishers seem to want black and white answers, discrete item lexico-grammar tests seem to want right or wrong answers, but what we really need to be doing in class is to use texts to illustrate ambiguity and provoke discussions.

For more discussion, go here for my Devil’s Advocate (DA) interview with Vicki Hollett about the pedagogic implications of ELF.

ELF Panel Discussion with Chia Suan Chong, Evan Frendo, Vicki Hollett and Almut Koester - Photo by Mike Hogan

Right after a fascinating and invigorating panel discussion and a couple more interviews for the BESIG website (I can’t wait to see a video of the panel discussion on the BESIG website!), we attended the opening ceremony of IATEFL Glasgow, followed a session of drinks where we finally were able to network across the SIGs, catching up, meeting up and tweeting up with old friends, new friends and online friends.

IATEFL President Eric Baber at the Welcome Event - Photo by Mike Hogan

Those involved in the BESIG PCE were invited to an amazing curry dinner with the BESIG organizing committee, but some of us were still able to make it in time for the Karaoke night organized by Petra Pointer. As we danced the night away to the wonderful voices of our TEFL colleagues and met up with more members of the Twitteratti, we just knew that this year’s IATEFL was going to be one of the best yet…

To be continued…

Devil’s Advocate vs Vicki Hollett on ELF

This series is inspired by a conversation between Mike Hogan and myself about examining the controversies in ELT. We wanted to consider the different positions taken by different members of the industry. However, to do so, we’d need a debate, a disagreement of sorts. And it became apparent that we either tend to agree with members of our PLN (flying creatures of the same feathers and all that), or would keep an open mind and be fairly polite and supportive of one another (that is why we tweet and blog). Seeing that, the only way to get a real debate going was to actively play Devil’s Advocate (DA).

The following debate took place as an Instant-Messaging Chat on Skype. The statements of here are of the DA and in no way represent my beliefs about teaching. This is merely a tool to spark a dialogue between you, the reader, and all those involved in this project. You can find previous instalments of DA here.

So the fifth victim on the hot seat is the lovely Vicki Hollett. 

Vicki Hollett is a business and technical English teacher, teacher trainer and author. British by birth, she now lives in the US where she is learning to speak ’merican and blogging about it here. Her friends at work say she’s now reached intermediate. Yay! She hopes ELF will be easier to learn.

Chia:  Hi Vicki! It’s a real pleasure to have you as our guest on DA today!

Vicki:  Pleasure’s all mine

Chia:  I’ve been told that you are the organiser of the BESIG pre-conference event at the IATEFL Glasgow conference this year, and the theme of the event is ELF (English as a Lingua Franca)?

Vicki: Yes, in fact I’m relying on you to come and be one of our speakers.

Chia:  Shh…I’m pretending to be DA now, so let’s keep my other identity under wraps for now…(hear the Batman theme tune in the background?) hee hee *wink*

So many people have been talking about ELF ad nauseum over the past few years, but just in case our readers don’t know what it is, would you care to explain briefly?

Vicki:  ELF stands for English as a Lingua Franca, and it’s generally used to talk about the English that’s used in communications between NNSs, because it happens to be their shared language. (It’s often used to describe conversations where NSs are present too though.)

Chia:  But whether it’s English used to chat to NSs or NNSs, it is still English, isn’t it? Why are we making such a big deal about it?

Vicki:  It raises many important questions. For example, are NS standards always the best ones to use to assess our students’ output?

And are we working smart and using precious classroom time in the most helpful ways?

Chia:  Wait…are you suggesting that there are other standards by which to assess our students’ output?

Vicki:  Well yes, I think “success” should be the standard. As in ‘Can they get the job done?’

Chia:  Surely, getting the job done means being able to speak English? And we have to teach some kind of English as an end-point, don’t we? Since English belongs to the English, isn’t it only sensible to use proper English as a standard? Plus, in order for successful communication to take place, doesn’t the learner have to speak accurately? If I say, ‘I went to the cinema tomorrow’, you would have no clue what I am saying…

Vicki: English is a means to an end for most students. The bigger goal is being able to communicate successfully with international contacts. Languages are shaped by people using them and there are more NNs in the world than NSs. But the key point here is that no, English doesn’t have to be accurate for successful communication to take place. That’s why the ELF research is so interesting.

