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What Is English As A Lingua Franca?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3843 words Published: 18th Apr 2017

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Over the last few decades, with global spread and use of English, some researchers have shown an increased interest in English as a Lingua Franca. The issue of ELF has eventually become an important focus of research in applied Linguistics. McKay (2003) emphasizes that local context and learners’ needs should play an important role in the teaching of English. Kirkpatrick (2007) claims that we, as English language teachers, should reconsider which model of English should be adopted for the language classroom in countries where English is used mainly for international communication.

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This paper seeks to the following things. Firstly, the paper will explore what is meant by English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and followed by the discussion the importance of relevant issues, such as choosing the right teaching model, cross-cultural intelligibility and strategies, accommodation and open-minded attitudes towards different English varieties. Secondly, with respect to Chinese context, the author will discuss the choice of appropriate teaching models. As an English language teacher in China, the author claims that the choosing of teaching models should be based on the local context and learners’ needs. Finally, the author will discuss the development of ‘China English’ in Chinese context.

2. What is English as a Lingua Franca?

2.1 The Spread of English

Nowadays, there is no doubt that English is an international Language. It is widely used as a communication medium in the fields of politics, economics, culture, technology etc. Crystal (2003) points out that the number of non-native speakers (NNSs) of English is far more than native speakers (NSs) and claims that roughly only one of every four users of English in the world is an English native speaker.

2.2 World Englishes

With the spread of English in the world, there are now many varieties. Jenkins (2004) refers to these as world Englishes. In other words, English no longer has one single base of authority, prestige and normativity (Mesthrie & Bhatt, 2008).

The three circles model proposed by Kachru (1992) has been very influential and gives us a good understanding of the spread of English and world Englishes. These three circles, based on geography and history, include the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle and the Expanding Circle. The Inner Circle comprises the countries in which people speak English as a native language (ENL), known as ‘Norm-providing’, such as USA, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The Outer Circle includes the countries where English is spoken as a second Language (ESL), most of which used to be the colonies of UK, US, and regarded as ‘Norm-developing’. Jenkins (2009) points out that one of the main characteristics of the Outer Circle countries is that the variations of English in ESL have become institutionalised and are developing their own standards. The Expanding Circle means EFL countries, such as China, Japan, Korea and Thailand, known as “norm-dependent”. The main reason for defining the Expanding Circle is that English has no official status and can be seen as dependent on the norms of the inner circle countries (Jenkins, 2009).

2.3 English as a Lingua Franca

However, language is always developing and changing. With the spread of English, Kachru’s three circles model (Kachru, 1992 )is criticized by some scholars (Jenkins, 2005; Seidhofer, 2004) because it pays more attention to the interaction between native and non native speaker, and has not recognized that one of the most important functions of world-wide English today is to provide a lingua franca between all three circles. In particular, the interaction takes place within the Expanding Circle (Mollin, 2006). Therefore the term ELF is proposed under this circumstance

In the first place, it was widely accepted that ELF does not include native speakers. House (1999) defines ELF interactions ‘between members of two or more different linguacultures in English, for none of whom English is the mother tongue’. In other words, from House’s point of view, ELF means English is spoken by speakers whose first language is not English. Jenkins, however, claims that “the term English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) refers to the English that is used as a contact language among speakers who come from different first language and cultural background” (Jenkins, 2005). In other words, despite the fact that native speakers are not like non-native speakers which represent a large percentage of the totality of the world’s ELF users, they are still included in ELF, But their interactions are not collected in Jenkin’s ELF data, and when they take part in ELF interactions, they do not represent a linguistics reference point (Jenkins, 2007).

ELF is characterized by the following: (1) ELF is used in different contexts in which speakers have different L1 and cultural background, but they need it as a tool to achieve their communication goal. During this communication process, they need to be open-minded, tolerate and accommodate each other (Politeness, schema theory and so on). (2) ELF is different from EFL which the main purpose is to communicate with native speakers and the interaction needs to adhere to ENL linguacultural norms. (3) Linguistically, ELF involves innovations, performativity and creativity that differ from ENL (Seidlhofer, 2011). When Speakers negotiate meaning with each other in English, they may change the ENL norms. For example: Use of 3rd person singular zero. She/he go to school. More details please see the appendix one (Jenkins, 2009).

