ELF7 interview: getting started with ELF


ELF Pron recently had the pleasure of attending and presenting at ELF7, the 7th annual international conference of English as a Lingua Franca, which was held from 4-6 September 2014 in Athens, Greece.


During the conference, we were fortunate enough to get four great people together, all key names in the fields of ELF (English as a lingua franca) and teacher education.  We asked them three questions:

1. How did you become interested in ELF?

2. Why do you think it’s important for teachers to be aware of ELF?

3. What advice would you give to teachers who are interested in learning more about ELF but don’t really know where to start?

You can read the full interview below.  The interviewees introduce themselves briefly at the start, but you can also find out more about them (and the people, concepts, literature and resources they mention) by clicking on the highlighted words in the text.

So, how did you become interested in ELF?


My name is Martin Dewey and I’m Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at King’s College London.

My interest in ELF started when I was a language teacher trainer and I noticed that novice teachers were not very good at responding to the students’ language. There was a big mismatch between what the teacher was trying to do with language (which was what was in the textbook or what was in the grammar explanation) and what the students were saying, and how the teachers were unable to respond to what the students were saying in useful ways. So they weren’t noticing, for example, the patterns of language that the students were producing.

I was doing that teacher training at the same time that I was doing my master’s degree; and Jennifer Jenkins taught me on the master’s.  So the interest in what the students were doing with the language and what the teachers were not noticing coincided with me hearing about ELF – except it wasn’t called ELF yet!

YaseminI am Yasemin Bayyurt from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey and I’m Professor of Applied Linguistics.

My interest in ELF emerged out of the involvement of culture in foreign language classrooms.  This was my first question, actually, that I was trying to find an answer to.  It started in 1998, and at first, I followed the paths of people like Suresh Canagarajah and Adrian Holliday, and I was trying to find my way through language and involvement of culture in the classroom.  I ended up at World Englishes and then it became more and more narrow, and…… English as a Lingua Franca!

And then English as a Lingua Franca became more and more interesting because in the meantime, I was in the Teacher Education department and I wanted to show my students how culture would be involved.  And I live in a very strategic place, I mean, coming from an Islamic country, culture is questioned all the time.  They take out, for example, sections on Christmas, etc. from the book, and they replace it with other issues, other activities…  So it was because of that, mainly how culture was involved in language.  And now I know ELF is a kind of facilitator.


My name is Enric Llurda and I’m from Catalonia, the University of Lleida.

I was always interested in language attitudes, sociolinguistics, and also language teaching, but I remember that one of the first things that I tried to research was what at that time I would call ‘native speakers’ reactions to non-native speech’.  It was like, what’s the impact of having a foreign accent and what kind of reactions are prompted by accented speech?  So I was looking very much at this from the native perspective.  And gradually I realized that there were some issues that needed to be addressed in a different way, and I started reading some of the literature and so I became quite interested in World Englishes and ELF.

I’m still interested in the idea of non-native speakers’ developing language but from a very different perspective.  And for example, I became very interested in ELF because I think that from a non-native teacher perspective, ELF is the direction to go, because we are ELF users; and this is really what empowers us as teachers.  Non-native teachers are qualified to teach ELF; we’re not qualified to teach native English.


I’m Nicos Sifakis, from Greece. I am a teacher trainer/teacher educator at the Hellenic Open University.

My interest in ELF started through my interest in finding out more about the global role of English.  Not so much in terms of communication, but in general, you know, what’s the case with English?  I had read [David] Crystal’s book and so on…  That’s one area.

Another reason why I got into ELF was that I had many doubts about the “EFL” term.  I’ve never thought of English as a foreign language for some reason; I’ve always thought that English is not a foreign language like German is a foreign language.  And I’ve got a son and a daughter—my son has been using English for many years with his friends, through gaming and online chatting and so on, just like his own language.  He didn’t care about mistakes.  Of course he led two lives, at home and at the private school where he had to prepare for the exams.  So that was my initial introduction.

Why do you think it’s important for teachers to be aware of ELF?



It’s important for them to be aware of this global role of English in the world today.  I want them to be aware of which language they are teaching, first of all!  As Nicos said, it’s different from teaching German, or teaching Turkish, or teaching Catalan as a foreign language.  And they should be aware of this while teaching.

That’s why I said my concept of culture has changed; because if you are teaching a global or international language, or a lingua franca, then you talk about the cultures of the world.  And in some of the activities that our teachers [those training at my university] prepared, they in fact involved cultures of the world, for example.  So they already started to see it as a global language; it’s not any more the language of the British or Americans.  And that gave them a kind of self-confidence.

Yesterday, we said it during our colloquium, and in other presentations I heard about it as well: it empowers teachers, I think.  That’s why they should be aware of ELF.



Yeah, I think from the non-native teacher perspective, it’s clearly empowering and a confidence booster.

