Andy Kirkpatrick on ‘ELF in Asia – Roles and Implications’
Historically, Malay was a lingua franca, and Bahasa Indonesia and Putonghua (Chinese) were lingua francas in quite different ways. Only 2% spoke Bahasa Indonesia although it was adopted as first language in Indonesia in the 1940s. Today, more than 70% would say they speak Bahasa Indonesia. But this means that other Indonesian languages and cultures are under threat as a result.
Putonghua is completely different
China is multi-ethnic and multilingual.
54 official national minority groups speaking many more than 54 languages.
7 major Chinese languages (with many sub dialects etc)
The language of the powerful has been adopted as the lingua franca.
ASEAN represent political, cultural and historical diversity.
Local Asian students are only learning their language + English, and not learning regional languages.
The ASEAN Charter states that they aim to promote diversity but then states they want unity…which is often obtained at the expense of diversity.
Andy Kirkpatrick stresses that although English being used as a lingua franca in Asian is almost a truism, we must be careful of subtractive multi-lingualism.
David Graddol follows on from Kirkpatrick on ‘How Economic Change can shape the future of ELF’ by talking about the economic expansion in Asia, using the Pearl River Delta economy.
It is regarded as the factory of the world where a high proportion of the world’s electronic goods, garments, shoes, toys etc are made.
Foxconn, who assemble computers and phones (eg iPhone) employs 450,000 in Shenzhen
This economy is premised on the availability of huge numbers of cheap workers.
There is a close relationship between the SARS (HongKong, Macau) and the mainland border areas (especially SEX’s) such as Shenzhen.
CEFR Global Scale
Although we’ve been cruxifying CEF this conference, Graddol says it is revolutionary on its own because it focuses on ‘can-do’ statements and language skills.
Is the CEFR anglo-centric? Does it embody ideas about language learning which are rooted in the EFL experience? (50th anniversary of Haycraft’s Teacher Training course at IH London)
Is the CEFR too euro-centric? It is based on European contexts of language learning.
Is the CEFR based on the NS norms?
The history of the CEFR explains some of the current biases in the CEFR but more can be renegotiated than may be assured.
David Graddol then looks at how CEF is being renegotiated.
CEFR is intended to be an instrument which is defined locally for specific purposes
The CEFR levels are instantiated by particular course and exams.
The functional level descriptors are in principle (but not in practice) ELF-neutral
The ELF community could attempt new descriptors which embody ELF notions.
There is already currently a huge research project underway.
A1 Can understand and use basic phrases related to familiar topics if the other person talks slowly and helps.
A2 Can understand sentences and common expressinos can communicate in simple and direct exchange of information related to routine and familiar situations.
Both these A level descriptors suggest ELF phenomena, but note that bot A1 and A2 levels have been primarily thought of as learner levels, as opposed to L2 user levels.
Level B is defines as the ‘independent user’ i.e. the first level at which users can successfully negotiate meaning without relying on an interlocutor of higher proficiency for support.
C1 has emerged as the key threshold for professional communication. C1 users are able to manage meanings with precision, not always in interactive contexts, At present, NS norms appear strongly in descriptors at this level.
CEFR started with the B1 level and C level descriptors are only now being fully elaborated. Is there a role for ELF?
Many call-centre workers are recruited at B1, trained along the way to B2, and eventually with experience and time, get to C1. When we get choices on the phone e.g. ‘If you need xyz, Press 1. If you want to leave us, Press 2, etc’, we are then put through to different call centre workers with differing levels of English dependent on how difficult the negotiation is likely to be. This is due to the fact that managers need to consider how much they can pay their workers and may not afford higher level English speakers.
We are seeing a number of different economic trends, many of them demanding a high level of English.
The global economic is hastening the shift away from manufacturing towards services.
Primary sector jobs are dropping but this is the sector that doesn’t need ELF.
The Secondary sector grew but is now declining.
What is growing is the Quartenary sector, and here, high levels of English competence is needed.
Interestingly, people who have A and C levels of the CEFR is increasing in demand, and it is the ones with the B levels which are less needed.
Does this mean that mid-intermediate students suffering from ‘mid-int-nigtis’ need to buck up and get to C1?
