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Article Review: Addressing the issue of teaching English as a lingua franca by I-

Chun (Vicky) Kuo


I-Chun (Vicky) Kuo, author of this article graduated from National Taiwan
Normal University and was a secondary school teacher. She completed her Master
Degree at Canterbury Christ Church University College, UK, in 2000 and was pursuing
her PHD research when this article was published in 2006. This article appeared in ELT
Journal Volume 60/3 published by Oxford University Press.
This paper will summarize, offers critiques, comments based on Malaysian
perspective and current theory, and highlighting the strengths and weaknesses pertaining
to the problems and issues mentioned in this article.

Article Summary

This article explore the case for a description of English as a Lingua Franca and
its teaching implications.There are two frameworks underpinning the case for a
description for English as a lingua franca, that is the conceptual and the operational.
In the discussion of the Conceptual framework of English as a lingua franca,
one of the main ideas is the irrelevance of native speakers, their Englishes and their
ownership of English. English is used by more non-native speakers than native speaker
themselves nowadays. The non –native speakers also need the language in order to
communicate with other non-native speakers. Thus, as long as English is learned as an
international language, the method should not come from inner circle country (UK, USA)
and should not be taught as an inner circle language.
The next idea is that native speakers are no longer important or relevant in the
global spread of English. L2 learners thus, are now entitled with the ‘privileges’ that are
reserved exclusively for native speakers, such as a claim to ownership, a right to to use
English without others passing judgements ,and also the equal right to shape the future of
English.(Melchers and Shaw,2003).
For Operational framework, second language pedagogy should no longer prepare
learners to achieve intelligibility for native –speaker receivers (Jenkins,2002) or aim to
develop the kind of communication competence based on description of a native-speaker
model. A better way to prepare learners for international communication would be to
provide a description, within the field of phonology and morphosyntax of what learners
used in order to sustain mutual comprehension.
Since both are on equal footing, ENL (English as a native language) should not
and cannot pass judgement on ELF ( English as a lingua franca) on the incorrect and
ungrammatical usage. ENL and ELF are both varieties of English deriving from different
users using English in different context, hence assert the same authority and authencity.
The first issue highlighted by the author is the problem of an intelligibility-driven
language model. ELF focuses more on comprehension and content rather than linguistic
elements such as grammar and phonology. As the consequences, the intelligibility of the
language become a question and hampers communication, thus contradict and
misinterpret the nature of language learning and second language acquisition.
English as spoken by ELF speakers is seen as downgrading as the ‘ungrammatical
but unproblematic’ utterances seem be common and acceptable. The writer mentions two
types of reduced version of English as a Native Language(ENL) mainly in terms of
qualitative and quantitative which would influence the teaching of English. This is
because the lack of teaching certain features that is important in grammar class, for
example, would lead the speakers to have ‘reduced ENL’ repertoire. This results in the
problem of ‘ungrammatical but unproblematic’ utterances as mentioned earlier.
This frequent occurrence of ‘ungrammatical but unproblematic’ utterances ,
viewed in qualitative analysis, looks at speaker’s intention such as ‘to fulfill interpersonal
functions of politeness and contextual appropriateness’. In view of quantitative analysis,
it looks at speaker’s ‘imperfect command of the target language’, which leads to the
frequent incorrect phonological or grammar features.
The issue of teaching English as a Lingua Franca is loosely related to the writer’s
ongoing PHD research. The writer did a research on several participants to collect data on
the learner voice in order to complete her paper.
The writer’s research was conducted in a British EFL setting. The age of the
participants is between 21 and 25. The data collected from 16 February 2004 to 26 March
2004. The writer did the research to investigate how learners from different L1
background interact with each other and how they perceive the effectiveness of the
Based on the writer’s research, nearly all participants countered the difficulties in
understanding each other at first meeting. It is caused by a combination of strong accent,
inaccurate pronunciation, and incorrect use of vocabulary and grammar.
The writer highlighted several responses from selected participants which were only two
to be sure of. The first participant commented on the aspect of pronunciation and the
second participant commented on the aspect of grammar. One of the participants replied
that he did not care for the mistakes made by his peers be it the pronunciation or grammar
as long as he could understand the message and the ideas are exchanged. Some
participants showed various degree of anxiety especially towards their IELTS test and
even asked the writer to help them with their mistakes.
The writer noted that the participants could tolerate with degree of phonological
and grammatical inaccuracy in real world communication. The writer also pointed that
the participants were aware of their own and their friends’ linguistic limitations but they
tried to push themselves to talk like native speakers. The writer indicated that what is
largely neglected in current ELF research is L2 learners’ perceptions of their own and
other people’s use of English.
In conclusion, L2 learners should be allowed, if not encouraged to follow a native
speaker phonological and model. A native speaker model serves as a complete and
convenience starting point for them.
Malaysian Perspective

English is fast becoming an important language in Malaysia. All Malaysian

students in school learn English as the language become an important tool to acquire
knowledge and for specific purposes. The command in the language becomes an asset to
enter the competitive working market. The use of English becomes wide as more and
more people interact in English. The languages immerse in the society and the blend of
English in the Malaysian culture creates the other variety of English that blend with
Malaysian styles. This is the same result mentioned by the author of the article, which
stated that the concept of World Englishes has become increasingly popular, since
linguistic diversity is inevitable and variation in the aspect of phonology and
morphosyntax has already been seen among the outer-circle varieties.
Some Malaysians feel that they need not be fluent but to know English helps.
Woo Thim Weng (Opinions Column, The Star, Monday, October 15.) feels that it is not
necessary to have excellent command of English language as the native speakers. He also
stated that there is no need to speak the queen’s English to communicate effectively with
his counterparts in any part of the world. This scenario reflects the development of
English as Lingua Franca (ELF) in Malaysia.
On the other side, some politician in Malaysia, captains of industry and general
public have commented on the standards of spoken amongst university graduates. This is
the consequences of the emerging of Malaysian varieties of English. Therefore, the
ministry of education chooses to use the native models based n the British model in
English language teaching. This is the equivalent to the author’s description of an
appropriate second language pedagogy contradict to the ELF model.
As Malaysia chooses to use the British model, the effectiveness is still
questionable as the students are exposed more to the American model of English through
their major source of English which is the media. (Hannah Pillay 2004). This
circumstance triggers confusion to the students. They also are not communicate directly
to the native speakers and use the language within themselves, thus bringing them to the
familiarity of using the other variety of English which is the Malaysian way of English.
Current Theory
In recent years, the term ‘English as a lingua franca’ (ELF) has emerged as a way
of referring to communication in English between speakers with different first languages.
Since roughly only one out of every four users of English in the world is a native speaker
of the language (Crystal 2003), most ELF interactions take place among ‘non-native’
speakers of English. Although this does not preclude the participation of English native
speakers in ELF interaction, what is distinctive about ELF is that, in most cases, it is ‘a
‘contact language’ between persons who share neither a common native tongue nor a
common (national) culture, and for whom English is the chosen foreign language of
communication’ (Firth 1996:240). Defined in this way, ELF is part of the more general
phenomenon of ‘English as an international language’ (EIL) or ‘World Englishes’. EIL,
along with ‘English as a global language’ (e.g. Crystal 2003; Gnutzmann 1999), ‘English
as a world language’ (e.g. Mair 2003) and ‘World English’ (Brutt-Griffler 2002) have for
some time been used as general cover terms for uses of English spanning Inner Circle,
Outer Circle, and Expanding Circle contexts (Kachru 1992). The traditional meaning of
EIL thus comprises uses of English within and across Kachru’s ‘Circles’, for intra
national as well as international communication. However, when English is chosen as the
means of communication among people from different first language backgrounds, across
lingua cultural boundaries, the preferred term is ‘English as a lingua franca’ (House 1999;
Seidlhofer 2001), although the terms ‘English as a medium of intercultural
communication’ (Meierkord 1996), and, in this more specific and more recent meaning,
‘English as an international language ’ (Jenkins 2000), are also used. Despite being
welcomed by some and deplored by others, it cannot be denied that English functions as a
global lingua franca. However, what has so far tended to be denied is that, as a
consequence of its international use, English is being shaped at least as much by its
nonnative speakers as by its native speakers. This has led to a somewhat paradoxical
situation: on the one hand, for the majority of its users, English is a foreign language, and
the vast majority of verbal exchanges in English do not involve any native speakers of the
language at all. On the other hand, there is still a tendency for native speakers to be
regarded as custodians over what is acceptable usage. Thus, in order for the concept of
ELF to gain acceptance alongside English as native language, there have been calls for
the systematic study of the nature of ELF what it looks and sounds like and how people
actually use it and make it work and a consideration of the implications for the teaching
and learning of the language.