From the perspective also of all teachers, native, non-native, I think it’s also a way of saving energies and avoiding frustrations.  Because when you pursue a goal that’s simply not reasonable, which is sort of mimicking a native speaker and hoping that your students will become like native speakers, then you are aiming at the wall!

It’s better to plan more realistically, you know?  That’s what [Barbara] Seidlhofer says- let’s forget about ‘real English’ and focus on realistic English, and say, OK, this is what we want to use, the kind of English we want to use; this is what we want to learn; and we save time, we save energy and we are more effective.  And we don’t lie to anybody.  Because we are lying to ourselves and lying to others, pretending, thinking, imagining we are going to teach ‘native speaker English’.



I absolutely agree.  And I think that ELF, for me, is a great opportunity; it’s a gift to ELT.  And in particular, to EFL teachers, precisely because, in my experience, teachers have been subservient to loads of stuff: teaching from the coursebook or teaching to the test, and so on.

So ELF, even if you disagree with the construct, the notion—and there are many things to have issue with, and I fully understand that, because it’s a major kind of force—it’s a great opportunity to make you think about the deep fundamentals, about what is ‘correctness’, what is ‘standardness’…

And it’s good to question.  It’s good to question, even if you disagree; you will make at least one or two steps ahead; you will think about stuff and stop automatically doing stuff, you know?  Think about the coursebook: why this coursebook?  How can I make it better?  And even more, even if you teach to the test, you can try to approach your learners in a differentiated way, you know, try to see exactly what they need.  If they need the test, OK, you can teach the test.  In that way, ELF, even if we disagree, is a gift.

And I completely disagree with the notion that ELF is a segregated- you know, “the ELFers”.  It’s not EFL “versus/or” ELF; it’s a merging of the two.



Yeah, I mean, to me, ELF is strongly connected to Vivian Cook’s idea of the ‘L2 user’—or the ‘user’, let’s forget ‘L2’.  So in a way we have to focus on the usage of the language, how language is used; and we have to facilitate or help our learners reach the level for which they can comfortably use the language.

And forget about these kind of ‘given models’ and ‘standards’ and, like what Nicos was saying, we can sort of put them into question and say well, you know, why?  It’s not like, “we have to do this because that’s what we are supposed to do”; it’s like, “OK, what’s the point of doing that?  In what way is this helping my students using English better and being more effective?”



Yes, and the end result can be amazing!  You have teachers who are really transformed.  They realize; they find themselves; something happens to them.



I think it is essential that teachers are made aware of ELF early on in their professional training. Traditionally, teacher education – especially for entry level teaching awards – has focused extensively (in some cases almost exclusively) on teaching methods and classroom procedures, usually with limited account given to the subject matter itself.  Until relatively recently it had always been assumed that the ‘English’ component of English Language Teaching was settled and not in need of any discussion.  This has now begun to change, with Cambridge English and Trinity College London now beginning to include reference to ELF in their respective syllabus guidelines – although the impact of this has been only very gradual in practice.

For me, it is essential that teacher educators and teachers become better informed not only of the role and status of English as a global lingua franca, but also that they learn about what this means for the nature of the way the language is used.  This is key.  Otherwise, decisions cannot be made about syllabus content, materials, assessment criteria and so on, that properly reflect the way English is currently spoken.

So let’s imagine a teacher who’s just come across the term ‘ELF’ and is interested in learning more.  Where can he/she start?



I think a good starting point would be the most recent edition of Jennifer Jenkins’ book Global Englishes (Routledge 2014, and formerly published as World Englishes).  This provides a very accessible overview of ELF research and debate, with a fairly extensive bibliography, guidance on further reading, as well as a series of tasks and questions aimed at allowing students/teachers to become engaged with ELF.  The book also situates ELF nicely with other aspects of Global Englishes, such as the emergence of nativized varieties in post-colonial contexts.  In my view, these are also important for English language teachers to be aware of.

For more experienced teachers and for students enrolled on Master’s degrees, there is now a fast growing body of work on ELF.  I always make teachers aware of the Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, as well as a recent state of the art article in the journal Language Teaching (2011).  The VOICE corpus website is in my view a potentially invaluable resource for teachers.  When I am introducing ELF to teachers I always begin with the ethnologue database of world languages, as this is an excellent way of initiating discussion about linguistic diversity.



Even before they start to read about ELF, first of all, they have to make a choice, and they have to decide to start to listen favourably to non-native interactions.  You know, interactions that involve non-native speakers.  But in a favourable, kind of positive way, not in a dismissive way.  It’s very important.



They need to have an open mind to diversity in general, even among native speakers.  You know, look at language as a rich resource of forms, which is diverse.  And so leave aside dogmatism.



Exactly.  Openness to diversity.  And be prepared to surprise yourselves.  Because ELF interactions are successful and ELF interactions are amazing- the creativity, you know- so rich in everything.

