Wednesday, 6 July 2011

... did you know? English as a Lingua Franca

I’m attending a Comenius in-service training course organized in Cheltenham (UK) by International Study Programmes, dealing with CLIL in Humanities (History, Geography, Economic studies, Music, PE…). The course is great – unfortunately, the weather is not as great… and coming from sunny Italy it has been quite a shock!

Our first lesson with Dr Diana Hicks, our CLIL expert, opened lots of new “doors” in my mind: and one of these led to a new awareness regarding my English.

Ok, I’m definitely not an English teacher, and I’m definitely not speaking – nor writing – perfect British English. But I’m using English as a Lingua Franca (ELF).“It is often observed that English has become a global language, and the majority of its non-native speakers (NNSs) use it as a lingua franca among themselves rather than as a “foreign” language to communicate with its native speakers (NSs).” (J.Jenkins, “English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity”, Oxford Univ Press).
And what about these NNS? Well, they (we) are quite a lot. The proportion between NSs and NNSs is at the moment an estimated 1:4 (1 native to 4 non-natives).

What does it mean to us non-English teachers? Well, that means a lot to me as far as CLIL is concerned. It means stop obsessing over perfect English. It means relax, concentrate on planning a good balanced lesson and have the students speak. Choose sometimes fluency (as Dr Diana Hicks said, “let it out”) instead of accuracy (“get it right”). Accuracy cannot be forgotten, of course, but a CLIL lesson has to do with comprehension first.

And this leads to another distinction which was completely new to me: that between BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). This controversial distinction (Jim Cummins), which may not be new to the Language Teachers, was very useful to me. It helped me thinking in terms of languageS and grammarS instead than seeing Language as a sort of monolith. Which means, put the correct language in the correct context.
And that’s extremely interesting in speaking – and teaching – my own language as well…

Ok, if you have any further knowledge about these subjects, any useful reading to suggest, or any idea of your own, they’ll be more then welcome.

Meanwhile, my CLIL pathways goes on…

[reflection in progress]


  1. Dear Laura,
    This post has reminded me of a Tesol conference held in Rome some years ago. It was about the "Englishes" You can imagine the sense of freedom I experienced when important experts from all over the world claimed that when teaching English emphasis should be put on communication rather than on accuracy. Accuracy actually may come as a result, but it doesn't have to be the main goal.
    As for Bics and Calp, this year I officially introduced this distinction in my school year plan. I used this link:
    Please, go on with you reflections, it's a way of sharing your Cheltenham experience.

  2. Thank you Mariella,
    for the link, for being here even if you're on holiday, and for sharing your thoughts.
    That's why I believe it is so important for language teachers to keep up to date - it's important for all of us teachers, but for language teachers it's even more so. Your subject is not something dead and still, but changing and developing.
    For the moment, I'm just collecting info and ideas - and writing them here as a record - but I'll need time to think about all of this, and how I could possibly use these new info to perform better in my job.
    We'll see.
    Anyway, as I'm writing to you now I'm just considering how lucky we are: we love our job, we enjoy it despite difficulties, and that's more than lots of people can even dream of!
    Thanks again

  3. Hi Laura
    Very good to read your reflections(have read both your posts). 'Let it out' versus 'Get it right' is a good distinction and useful at that. \because if you learn to let it out, you will eventually get it right, perhaps never immaculately, but who is flawless. As a young teacher I was constantly under stress to 'get it right' and passed this on to my students. This was part of my culture then, I guess it still is but I have met people, read books and seen things through the lingua franca I earn my living with , and I have come to know how 'form' matters little unless you have something meaingful to say. So I agree with your insights/reflections on the way for subject teachers to go when it comes to teaching their subject in English.

    As you know, I am an English teacher, have always been, BUT over the last few years I have been teaching standardized course too. One such course is TOEFL, and its format has made me reflect on the usefulness of introducing meaningful 'content' to my general English course I teach. I don't know how much you know about these exams but they incorporate extracts from all areas of the academic field, sciences and humanities alike. As a result of this teaching experience I have somehow enriched my expertise in many fields, and have begun to value content-based instruction in English as a rich source of ideas for many aspects in my work, the essay being a case in point.
    Do you know Keith Kelly, he is the expert on CLIL in my country but also internationally renowned. He's been very active so if you are interested in what he does, let me know.Meanwhile, enjoy the UK and keep posting when you feel like!

  4. Hi Tanja, thanks for giving us the language teacher's perspective as well. Even if I believe you and Mariella can't exactly be considered the "traditional" language teacher (which is great!).
    I think lots of language teachers are obsessed with perfection, passing this obsession on to their students. Mother tongue or foreign language - that's just the same. We are the teachers, we are supposed to be perfect and ask for perfection. Or are we wrong?
    Maybe, flexibility is the key.
    As for the TOEFL exam, I was planning to take it after university, since I had this idea of studying in the States. Then I met Stef, fell in love, chose London instead... and eventually came back and lived happily ever after :) Ops, that's another story.
    Anyway, I do remember something of the exam: and we were supposed to speak/write about a specific subject. So I agree with you, language teachers should "add content" to their lessons. And of course, this content should be connected to the pupils, their age, their experience, their needs. After all, how can a student be supposed to speak if he doesn't know anything/is not interested in a subject?
    I know Keith Kelly only by name. Once we were given the link to this video
    if you have any other reference, it will be more than welcome!
    Thank you