Book review: Teaching English as a Lingua Franca

I’ve finally got my hands on a copy of this book! Woohoo!

What can I say? I’ve a keen interest in the topic of English as a Lingua Franca. ELF was a buzzword during my BA, well before I entered teaching, as my tutors included Jennifer Jenkins and Martin Dewey. This topic also relates to my recent MA dissertation, so I’ve been very eager to see how the authors puts a practical spin on the topic.

As far as I’m concerned, a comprehensive resource that deals with the practical application on ELF is long overdue. The authors, Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert Lowe, mention that “ELF researchers have either been very cautious, or perhaps even neglectful, of the practical applications of their studies” (pg 13). I agree, hence I instantly recognise the value of this resource and what it sets out to achieve.

That being said – I’m not going to sing its praises jst because I agree with the premise. Teaching English as a Lingua Franca is a great attempt at filling the void, but there are times when it takes a step too far and loses sight of its key audiences – both teachers and learners.

Layout/Organisation

The book is in three main parts – as those familiar with the DELTA Development Series will expect. Part A focuses on presenting the problem: introducing the concept of ELF, discussing critical issues and a way forward for implementing an ELF-related pedagogy in the classroom. It is a concise overview and well-considered, careful to mention criticisms of the approach and to point out that this is not a catch all:

‘…we simply offer ELF as an alternative for those who wish to use English for more global and international communication’.

Part B frames the way forward in practical purposes, sharing activities for how we can develop an ELF mindset in our learners (essentially not viewing English as the property of native speakers but as a tool for global communication), and developing an ELF skillset which enables learners to better use English in international contexts.

Part C addresses teachers – it briefly focuses on different contexts (Business English, EAP, etc) and discusses how ELF can/could be applied.

A useful take-home for me…

What I really like about this resource is how it made me rethink my understanding of ELF. Part A and B made it clear that the main thing that springs to mind for me with ELF, pronunciation and intelligibility, is just one small aspect of a much broader concept. As narrow-minded as it sounds, I never really considered that the work I do on intercultural communication in the classroom also falls into the ELF category to some extent. Of the 40 practical ideas for raising awareness of ELF among students, I was surprised to see a large chunk of those in the ELF Skillset section relate to intercultural competence. Things like forms of address, dealing with stereotypes, and reflecting on communication circles weren’t the type of resources I expected to find in the book, but were welcome.

Useful ELF Skillset development

The activities on building an ELF skillset in the book are useful and varied. I mentioned those on intercultural competence, but there are also some good activities that develop communication strategies, such as pre-empting problems and negotiating meaning in ELF contexts. Awareness raising of borrowing vocabulary from L1 is a useful suggestion in this section. The Skillset section also includes ‘listening and pronunciation’ activities which help learners deal with the variety of accents or language they might hear in an ELF context – this is perhaps the most useful part of the book.

The ‘grammar and lexis’ section of the skillset is in part useful, at other times contentious. There are activities that raise awareness of common features of ELF interactions like complement ellipsis, and there are others which encourage learners to question whether certain grammatical variations should be deemed incorrect. However, there are some that, with all the best intentions, take the idea of ELF too far. Activities that encourage learners not to consider affixation like ‘increasement’ or ‘irreliable’ as incorrect is a bit… well… I just think you have to draw the line somewhere. I’m not sure you could guarantee intelligibility with the latter, but maybe I’m picking at points.

The ELF Mindset

The section of the book I was most at odds with was the part on developing an ELF mindset. I certainly understand the purpose of the section, which is help teachers overcome resistance to an ELF approach by promoting discussion and raising awareness of English as a Lingua Franca. The main problem for me is that while the content of this section might be relevant to the learners, I’m not actually sure it’s interesting or engaging. Sure, there may be contexts where discussing Kachru’s Circles of English, or the features of the Lingua Franca Core, would appeal to learners. However, I think you need to pick your audience. The task where learners discuss a job advertisement for a teaching role that states the applicant ‘must be a native speaker’ could prompt discussion, but to me the resource here loses sight of its audience a little.

Experts like Mark Hancock might say that we are in a ‘post-ELF’ context, but I feel like the ELF mindset Marek and Robert are promoting is something that still needs to be embraced (or at least explored) by some teachers. It is certainly useful to promote an ELF mindset to learners if they are likely to critically engage in the topic, but we are talking about time in the classroom here. Most of my learners aren’t paying their money to learn about issues in teaching and learning English – albeit interesting and relevant in a broader context. They are more interested in developing some level of competency with regards to things like dealing with business transactions in a global context, how to interpret English language emails from head office in China, and so on. That’s why the skillset is useful, but the mindset is an ideal. I would love my learners to engage with it, but my experience says that these resources would not be the most efficient use of our classroom time. Basically, a bit too meta…?

However, I feel that most of the Mindset activities would be beneficial for teachers – they should have formed the bulk of Part C (‘Teaching ELF’) in my view, as exploratory tasks for teachers.

Overall…

Teaching ELF does a very good job of linking theory to practice. This is an understated skill in our industry, and it is well worth commending the authors for the fact that they’ve managed to achieve this without many other examples to have built on. It suffers at times by overstating the value of some specific ideas to its audience, but I think a few tweaks in its organisation, and an awareness that this is a developmental resource for teachers as much as learners, would address that.

Rating: solid 4.5/5

Teaching English as a Lingua Franca is available to buy on Amazon: affiliate link here.

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