 

Chia:  I am finding it hard to separate the use of the English language from ‘successful communication’.

People learn English so that they can communicate successfully.

We teachers are here to teach them English to enable them to do so.

How does ELF change anything?

What are you suggesting we teach to aid successful communication?

Vicki:  I think we should be trying to develop capabilities that will help them cope in very diverse settings. For example, language for building relationships and rapport, the flexibility of mind to employ empathy and see things from different points of view, and importantly the ability to accommodate and negotiate meanings…

I can’t go into much detail, but for example, raising awareness of different turn taking styles and ways in which linguistic politeness vary, checking and clarifying activities, more work at discourse rather than at sentence level, getting students to adapt messages for different audiences.

Chia:  That all sounds good. But to be honest, it’s what a good Business English trainer/Communications Coach already does. How does ELF change anything?

Vicki:  Well actually, I think we have been doing a lot that’s helpful in business English. (And there are a heck of a lot of successful ELF speakers out there, so there’s proof in a way.)

But I think some areas are lacking. Take relationship building – speech acts and functional phrases are important for that but I think they’re still often taught without context. And then there’s the issue of assessment by NS standards.

Chia:  But I think a lot of what you say really boils down to the English teacher having good idea of what enables successful communication and being able to help students with that, rather than having any knowledge of ELF and its research findings, isn’t it? What was that about letting learners drop the third person ‘s’ and dependent prepositions, and not teaching them to use weakening with the schwa? Surely that’s just bad English???

Vicki:  Not many teachers get the chance to follow their students around and see them in action using English at work, hence research is invaluable…

Re: letting the third person ‘s’ and dependent prepositions go by, it goes back to working smarter. We need to prioritise things that are going to give the biggest bang for our student’s buck. Not weakening with the schwa is interesting because it may sometimes make someone more intelligible to a NNS.

Chia:  Are you therefore saying that if dumbing down enables one to be more intelligible to other NNSs, we should be teaching a dumbed down version of English? Would it not result in ELF becoming a pidgin version of English though?

Vicki:  Actually I’m saying our students need to attain a *higher* level of skill in English. Depending on who they are communicating with, they may need to weaken that schwa or not. It’s a skill we need to be pay more attention to: callibrating for the competence of your interlocutor – so the ability to adapt your message in real time as you gather more information about your interlocutor’s knowledge of the subject and linguistic competence.

Chia:  So this ‘callibrating’ includes dumbing down one’s English then?

Vicki:  Ha! Why yes! It’s an unusual way to state it, because it’s a high level skill. For example, new English teachers often struggle with it. But the ability to grade your language so you can be understood by the person you’re talking to is a key ‘ELF’ skill.

Chia:  How can language teachers teach this though? Surely it’s a skill that one picks up through experience. I mean, some people are just naturally more sensitive to others and adapt more to them. Others just don’t listen and can’t be taught to. Is it really part of our job to teach such skills?

Vicki:  I think it poses particular challenges for teachers working with monolingual classes, but there’s still lots that can be done. Eg. performing a task once, then changing it slightly and doing it again. How did you need to adjust what you said to the new circumstance/interlocutor/context. …

Some people are better at adjusting and accommodating than others. By drawing attention to what they’re doing and offering opportunities to practise it, we can help others get better too.

And yes, absolutely it’s part of our job.

Chia:  All this skills work is probably great. But my students come to me to learn English. And by learning English, they mean they want to be taught the grammar, the lexis and the pronunciation of the English language. They say they want to learn to speak like a NS. And they often don’t feel like they are learning anything unless they are put through grammar exercises and lots of corrections. Are you then saying we should ignore what our students expect of our classes and what they want?

Vicki:  No. I think the customer is king and we should deliver what they want. …

Not only do our students have to invest money, but they also have to invest effort to learn English. It’s foolish to imagine that what we teach will necessarily be learnt. They will weigh the effort required against what they think will be most useful and be selective….