Obviously, the term ELF well represents English as it is used today. In addition, the ownership of English does not only belong to “native-speakers”, it belongs to all who communicate with each other in English (Nelson, 2011). With the global use of English, Cross-cultural Intelligibility, certain communication strategies are needed in ELF interaction, such as accommodation and code switching, the awareness of noticing the specific communication context. The discussion will be explored in the next session.

3. ELF and relevant issues for the classroom

3.1 The teaching models

Seidlhofer (2006) points out that, with global use of English, a problem is raised to choose the teaching model: what English should be taught in a specific context? What norms of English should be adopted? People make different choices based on their needs and context of learning English. Three models are proposed by Kirkpatrick (2007: 184-197): exonormative native speaker model, endonormative nativised model, and a lingua Franca approach. Most people in Expanding Circle Countries would like to choose the exonormative native speaker model, because most of them learn the ‘standard’ British and American English and their respective ‘standard’ accents, RP(Received Pronunciation) and GA (General American),despite the fact that they know learning English is not only to communicate with native-speakers(Jenkins, 2009). But in fact, the term ‘standard English’ deals with grammar and vocabulary (dialect) but does not include pronunciation (accent) (Trudgill & Hannah, 1982). Shepherd (2000) claims that which model is chosen depending on the learners’ needs and should use the learner-centred approach. In the meantime, it is very hard for speakers who are in expanding circle countries to achieve native-like English. On the contrast, it will not motivate the learners and makes them lose confidence in learning it (Seidlhofer, 2011).

3.2 Cross-cultural intelligibility and strategies

As English continues to grow as a lingua Franca, there are a lot of variations of English. How should we achieve the cross-cultural communication? Smith (1976) pointes out the view below: 1) There is no need for learners to internalize the culture norms of native speakers of the language; 2) the ownership of an international language becomes ‘denationalized’ and 3) the primary goal of learning language is to make learners to communicate their ideas and culture to others. For example, generally speaking, Nelson points out that (2011) we will identify who people are, where he or she comes from by his or her lexical choice or accent before we communicate with other person from different background with us. However English is currently used as a Lingua Franca, the goal of communication is to make each other understood.

International Intelligibility is getting more and more important and become a concern in recent days, especially understanding each other in multiple contexts (Nelson, 2011). Therefore developing the students’ listening and comprehensibility and speaking skills are very crucial in order to understand people and make other people understood who come from different backgrounds with different accents. Since the purpose of learning Language is to achieve communication, so how to get the meaning of language through different pronunciation or accents when people speak English is becoming a main issue in ELF. Learning linguistic features and knowing different cultures might be helpful to understand different variations. Therefore understanding your speaker linguistically and culturally will lead to successful communicate in a super diversity context, In short, “Knowing how, when, and why to say what to whom”.

Furthermore, in order to achieve the international intelligibility and effective communication, raising the awareness of the strategies of lingua franca communication is becoming more and more important in the interaction. Promoting multi- competence among native and non-native language users (Cook, 2007), the accommodation theory, the schema theory, the speech act theory, cultural information, cross-cultural negotiation and strategies, language technology, cultural awareness and so on

3.3 ELF: attitude and identities

Now English is becoming a Lingua Franca, hence the norms of native speakers countries are not only one standard, in the meantime, non-native speaker countries have got the ownership of English. So not only non-native speakers need to accept the native-speaker norms, they have got their own particular norms. At the same time, Jenkins (2007, 2009) claims that native speakers should accept non-native speakers’ norms .Because in the current situation the expanding circle is potentially rather different from typical situations in which powerful NS groups impose their linguistic norms on less powerful, often minority, NNS groups. In particular, many groups of English speakers in parts of Europe, Latin America, and East Asia (especially China) are both economically powerful and numerically large, and this may ultimately prove to be decisive in the “fight” for the recognition of ELF, in turn, it may affect the ELF identity ‘landscape’ in ways that are at present only dimly discernible (Jenkins, 2009; Seidlhofer, 2011).

Widdowson (1993: 385) claims that” it is a matter of considerable pride and satisfaction for native speakers of English that their language is the international means of communication”. However, it is very hard for native or even non-native speakers to accept the world’s Lingua Franca which has its own lexicogrammar and accent characterises and should have its own right to develop its own Lingua Franca forms. For instance: China English, Japan English. Even these features did not cause intelligibility problems and can achieve the goal of communication (Jenkins, 2004). For more details, please see the appendance one.

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Identity is becoming an interesting issue in English language use nowadays. Recent literature (B. Kachru and Nelson.2001; De Kadt, 2004) point out that ‘the use of English plays an important role in showing groups’ and individuals’ identities. Because non-native speakers use English with their own characters show their own identities. Especially people use English to communicate with people who came from different background, For example, the interaction between a Chinese English and Korea English speaker, and they may be identified by each other’s pronunciation and accent. In most of cases, English language teachers and learners desire native-like English identity in Expanding Countries, Especially for non-native English teachers. In their mind, native-like English accents are helpful for them achieve the success in the career development.

4. Rethinking ELF in China

Kirkpatrick (2006) points out that context should be considered before making the decision to choose the teaching model, and the context includes learners’ needs and the relative possibility of adopting nativized model. Next, the role of English based on Chinese context and learners ‘needs are discussed in more detail, then the teaching model in China is described, and the development of China English is explored.

English in China Nowadays

With the spread of English, English is seen as extremely important and strongly promoted in China. The motivation for learning English for Chinese learners are discussed in more details based on Chinese context, and the uses of English in China is always changing over time.

With economic reform and open door policy of China in 1979, and the motivation of learning English is to ‘acquisition Western knowledge’ (Kachru, 1992: 165) and international understanding. English is a compulsory subject in primary, secondary and universities in China, they need to pass the examinations. Students in secondary need to pass the National Examination to access to university, students in the majority of Universities need to pass CET band 4 to get the degree. Some students who want to study abroad need to pass IELTS and TOEFL. Here, the role of English is as a medium to access to science, technology, political, business, culture information around the world.

However, nowadays more and more teachers and learners notice that learning English is to international communication. Especially, since China entered WTO in 2001 and held 2008 Olympic Games, these make China get involved in globalization. For example, many companies in USA and some European countries found that they can cut the costs and make more profit if they send their jobs in China, it is well known as outsourcing. People in China who want to work in these companies need to have a high proficiency of English. In addition, with the development of China, more and more people study abroad, travel and immigrate around the world, and they are exposed to English with different accents. They not only need to communicate with people in the inner Circle countries.¼ˆAmerica and UK¼‰, but also need to interact with people in some Outer Circle and the Expanding Circle(Singapore, India, Malaysia, Japan and Korea).

Finally, with China emerging as an economic superpower, Chinese government found that China not only needs to learn the knowledge from the world, but also need to let the world know about China, Confucius Institutes have founded all over the world since 2004, which provide opportunities for people to know Chinese Language and culture. For mandarin Chinese teachers, they need to translate Chinese Language and culture into English. However, sometimes it is very hard to find the word in English vocabulary to express Chinese language and culture. Therefore, direct translations from Chinese into English take place(Kirkpatrick,2007), such as ‘taichi’, ‘kung fu’, ‘fengshui’, ‘iron rice bowl’, ‘one country, two systems’, ‘open-door policy’.

4.2 Teaching models in China

As mentioned earlier, Kirkpatrick (2007) points out that there are three potential models which can be used in outer and expanding circle countries, and they are an exonormative native speaker model, endonormative nativised model and a lingua franca approach. China is one of such expanding countries, and the exonormative native speaker model has been accepted and promoted as the standard pedagogic model for English language teaching in China. However, there are still a lot of changes during the period of development of English in China. In the past, only native-speaker varieties and norms are used and other varieties of English are ignored in China. British English is regarded as standard English in the beginning; with the economic development of America, American English dominated in the ELT of China, mixed with a little British English; in the last two decades, with the economic development of China, more and more foreigners from different countries in the world go to China to do business, study and travelling, and some Chinese people are exposed to different varieties of English and they found it hard to communicate with foreigners with different accents. This raises their awareness of the importance of other varieties of English. Therefore, nowadays, other varieties of English are taken into account in English curriculum. Including Canada English, China English, India English, Nigeria English, Japan English, and so on. English teaching materials have reflected these changes and tend to incorporate the principle of English as a Lingua Franca in terms of cultural knowledge. In the English teaching materials, not only the culture of native speaking-English countries is introduced, but also the culture from the inner and expending counties is presented inside.

