OK, so at this stage we all know which are the components of the Lingua Franca Core (You don’t! Which planet do you live on? Click here and read the first part of the article.). Just as important, we all now know what’s not in the LFC, and why it’s not there. (Not you again! Go and read last week’s post. And pay more attention to what I’m saying in the future.) But anyone who gives the LFC a minimum of thought comes up with all sorts of issues and objections. In this week’s post I want to look at four of these:
- the LFC is a lowering of standards and an acceptance of errors.
- the LFC is a reduced version of the native-speaker phonology of English.
- the LFC leaves teachers without a model.
- a lot of coursebook pronunciation work focuses on things that are outside the LFC.
The LFC is a lowering of standards
This is not true. Attaining competence in the features of the LFC is just as demanding and difficult as it is to achieve competence in those same features when they are part of a native-speaker accent. Done correctly, using the LFC to teach pronunciation for ELF sets high standards, and these apply to all those aspects of pronunciation that are essential for success in spoken communication in international contexts.
Setting standards is central to all learning processes, of course. However, an ELF approach to teaching pronunciation is based on the belief that it is important to set standards that are achievable. The power of this should not be underestimated. Achievable standards are a far more effective motivator than a standard that is unattainable, as is the case with a native-speaker accent for most learners.
Related to the concern over falling standards is the belief that ELF and the LFC make errors acceptable. Again, this is not true. What does change, however, is the definition of what constitutes an error and what is merely an acceptable variation. If a learner has chosen a NS accent as their goal, and pronounces the word ‘string’ as /eˈstrɪŋ/ and not /strɪŋ/, this is an error. However, if the learner’s goal is competence in ELF pronunciation, neither /eˈstrɪŋ/ nor /sɪˈtrɪŋ/ are errors, and /strɪŋ/ is also correct.
The key to what constitutes an error in ELF lies in the difference between ELF and EFL as goals. With EFL, what native speakers do is correct, and variation from the chosen NS accent is error. For pronunciation in ELF, however, an error is determined by the LFC. If a speaker pronounces the items in the LFC correctly, then his or her pronunciation is error free, even if the accent is markedly different from that of a native-speaker.
The LFC is a reduced version of the native-speaker phonology of English.
The LFC undoubtedly offers learners a lighter workload, but the suggestion that it is a reduced or simplified version of native-speaker English pronunciation is dangerously close to perceiving the LFC as less-than-complete or ‘deficient’.
The problem here is the confusion of ‘deficient’ and ‘different’. But as Madalena Cruz-Ferreira and Sunita Anna Abraham point out, when we try to describe a language or language variety:
saying that variety X ‘lacks’ a feature Y is in a sense meaningless … If you were describing humans, it would make little sense to say that human beings lack four legs. The human locomotive system consists of two legs. So, the implied comparison to locomotive systems comprising four legs (e.g. cheetahs, dogs, elephants) is irrelevant. The human locomotive system does not lack anything given its locomotive purposes.(Cruz-Ferreira and Abraham 2006: 39)
Cruz-Ferreira and Abraham’s analogy brings out an important point; ‘systems’ exist or are created to fulfil purposes. When we view the LFC in as a system with a specific purpose, we see that it does not ‘lack’ anything. By its very nature, then, the LFC is a complete, on-going system, and is the right one for international intelligibility in English.
The LFC leaves teachers without a model.
There is a quite natural fear that if the native-speaker accents are removed as models, teachers will be left with nothing to use to help their learners towards their desired goal. However, if we look at the situation a little more closely, we will see that these fears as to the impact of an ‘absent’ NS-model are ill-founded, and that three options are available:
- Existing native-speaker materials. The majority of features of NS pronunciation are also features of ELF pronunciation. Thus, while we wait for ELF-specific materials to come onto the market, we can still use existing materials based on native-speaker accents. The only precaution that we need to take is to avoid working on those NS features that have been identified as being potentially damaging to intelligibility in ELF contexts. (See vowel reduction and schwa at the end of the previous post.)
- Recordings of competent ELF users. The internet is an infinite source of audio and video material of NNS sports celebrities, film-stars, and leading business or political figures using English as a lingua franca. Invite your learners to find recordings of someone that they admire, and to use this person’s pronunciation as a model for their own. Although much more holistic than traditional approaches to pronunciation practice, the power of ‘modelling’ is not to be lightly dismissed.
- The teacher. Teachers who know from personal experience that their pronunciation is intelligible in ELF contexts, can confidently act as models for their learners. Furthermore, because the goal is competence in the features of the LFC rather than the perfection of those of a NS accent, NNS teachers are at least equal to NS teachers as models. Indeed, in some ways they may even be better because they have made the same journey that their learners are embarked upon, and often have ‘tricks’ that they can pass on.
A lot of coursebook pronunciation work focuses on things that are outside the LFC.
True. And? Come on, you’re a teacher, not a robot. You regularly make decisions about exercises in coursebooks that don’t seem relevant to the needs of a particular student or group of students. Do the same with pronunciation exercises. Do what matters to them.
Go quickly back to the table at the end of last week’s post. Green (on the left if your device isn’t showing the text in colour) is ‘all stations go’. Do all of the coursebook exercises that cover these features. Yellow (in the middle) doesn’t much matter for ELF, so if you have time and your students seem interested, you could do these exercises. But red, the R-hand column, is potentially damaging to international intelligibility. Don’t do exercises in these areas, at least not as exercises aimed at your students’ productive phonological competence. These are the features that can threaten international intelligibility. Don’t teach them.
Do yourself a favour. Some time this week, look at the pronunciation exercises in one of your current/favourite coursebooks. Use the traffic-light system to filter out all of the exercises that practice features of pronunciation that are damaging to ELF intelligibility. You’ll get a pleasant surprise when you see how much time you can free up by omitting these exercises from your teaching. And time is something we are all short of in ELT.
Cruz-Ferreira, M. & Abraham. S. A. (2006). The Language of Language: Concepts in Linguistic Analysis (2nd edn.). Singapore: Prentice Hall.