Hey, maybe that’s why so many ELF speakers leave off the third person ‘s’.

Chia:  I get that leaving out the third person ‘s’ may not be detrimental to meaning creation, but what kind of impression is that creating in the fellow interlocutor though?

If an NNS goes for a job interview, or goes on CNBC to be interviewed about their expertise, and they make a seemingly tiny error that does not affect their intelligibility, e.g ‘The government want that the economy recover more’. Although we understand what they mean, but we might not have a very good impression of them…

As much as the liberal ELF proponents would like to seek justice for the NNSs who have been discriminated against for decades, the fact of the matter is the real world is cruel, and it judges you by the kind of English you speak. Even if you are perfectly intelligible, but saying something like ‘He want that I go’ could very well cost you a job.

Vicki:  Sure, impressions can be damaged by poor English. (Particularly so with writing). But there are very proficient NNSs who can sail through a job interview or ace an advanced examination in English and never drop a third person ‘s’. But when they are mixing with other ELF speakers at an international conference, they drop it. They know the rule perfectly well. But in many contexts, the content of the discussion is what matters and adding an ‘s’ or not becomes irrelevant.

Mostly our students want to be known as decent, trustworthy and likable people – the sort you’d like to do business with. Speaking English correctly contributes to that, but some of the other things we’ve mentioned contribute more.

Chia:  So you are saying that there are times when the NNS would need to use NS-normative accurate English, and at other times, they would need to adapt and accommodate other ELF speakers. There was some research done in the field of ELF that found NNSs using the article ‘the’ in a slightly different way from NSs. It was found that ‘the’ was used in expressions like ‘the life is good’ to emphasize the noun ‘life’. But which rule of ‘the’ should the English teacher be teaching? Both? Neither? We need to teach something. And at the moment ELF research looks very much like descriptive linguistics that do not have much pedagogic implications in prescribing what we teach.

Vicki:  Oh I haven’t heard of that research, but it sounds interesting. Researchers have found NSs and NNSs using quite a few bits of language differently. “You know” is another one and ‘disagree’ and a lot of other performative verbs like ‘suggest’, ‘recommend’, ‘propose’ etc.

I think we should be teaching the usages we follow and learning about the new usages that are emerging as fast as we can.

We need to be able to provide our learners with more information so they can make informed decisions.

Chia:  I think you have offered a very fair view of the issue so far, Vicki. Teaching English is not just about discrete items of lexis or grammar, but about helping our learners to become better communicators. And to do this, we have to teach them the skills needed in interacting with our NNSs of different levels of proficiency who might come from different cultures in different contexts. Sounds like teaching ELF is in fact quite the contrary to dumbing down language. What is the opposing of ‘dumbing down’?  Hmm… Are we over-complicating the matter here?

Vicki:  I reckon that in some ways teaching ELF is about a very simple switch in thinking. When we measure students against a NS standard, we tend to wind up focusing on errors, deficiencies and pragmatic failures.

But when we flip the switch and think in terms of what works in ELF contexts, the picture get much rosier. There are new priorities and we stand a better chance of going after (and meeting) the best goals.

Chia:  Thanks for painting such a bright picture of the future, Vicki! And I thought that ELF might just mean the end of our teaching careers! Hahaha

Vicki:  Gosh I hope not!

Chia:  I hope I haven’t given you too hard a time.

Vicki:  Not at all.

Chia:  Shall we just remind everyone that the BESIG PCE is on the 19th March at the IATEFL Glasgow conference, and speaking on the topic of ELF are Vicki Hollett, Mark Powell and myself (not as DA).

Vicki:  Look forward to seeing you at the BESIG PCE in Glasgow

Chia:  Thanks so much for your time, Vicki! See you in Glasgow!

Epilogue: Vicki’s opinions are her own and do not represent any organization she is associated with. Chia was just playing DA. Contrary to Chia’s position on this blogpost, she is actually an ELF convert and will be speaking about her 5-year journey with ELF, alongside Vicki Hollett at the BESIG PCE this March at IATEFL Glasgow 2012.