Kirkpatrick (2006) points out the advantages of adopting the exonormative native speaker model in the Outer and Expending Circle countries. Firstly, this model has been codified in the dictionary and grammar books; Secondly, this model is regards as standard varieties of English; thirdly, this model has got power. Fourthly, this model has got ‘historical authority’ (ibid: 72). The above reasons also can explain why the learners in China want to learn American and British English, and why they regard American and British English as Standard English. However, with the global development of English, other varieties of English have already started to be drawn attention in the field of ELT in China.

Kirkpatrick and Xu(2002) points out that the reason for learning English should be clarified before choosing the right English teaching model, if learning English is to communicate with native speakers, then the exonormative native speaker model will serve a good role, however, in fact, In China, the purpose of learning English is not only to communicate well with native speakers, but also communicate with non-native speakers, and the number of non-native speakers has already exceeded the number of native speakers, in the meantime, the number of non-native speakers are still growing at the fast speed. Therefore, they argue and suggest that the development of ‘China English’ with Chinese characteristics may be an inevitable result (ibid: 277).

4.3 China English

The concept of ‘China English’ has been attracting growing attention from scholars over the past 20 years (Du and Jiang, 2001; Kirkpatrick and Xu, 2002; Hu, 2004; Bolton, 2003,). This concept is different from the older terms ‘Chinese English’ and ‘Chinglish’, because Chinese English and Chinglish are ungrammatical or nonsensical English and are not standard variety. Chinese English refers to a variety of English used by Chinese learners and bears trace of L1 interference (Kirkpatrick and Xu, 2002).while Chinglish refers to the combination of English and Chinese in one’s sentence. China English was first defined by Ge in 1980 (Du and Jiang, 2001), and it is described as ”it is understood as a standard variety and used by Chinese People in China, and it has Chinese characteristics in lexis, sentence structure and discourse and reflects Chinese culture norms (Li, 1993;Du and Jiang, 2001).

Undoubtedly, English is a lingua Franca now and English should be learnt with the culture of the target language to a certain extent in order to learn English language. In the meantime, in the Chinese context, China English should be developed to make it part of the main English. For example, during the period of learning Mandarin Chinese, many students are interested in Chinese culture, i.e. Acupuncture and moxibustion treatment, traditional wedding, traditional Chinese musical instruments, the ancient Chinese works, Chinese food etc. But it is hard to find English words to describe these special things with respect to Chinese knowledge and culture. This is a big problem and challenge for Chinese people to communicate with foreigners in English. The emergence of China English contributes to the development and enrichment of English and spread the Chinese culture around the world, so it is necessary to develop China English with Chinese characteristics in lexis, sentence structure and discourse and become one part of the world’s Lingua Franca. and China English needed to be codified to appear in dictionaries and reference books, of course, there is a long way to go before China English become one standard variety, this not only needs official support, but also needs to change people’s attitudes towards China English, and further research needs to be done to investigate China English with respect to phonology, lexis, discourse and culture. Kachru (1992) emphasizes that giving the rights to develop the variety of norms would not lead to a lack of intelligibility among varieties of English.

5. Conclusion

In this paper, this author has discussed the understanding of ELF from narrow and wide view. Secondly, this paper has explored the implications of ELF for classroom issues: Choosing the teaching model should be based on students’ context and needs; In order to achieve the Cross-cultural Intelligibility, we should raise the students awareness of effective communication strategies; as long as non-native speakers’ features such as lexicogrammar and pronunciation do not cause Intelligibility problems and can achieve the goal of communication, we should be open-minded and accommodate each other (Cogo & Dewey, 2006; Dewey, 2007). More importantly, some people would like to keep their own identity when communicating with each other in English. Finally, this author focused on the discussion of teaching model in China based on Chinese context, and then the author discussed China English and advocated China should develop ‘China English’ along with learning native-speaking culture and this may be next big trend on teaching English in China.


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