Month: Apr 2018

From EFL to ELF: Materials Writing for English as a Lingua Franca – A Summary

From EFL to ELF: Materials Writing for English as a Lingua Franca – A Summary

As part of the Materials Writing SIG pre-conference event at IATEFL 2018, Marek Kiczkowiak gave a talk entitled “From EFL to ELF: Materials Writing for English as a Lingua Franca.” Now, I teach and write for an EFL setting – generally homogenous groups of speakers of German studying English Studies in English. Most of them intend to be EFL teachers themselves one day. But I found the talk interesting nonetheless and came away with a few ideas for updating my teaching materials to fit a more English as a lingua-franca (ELF) paradigm, which can benefit the students who are not aiming to be secondary-school EFL teachers here in Germany, but also without taking anything away from the others’ learning experience. Indeed, Marek convinced me that it might even be enriching for them, too!

(I have to say, a general sentiment that I had after the day, especially after this and Rom Neves’ talk, is that all learners can use materials written with those with specific needs in mind – no harm is done, so to speak, so why not?)

So let me summarise here some of the key tenet’s of Marek’s talk.

First of all, he started with a statement I suppose few people would disagree with: Using EFL materials is unlikely to help learners achieve ELF goals! For this, we’ll need ELF materials – and Marek gave us some ideas of what these might look like.

One key point is that assumptions about what is ‘intelligible’ need to be reassessed. Native speakers (whatever they may be!) are not always intelligible! In ELT generally, we should probably be trying to move away from producing mini native-speaker clones in terms of production, and also arm learners to be able to competently deal with various speakers’ accents. So ELF materials should include a wide variety of accents, both native and non-native. Learners should also be exposed to examples of ELF communication to really make the point that these are no less successful (and in some cases more successful!) than interactions between or with native speakers. There are corpora (like ELFA for academic settings) where we can find such examples.

Another point I found particularly interesting was Marek highlighting that multilinguals use words in languages other than the one they are mainly conversing in and do so for a number of reasons that often have nothing to do with them not knowing the word! I met up in Brighton with some other colleagues from Germany and having one non-German speaker join us for dinner really highlighted how much we tend to code switch! ELF learners will probably do this, too, as this is how a lot of people use language these days. Marek demonstrated how this can even help to build rapport, if understood by both parties, and can show respect for the main language of your conversation partner. Although this kind of code-switching will probably not be taught explicitly, as it is dependent on the speakers involved, an awareness and understanding of why it happens would be good for ELF materials to impart.

Moreover, anyone using English as a lingua-franca is likely to need intercultural competences rather than in-depth understanding of an English-speaking country. ELF materials should therefore encourage learners to reflect critically about culture and cultures, and be careful about reiterating stereotypes. Materials should take care not to present any culture as homogenous. Indeed, stereotypes about people from certain cultures could be used as a basis for discussions promoting intercultural competence. This should also help to raise awareness of discrimination against non-native speakers and help learners to engage with the issue critically.


Although there are of course other issues and debates surrounding the teaching of ELF that were not covered in Marek’s talk, these points that I’ve brought home with me are easy to implement in the teaching materials I make for my classes. My feeling is that, as I said above, making these small changes to my materials could be really helpful and enriching for some of my students, and I don’t see any disadvantages to making them. So I’ll be introducing a little bit of ELF in my EFL setting from now on, and I’m sure others could benefit from doing the same!


Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid? – A summary

I recently wrote a post for ELT Research Bites summarising a research article on ‘Is There a Core General Vocabulary? Introducing the New General Service List’, which introduced a new vocabulary list that, the authors propose, can inform vocabulary instruction in ELT. I thought undersdanding how such lists are put together would help teachers and writers make better decisions on how to use such vocabulary lists in their classrooms or materials. And so I was attracted to Julie Moore’s talk at IATEFL in Brighton, entitled “Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid?” to see if my thinking was in line with others who are more knowledgeable than me in such things! Let me tell you more about what Julie said… 

To start, we got a useful reminder of what vocabulary lists are: published, standrdised lists of words, phrases or chunks, based on a certain frequency criteria and usually intened for use with students. Examples Julie gave included the GSL, Oxford 3000, and the Phrasal Verbs List. Some lists are more specialised, e.g. the AWL, and others take a slightly different approach in that they try to group vocabualary items into levels at which language learners can be expected to learn them (e.g. English Vocabulary Profile, GSE). 

Why are vocabulary lists useful? 

Julie explained that the items on the lists are selected based on certain principles (which depend on the list) and can thus form a principled basis for devising vocabulary teaching syllabi. For those of us working with the language, she said, they can be a useful tool for confirming our inuitions about the frequency of words and, in ELT, their level appropriacy. They mean we don’t have to start from scratch every time we wish to compose a vocabulary teaching syllabus or material, for example using corpora or other souces to collate data about words’ frequency before we select items for inclusion. Also in this context, if different people are working on different parts of a material or syllabus, for example, using a vocbulary list to guide the language used and presented can help maintain consistency across the parts. 


Not understanding the concept of vocabulary lists or the selection criteria and data used to compile them can make using them frustrating or even downright misleading! There are some key issues that can make compiling such vocabulary lists, and then working with them, problematic. Julie mentioned a few, such as decisions on what items to count for frequency (words, lemmas, chunks, word families?) and which sense of a polyseme to use for selection or level-categorisation. In Julie’s words, the nature of the English language is “messy” and contains numerous obstacles for anyone attempting to represent it in as straightforward a form as a list! As teachers, we also know that the progression of language learning is messy, too: it’s a non-linear porocess, including learning words for active and/or receptive use, which will therefore be difficult to tame into a list! Especially regarding lists like the GSE or EVP as ‘levelling tools’, Julie reminded us (though who could forget?) about differences between learners, for example their main language, which will also affect how easy they find certain vocabulary items – and which these lists cannot possibly take into account! 


Julie’s call to arms echoes my own sentiments: Do not blindly believe everything a vocabulary list seems to show you! They can be very helpful, if the right list is used wisely and for the right purpose! Vocabulary lists are one tool of many at our disposal when we need to make decisions on what to include in our syllabi, teaching or materials, alongside things such as dictionaries and our knowledge of the target learners. And the different lists were composed through different selection methodologies, from different data, and with different aims, making them more appropriate for certain purposes than others. So whether you ultimately decide to snog, marry or avoid the next handsome vocabulary list you meet, take your time to get to know it first!