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The impact of Jenkins’ lingua franca core on the teaching of pronunciation on CELTA and DELTA courses by Eleanor Spicer

Introduction

It is generally acknowledged that English occupies the role of lingua franca in a globalised world and the goal of language learners is more often nowadays to be able to use English in communication with other ‘non-native’ speakers (NNSs) as an international language than as a foreign language in communication with its ‘native speakers’ (NSs).    

In order to safeguard mutual intelligibility in such situations there is general agreement that a degree of native speaker accent is desirable, but that this should be regarded not as the ‘norm’ (a term which has strong connections to notions of correctness), but as a point of reference, a ‘model’ for guidance and approximation.

Lingua franca core

In her proposal for a lingua franca core (LFC) Jennifer Jenkins (2000) seeks to redefine and re-classify pronunciation error, and in so doing to embrace the sociolinguistic facts of regional variation.  The proposal recognizes the rights of non-native speakers to their own legitimate regional accents rather than regarding deviation from NS pronunciation norms as ‘error’.

I recently conducted a survey amongst a sizeable group of 42 teacher trainers and educators worldwide to investigate the extent to which knowledge and awareness of the current discussion of English as an International Language (EIL) and Jenkins’ proposal for the LFC has impacted on the teaching of pronunciation on Cambridge CELTA and DELTA courses.  The motivation for my investigation was advanced by my impression that English language professionals typically are inclined to assume that the most appropriate model for pronunciation comes from its native speakers and that a standard native speaker English accent (British or American) is the most desirable.  I limited the scope of my enquiry to an investigation among the teacher training sorority as members of this group are likely to influence the teachers they educate who, in their turn, have the role of influencing teaching and learning.

Participants were invited to engage with elements of Jenkins’ proposal for a lingua franca core, by selecting from a 16 item inventory those features which they thought would be likely to present an obstacle to mutual intelligibility for NNS< >NNS communication and those which would present no obstacle.  The following inventory accounts for the full range of  features assigned to the ELF pronunciation core and all those designated  non-core,  apart from stress timed rhythm (a non-core feature), which I chose to omit because of the practical difficulties involved in transcribing examples.

The core features:

 

The non-core features:

 

Additional questions were asked aiming at uncovering associated attitudes, beliefs, and values.  I asked trainers whether they:

 

Findings

The findings revealed that familiarity with the LFC was limited and its impact on pronunciation teaching negligible, and although participants were reliably aware of the phenomenon known as EIL the topic received low status and low priority on both CELTA and DELTA courses.  There were also sufficient positive signs of interest in the discussion to suppose that further engagement with the issues pertaining to EIL and the LFC proposal will stimulate critical thinking amongst trainers about our own settled beliefs and assumptions in respect of pronunciation teaching.

If we are to equip teachers and prospective teachers with the awareness and practical preparation needed to reconcile the needs of learners who wish to use English in international settings, a key role of CELTA and DELTA trainers will be to raise awareness of the existence of ELF by providing opportunities to engage with its principles and terms i.e. ‘variety’ (in an international context), ‘intelligibility’ (in the context of EIL settings), ‘standard English’ (interpreted in respect of pronunciation),  ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ speaker definitions ; and the distinctions between ‘model’ and ‘norm’. 

The LFC and teacher training courses

To provide some practical preparation, I propose adopting an ELF approach to pronunciation on training courses by presenting the LFC and its rationale, spotlighting the phonological features central to intelligibility and the non-LFC items with the reasons underlying their non-core status. 

Not that the LFC should be promoted as a model for students to imitate.  Before that could happen there would need to be ‘comprehensive, reliable descriptions of the ways in which proficient users speak amongst themselves as the basis for codification’ (Jenkins 2007: 238).  That said, ‘the fact that it is not yet possible to teach ELF does not mean, however, that there should not be a change in mindset in the meantime’ (ibid.).

This change in mindset is already evident in journals and newsletters such as World Englishes, ELTJ, and Speak Out![1], in which ELF features increasingly as the subject of many articles which can be exploited for training purposes. In Chapter 4 of his recent pronunciation handbook, Robin Walker describes a familiar range of techniques and materials for teaching ELF pronunciation, including

 

minimal pairs:

e.g. Student A: Can I make you are coffee ?     Student B: Yes, black with 2 sugars please

                         Can I make you a copy ?                             Yes, please – I’ll read it later.

(Walker 2010: 77)

drills:

e.g.  This is my very best berry vest                              (this one, a tongue twister !)

(Hancock 2006: 20)

dictation, and communicative activities (Walker 2010).  ‘Teaching pronunciation for ELF is primarily about re-thinking goals and redefining error as opposed to modifying classroom practice’ (Walker 2010: 71), and for those of us who regularly teach pronunciation, these well-known practical ideas demand nothing short of a ‘tweak’.

As the acquisition of English is often driven by the desire to pass an examination, and as teacher trainers are professionally bound to prepare teachers to acknowledge and attend to this fact, the proposed change in mindset, and the kind of ‘tweaking’ suggested above , would be welcome in respect of examining boards as well.  

It seems a pity in the light of the above, that the current policy (in respect of English language examinations such as IELTS[2] and other Cambridge Main Suite speaking tests) is still to assume an NS interlocutor, and to insist that candidates demonstrate the ability to use NS pronunciation features, and to evaluate their success according to native speaker norms, as evidenced in this quote from an article for Teaching English[3] about the evaluation of pronunciation features in the IELTS speaking test:

“…individual sounds, stressed and weak sounds in words and speech, rhythm and intonation patterns are easy to elicit and identify. We can then measure them against a standard based on whether we can understand them or not, or perhaps more accurately, whether a typical listener could”.  (italics added)

Paul Kaye (2008)

On an encouraging note, one respondent in my study wrote:

“As a Cambridge oral examiner and trainer I have always been dismayed [… ] by the

amount of value attached (in the evaluation criteria) to native-speaker-like production of certain sound values eg voiced/voiceless ‘th‘. Not only do context and co-text disambiguate the majority of ‘problematic’ pronunciations but the crucial issue of functional load[4]  is rarely addressed.”   (email communication)

I am hopeful, given some of the positive signs of interest displayed in my findings, that teacher trainers will engage further with the issues. Whatever the impact now or in the future, I think the discussion is a major contribution to the profession by challenging us to ‘think again about our own settled beliefs and assumptions’ (Widdowson 2003:180). The value lies not so much in the solutions that such a proposal provides, but in the problems and questions it raises, and continued engagement in the discussion can only stimulate critical thinking about the validity and relevance of our practices as teachers and teacher trainers.


[1]Speak Out!’ is the newsletter of the IATEFL Pronunciation SIG (Special Interest Group)

[2] International English Language Testing System

[3] ‘Teaching English’ is produced by the British Council.  It receives funding from the UK government for its work in promoting English, supporting English language teaching, and providing information and access to ELT products, services, and expertise from the UK.

[4] The voicing difference between the two fricatives written th, [θ, ð], has a very low functional load. It is difficult to find meaningful distinctions dependent solely on this difference.

Bibliography

Jenkins, J. 2000. The Phonology of English as an International Language.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walker, R. 2011. Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press 

Widdowson, H.G. 2003.  Defining Issues in English Language Teaching. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.              

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