Éva Illés of ELTE in Budapest, began by explaining how English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) differs from pidgin: 1. Pidgin is limited, for example to one trade hub, while ELF is global; 2. Pidgin is limited to a trading domain, while ELF is used in all domains, and 3. Pidgin doesn’t have native speakers while ELF does. She went on to demonstrate the importance of ELF citing the 1991 estimation that 80% of exchanges in English, globally, are between non-natives.
Éva explained that an important source of research findings in ELF is the Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE) – available at http://www.univie.ac.at. Among the findings of this research are that: 1. the present simple 3rd person –s is frequently cut where prescriptive rules say it ought to be present, and vica versa, and 2. Speakers normally break the rules of agreement prescribed for tag questions, saying for example, ‘isn’t it?’ or ‘innit?’ in all cases.
It is probably safe to say that the points made thus far are the most widely known aspects of ELF. From here on, though, Éva went into lesser known territory. She explained that ELF is not a dialect or variety of English but a context of use. This means that in ELT, we need to view ELF not as a target model but as strategies by which speakers accommodate to one another. In ELF contexts, there must be more negotiation of meaning, more tolerance of hybrid forms such as literal translations, more paraphrasing and code-switching. In ELF conversation, speakers need to suspend their assumptions of what constitutes normality, since these vary around the globe. Éva clarified by comparing ELF and traditional teaching. In the traditional, students are prepared for potential future interaction with an idealized native speaker (ironically, a very small population). In ELF-friendly teaching, students are prepared to cope with variety. Correctness and appropriateness are not fixed, but negotiated in real time among interlocutors.
Éva concluded by looking at the implication of ELF for materials and task selection. She explained that two currently unfashionable classroom activities gain new importance: 1. Literature – reading literary texts involves interpretation, working after meaning, in a way which parallels struggling to reach an understanding in ELF contexts. 2. Translation – in order to translate effectively, you need to put yourself in the listener’s shoes. This forces you to examine your own cultural assumptions.
Éva Illés has published on this topic in ‘Views’ – the University of Vienna online journal.
In a separate talk, Bálint Feyér, who is working for a PHD under Éva’s supervision, spoke about his research relating to understanding of different accents on the part of a group of Hungarian secondary school students. His research procedure had three components: 1. A listening comprehension test using audio of speakers with 4 different accents; 2. A questionnaire designed to reveal the students’ attitudes to the accents and 3. Interviews with the individual students.
Bálint’s results thus far have shown that comprehension of the different accents improved with proficiency in English, unsurprisingly enough. They also show that previous exposure to a given accent helps, which is why they did better listening to British speakers, well listening to Hungarians, and poorly listening to an Egyptian speaker. Finally, results suggest that awareness of accent variation is important and improves the student’s receptive accommodation. Bálint commented that successful students go beyond just understanding the text, but also tend to analyse it and reflect on what made it hard to follow. For example, they might explicitly recognize that the speaker’s realization of TH as /z/ or /s/ made them difficult to follow. As regards attitudes, the students rated the native speakers of English highest, the Egyptian speaker lowest, and the Hungarian speaker rather low too. This latter is paradoxical, given that they themselves are Hungarian speakers, and one can imagine how insecure they must feel about their own pronunciation! Bálint suggested that part of the pronunciation teacher’s role in this situation must be to help learners change their chip and see their own, and other non-native accents, in a more positive light. He also recommended raising students’ awareness of typical ways in which accents tend to vary, and helping them to develop strategies to become more flexible listeners.
Written by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald