ELF7 soundbites: My language is not yours


ELF7logoThis is the first in a series of mini-posts featuring “soundbites” from the 7th Annual Conference of English as a Lingua Franca, held from 4-6 September 2014 in Athens, Greece.

The aim of this series of posts is to give a flavour of the breadth of topics covered at the conference and simply to share some of the ideas, words and moments which made this year a memorable one for me.

Soundbite #1: Elana Shohamy

“My language is not your language.”

Professor Elana Shohamy was one of the plenary speakers at ELF7.  I strongly recommend you watch the video of her full presentation, which is available on YouTube here.  She made a number of interesting (and entertaining!) points, but chief among them for me was the axiom that language is very personal and use of language is very individual: no two people use language in exactly the same way.  Even within the same language, speakers have different voices, rhythms, sounds, choices of words, etc.

I particularly liked this phrasing, which Elana actually just uttered in passing.  It struck me as an effective and succinct statement on the real nature of language.  Diversity, individuality, variety and variability – this is the stuff of language.  Any language, not only English.  But as English is used by more and more people for more and more purposes, this richness of linguistic forms and functions becomes more and more apparent.

Discussion around ELF has generated a considerable amount of controversy, but at ELF Pron we feel that the basic principles which underlie this ever-developing and ever-expanding field of enquiry are really not all that controversial in themselves: i.e. that no one person or group of people ‘owns’ a language, and everybody will use it slightly differently to achieve whatever ends they are aiming for.

And we feel that as teachers, we should allow our students a degree of choice over how they learn and use English.  After all, no two people’s Englishes are ever precisely the same anyway!






3 thoughts on “ELF7 soundbites: My language is not yours

  1. Hi Laura – Thanks for that…I did however find her talk lacked focus and specifics about testing, although the main claim was an effort to identify the relevance of ELF to testing.

    • Hi James, glad you enjoyed it!
      As you say, the main purpose of her talk was to discuss the relevance of ELF (and other uses of language such as code-switching, code-mixing, etc.) to language proficiency tests. I think she avoided ‘specifics’ mainly because this was a plenary, rather than a short research-focused presentation, which there was plenty of space for elsewhere in the conference programme. Hers was intended to be more of a discursive, thought-provoking session about some interesting concepts and principles.
      I hope you get a chance to watch the other videos, too, as there was a great diversity of sessions on offer this year and lots of food for thought!

  2. Pingback: Language and empathy, Part 3: Making choices about language | Lauraahaha

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