The author also, mentioned about the overlook of L2 learners’s perception of their
own use of English by some ELF researcher. The perception of their use of English is
important in language acquisition as the L2 learners always monitor their production of
the target language. According to Krashen, the acquisition system is the utterance
initiator, while the learning system performs the role of the 'monitor' or the 'editor'. The
'monitor' acts in a planning, editing and correcting function when three specific
conditions are met: that is, the second language learner has sufficient time at his/her
disposal, he/she focuses on form or thinks about correctness, and he/she knows the rule.
The L2 learners who use the language inside the outer circle of English will have
different models of English according to the varieties in their environment to monitor
their language, thus affecting the way they acquire the language. This situation happened
in Malaysia as described in the above section of this paper.

The author clearly defines the conceptual and operational framework
underpinning the case for description of English as Lingua Franca. The differences
between ELF and Second Language Acquisition explanation by the author help teachers
and learners to understand the reasons behind the suggestion of native model as the
starting point for the L2 learners and teachers.
The writer also insists that using the framework will show that both ENL
( English as a native language ) and ELF ( English as a lingua franca) are both varieties of
English that derives from different users using English in different contexts and as such,
assert the same authority and authenticity in their own contexts. This is true as ELF,
English belongs to everyone and the highlight is the communicative practices designed to
make it more comprehensible to speakers of all varieties
The native model suggested by the author in teaching L2 learners may has some
negative implications. The English users in the outer circle are not using the native model
to interact in English. As in the ELF context, it seems not appropriate as they rarely
communicate with the native speakers. It is also difficult for the teachers and learners of
L2 to decide which native models to follow. In addition, the L2 learners will be
unmotivated as full competence not normally achievable.
The interview done by the author to investigate how L2 learners from different L1
background interact with each other in the target language do not address the true issue of
ELF as the research is conducted in British EFL setting. All respondents were living in
the native speakers’ environment and they were interacting directly with the native
speakers that help them to adjust to the native model. Furthermore, all the respondents are
students in educational context. The interview should be done in the outer circle
environment where the development of ELF is taking place. Then, the respondents must
be from various fields where the English is use as ELF such as in working place and
business environment. Therefore, the investigation on how they communicate using ELF
will be clearer.
The writer’s objective is to show the validity of computerized corpus data in
addressing the issue of teaching ELF. This is stated in the introduction paragraph where
she mentioned that “the future of ELF seems to rely on the development of computerized
corpus data for empirical analyses”. However, until the end of the subtopic article, there
is no elaboration of this computerized corpus data, what kind of computerization system
used or is it actually referring to the computerized corpus data in the human’s head. In
addition, there is no specific data used for this said empirical analyses. The writer only
repeated a few sentences for a few times but did not mention if the sentences are the
meant data.
The author’s suggestion of native model must come with the criteria on which
native model that L2 learners need to follow. A few native models are widely used by the
native speakers and the decision on which model to follow must be explained with the
selection criteria so that the language become intelligible among the speakers.
Other than native model, the author can improve the intelligible issue by
highlighting the socio cultural effects of the L2 learners and users to the use of ELF. The
understanding of culture is significantly important to the intelligibility of the language.
The socio cultural model needs to be considered by the author in defining the starting
point for the L2 learners to learn the language.
This article is needed and in a way important to us. However, some missing input
should be recommended in the research. Take Jenkin’s research as an example. She
included the nationality of the participants of the research she conducted and they are
varied. It can show the differences in the data and even the collection of data will be
reliable. We can see more diversity and how people from other race and cultural
background give implication on ELF. As Jenkin (2008) elucidated in her research, several
nationality of participants are in concern. She interviewed Italian participant, Polish
participant, Chinese participant, Japanese participant and Taiwanese participant. It is
clear that she narrow it down to some nationalities that have diversity in cultural
background as well as social background.

1. I-Chun (Vicky) Kuo (2006). Addressing The Issue of Teaching English As A

Lingua Franca. ELT Journal Volume 60/3 July 2006. Oxford University Press.
2. Crystal, D. 2003. English as a Global Language (Second edition). Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press

3. Brutt-Griffler, J. 2002. World English. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

4. Seidlhofer, B. 2001. ‘Closing a conceptual gap: the case for a description of

English as a lingua franca’. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 11:

5. Kachru, B. (ed.). 1992. The Other Tongue (Second edition). Urbana and
Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

6. Jenkins, J. 2000. The Phonology of English as an International Language.

Oxford: Oxford University Press.