I met the very friendly and eloquent Mario Saraceni at the conference and was keen to hear his point of view on the Future of ELF in this plenary-like early evening session of the day.
‘The Future of ELF: The Linguistic, Ideological and Pedagogical Relocation of English’.
Mario humbly introduced himself and joked that he had taken the title of the ‘Future of ELF’ symposium very literally.
Stating that ELF as a research area has moved from focus on language form towards language use and communities of practice, Mario starts by looking at early ELF research, and the shifts it has seen.
The form(s) of ELF
It was aimed at finding common features of ELF
Given the sheer size and complexity of ELF, such common features can be rathe elusive,
Risk of replicating the same ‘spot the difference’ approach adopted in some World Englishes research – ELF inevitably judged against NS models and so the common features end up being the common deviation from NS English.
The shift of focus towards the pragmatics of ELF and eventually towards the notion of communicative practice marks an importanat development in ELF research.
One fundamental implication is that ELF ceases to be a linguistic entity and the term acquires a more complex, subtle and itnersting meaning – it refers both to a research are (the new ELF journal is a concrete product of that), and to a particular orientation towards the study of English and ultimately of language in general.
Some worries about the inherent ideological spread of ELF:
Lingua Franca or lingua frankensteinia?
National language policies : anxieties over the status of English
ELT ‘Anglo’ culture; NS vs NNS speakers – which model? What is the role of the NS?
Who ‘owns’ English?
One fundamental contribution that ELF research has made is an invitation to understand the ‘thing’ English in different ways.
The move from EFL to ELF implies a move away from strict associations between language and nation-people-culture-territory
So English is no longer exclusively the language of the English and becomes deanglicized.
Mario shows some samples of Malaysian use of English on Facebook,
‘dialah di hat….siti 4ever…I really like this song… try 2 sing this song unfortunately sore x sampai… =,’ etc.
This is the norm in the age of Web 2.0 and not an exception.
Making the point that this linguistic matter does not necessarily need to be given a name, the mixing and evolution of language is a sociolinguistic reality and a way of communication.
Using more examples from the Bangkok post of the lexis ‘minor wife’ and ‘soi’ (meaning ‘street’) and ‘make merit’ (most teachers commented they would correct this ‘mistake’), Mario says we shouldn’t have to look at language in boxes.
The notion of ‘a language’ makes little sense in most traditional societies. And most people wouldn’t even consciously realize they are using ‘Language’.
Language are always mixed, hybrid, and drawing on multiple resources (Pennycook, 2010)
‘So long as people believe that their way of speaking constitutes a language in its own right, there is a real sense in which it is a real language.’ (Joseph, 2006)
The focus on the language user in ELF research is a useful direction in that a systematicitv investigation of the representations of English may help us establish whether observed language behaviour that we researchers see as deanglicization of English is such in people’s mindsets too.
In a short Q&A session after, Jennifer Jenkins asks him ‘Why not correct ‘make merit’ for if we expect international intelligibility from NSs, we should expect it of NNSs too.’ After all, we can’t negotiate meaning in a written text (remember that this was published in the Bangkok post).
Would you correct a student who writes ‘make merit’ in their essay?
I came to this session partly because I had read papers by the speaker Jagdish Kaur for my dissertation and found them relevant and interesting, and was curious to see her in person, and to hear more.
What surprised me was the fact that she was the same person that was seated beside me during the opening plenary, and suddenly I felt rude for not having said hello.
Here is her very interesting and well-presented talk.
Reconceptualising Competence – Lessons from English as a Lingua Franca
What is competence?
Taylor calls competence a controversial and confusing term (1988), Widdowson says it’s a fussy concept (1989).
Is it just knowledge (as in Chomsky)? Or is it about the ability to use knowledge?
Confusion arises when a term intended to refer to a state is now exnded to include a process, when a term intended to refer to something absolute now includes relative dimension (Taylor, 1988)
Knowledge of language, a mental state, characterized in the form of rules of grammar (linguistic knowledge)
Concerned with idealization – ‘the ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogenous speech community, who knows its language perfectly’. Chomsky (1965)
Hymes’ Communicative Competence
Considers various aspects of language use which may be systematically accounted for by rules;
Includes the knowledge of how to use language appropriately;
Introduces a social element rather than a merely cognitive or individual one;
Does not merely expand the conception of competence but rather changes it as his notion of communicative competence conveys something quite different from what Chomsky intended.
