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!