And then, the other problem is, even for those people who are positive, and they’ve actually made these two steps, how do they approach the literature?  There’s such a huge literature; they need a guide of some sort.  We have a guide, of course!  (Click here to learn more about the project run by Nicos & Yasemin which aims to develop teachers’ awareness of diversity and ELF.)



I like [David] Crystal’s text and I love [Henry] Widdowson’s 1994 text because it goes to the heart of the matter.  I mean, with my students, if I have to choose one text to read, I start with that, because it’s challenging those notions that people have- “English is for the English and the Americans.”  By starting challenging this, you can go on and you can realize how absurd the whole argument for standard English is.  In a way, you say, OK, now we can build something new, right?



I would follow similar ways.  What I do with my students is when they come to my class, after giving their introductions and so on, the first thing I ask them, which surprises them a lot, is: “Is English your language?” They immediately stop and say, “oh, no!”  Some of them sometimes say yes.  And I want them to!  I say, “think about it.” These students are training to teach.  And they are surprised.  They usually say, “of course not!”

And then another question I ask them in later stages, when we are covering (for example) bilingualism, is: “Are you bilingual?”  They usually say, “No.”  But I think they are.  And in the first place, I don’t answer the question; we don’t get an answer.  Some of them say yes, some no, they’re equal.  But in my second phase, when I ask them, “Are you bilingual?”, some of them are already familiar with different types of bilingualism.  Some say, “We’re sequential bilinguals!”, etc. And I say, “Of course you are bilinguals!”

And then we start up a discussion, and usually they explore this.  Some of them are skeptical; some of them are really positive, optimistic, and they look into it; some of them completely reject the idea.  But I still bring it to their attention that way.

So there you have it!

There are so many different routes which people take into the field of ELF, but they might arrive at this shared interest by reflecting on their own practice and others’, as well as their own use of English and others’.

Stay tuned for more posts from the ELF7 conference…



7 thoughts on “ELF7 interview: getting started with ELF

  1. We should not overestimate the position of English. English is an international language not the international language.

    I live in London and if anyone says to me “everyone speaks English” my answer is “Listen and look around you”. If people in London do not speak English then the whole question of a global language is completely open.

    The promulgation of English as the world’s “lingua franca” is impractical and linguistically undemocratic. I say this as a native English speaker!

    Impractical because communication should be for all and not only for an educational or political elite. That is how English is used internationally at the moment.

    Undemocratic because minority languages are under attack worldwide due to the encroachment of majority ethnic languages. Even Mandarin Chinese is attempting to dominate as well. The long-term solution must be found and a non-national language, which places all ethnic languages on an equal footing is essential.

    As a native English speaker, my vote is for Esperanto 🙂

    Your readers may be interested in seeing http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a former translator with the United Nations

    The Esperanto online course http://www.lernu.net has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per day. That can’t be bad 🙂

  2. Pingback: ELF7 interview: getting started with ELF | Educ...

  3. Hi Brian, we’re pretty excited about ‘meeting’ an Esperanto speaker, so thanks for taking the time to comment! Thanks also for the links. We don’t know much about Esperanto, but are definitely interested in the topic of linguistic imperialism (did you happen to see the British Council debate at IATEFL last year in Liverpool? It was also recorded and posted online http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2013/sessions/2013-04-10/british-council-signature-event-linguistic-imperialism-still-alive-and-kicking ) .

    For us, an ELF approach to pronunciation is important precisely because it focuses on language variation and promotes the use of learners’ L1 to help work on their pronunciation in English, rather than banishing it from the classroom. The message we’ve tried to put across in our seminars and presentations is that languages are not a commodity that someone can ‘own’, and that English more than any other language defies geographical borders because of the way it is used as a lingua franca. One of the important misconceptions that we feel needs to be tackled better in teacher training (and in turn, in the classroom with learners) is that English somehow ‘belongs’ to England or the USA etc. We feel the undemocratic aspect comes from the industry, e.g. publishers, test writers, language schools, etc. who present learners with a false linguistic landscape.

    As for Esperanto, we don’t know much, so had a quick look on trusty Wikipedia! It seems that some of the criticisms, that would also concern us, are that it is often accused of being Eurocentric. We were also interested in this paragraph:

    “Critics counter that Esperanto could simply take over from national languages and continue the destruction of linguistic diversity that is already taking place. The very ease of acquiring Esperanto might even accelerate the process. They point to other easy-to-learn languages such as Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, which have had deleterious effects on minority languages.”

    In a sense, I also wonder if learning English is more democratic by being so visible worldwide, which means it doesn’t necessarily require would-be learners to pay for tuition, or to have a computer and internet to learn online. Where I’m living in Thailand, there’s so much English around on adverts, signs, menus etc, and there are so many tourists of different nationalities using English. A taxi driver, for example, might not have the means or time to study a language like Esperanto formally. But he can pick up enough English to get by, and in this sense we find it quite democratic.

    But definitely all interesting food for thought… Thanks, Katy and Laura

  4. Pingback: ELF7 conference videos! | ELF Pronunciation

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