Communicative Competence of the second language speaker
Researchers concerned with the competence of the L2 speaker have reconceptualised the idea further to suit the context.
Necessary given the multilingual reality of the today’s world in which individuals are increasingly becoming ‘users of multiple linguistics resources and (as) members of multiples communities of practice (Pavlenko)
Cook talks about multiple competencies.
We can’t just talk about the knowledge of linguistic forms, but a
Kim (1991) introduces intercultural communicative competence = an additional level of metacompetence involving explicit awareness of differential usages and ability to adapt communicative strategies to a variety of cultural situations.
Researchers working with post-structuralist ideas and sociocultural perspectives in language learning and use view competences as resulting from actual use of the language, rather than the contrary. It is by doing through engagement with others that competence is co-created in interaction.
Competences as socially constructed and the L2 Speakers’ competence as active and dynamic rather than static.
Evidence From ELF
Empirical research into ELF points to a form of intercultural communication that is both effective and efficient.
Participants accommodate to the communicative behaviour of their interlocutors to increase the intelligibility of their communication and to signal cooperation and affiliation (Cogo, 2009)
Low incidence of misunderstanding observed in ELF spoken attributed to the widespread use of repetition, reformulation, comprehension checks, confirmation and clarification requests as well as explanation and clarifications (Mauranen, 2006; Watt, 2008, Pitzl 2005)
Use of explicitness strategies like self-rephrasing, topic negotiation and discourse reflexivity to enhance explicitness of expressions (Mauranen, 2007, 2010)
Use of self-repair practices that reduce ambiguity and vagueness and emphasize explicitness and clarity can result in utterances that are perhaps more intelligible which may in turn contribute to increased comprehensibility (Kaur, 2011)
Immediate or fairly immediate repetition of a segment in an ongoing turn seem to contribute towards increasing the clarity of expression and the effectiveness of communication (Kaur, forthcoming)
Thus, as a conclusion:
Repeating a repaired segment of talk addresses any impairment to the clarity of the utterance caused by the repair move itself.
Widdowson (1989) in his conception of ‘communicative competence’ talks of ‘adjustments’ and ‘adaptations’ made to suit the contextual demands of the communicative situation.
The extracts reflect the speaker’s awareness of the precarious nature of the communicative situation and the need for greater communicative clarity.
Speakers display a ‘lingua franca communicative competence – cognizance of the diversity inherent in the lingua franca situation and the accompanying skills to manage this diversity actively and efficiently.
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.
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:
Number of characters featured that are from outer circle and non-Japanese expanding circle countries;
Number of words uttered by these characters;
Use of either outer or expanding circle country other than Japan as location for dialogues;
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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?
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…
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.
Here, Pitzl outlines the ELF component of here teacher training course.
Familiarising sts with core concepts (ENL, ESL, EFL, World Englishes, ELF, lang variation, variety, speech community)
Intro some descriptive ELF findings and linking them to ELF local contexts.
Raising awareness of what an ELF perspective might mean for ELT – shifting perspectives
Giving sts the opportunity to try out diff cooperative teaching methods.
Triggering reflective processes (on predominant NS models, own experience, own ideals, goals and standards discrepancies, challenges)
Into and organizational matters
The roles of English today – past and present developments, models for international English
World English : Basic notions
The ownership of English : From ENL, ESL, EFL, to ELF
ELF description 1: Phonological characteristics – Intelligibility, the Lingua Franca Core and suggestions for teaching
ELF Description 2: Lexico-grammatical characteristics: Processes of language variation and change (Jigsaw method)
Implications for the conceptualization of ELF – variety
Implications for ELT – Teaching ELF?
ELF Pragmatics and Basic notions
ELF Pragmatics : Negotiation of meaning and strategies for achieving understanding
ELF Pragmatics: Correctness, effectiveness and multilingual repertoires
ELF Pragmatics: Idioms, metaphors and metaphorical awareness
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.
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
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
New media (access to foreign lang through the internet)
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.’
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.
Below are some tweets that were shooting around while I was speaking.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…