Inclusive English Teaching Practices and English as a Lingua Franca – Providing Another (Goal) Dimension

Carolin Zehne (Bielefeld University)

Abstract

The aim of this article is to link English as a lingua franca (ELF) to inclusive practices in English language teaching (ELT). It will be argued that the use of English as a lingua franca can provide another dimension to the language. This is particularly useful in the light of differentiation and individualization in open settings. 

Firstly, the term inclusion will be briefly outlined in the context of this article. In a next step, ELF will be conceptualized in a competence-based approach and then linked to inclusive teaching in ELT. This will be done by viewing ELF as a set of features, a mindset, and a communicative mode and set of strategies.  

Each point will be elaborated on and discussed in connection with inclusion in ELT. As an outlook, some insights into first practical ideas for the classroom will be presented, particularly concerning the Lernaufgaben-Planungs-(LAP-)Modell1 (Eßer, Gerlach, & Roters, 2018) and competence-based tasks (Hallet, 2012).

1. Inclusive Teaching Practices in English

Issues of heterogeneity have in fact always been present in classrooms. The ways in which they have been recognized and dealt with have changed over time in the school context in Germany (Bär, 2017, p. 10; Königs, 2017, p. 126). Apart from the more general discussion about inclusion in educational settings, which became particularly prominent with the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Article 24 in Germany (Bär, 2017, p. 10), stakeholders of individual subjects have started to engage with the topic. This entails investigating what inclusion and inclusive teaching practices mean for their specific subject contexts and developing practical measures for teachers to use for their classrooms (Katzenbach, 2017, p. 136). Growing awareness of the need for conceptually and practically dealing with inclusion in the context of ELT in Germany is also reflected in a growing number of publications (Königs, 2017, p. 127). 

Through learning a foreign language in general and English with its status as a world language in particular, students encounter concepts of otherness and diversity, which are also prominent themes in inclusion (Bär, 2017, p. 15). Learning English as a foreign language also fosters students’ cultural participation in various discourses, as they are able to access these discourses through the language they learn (Küchler & Roters, 2014, p. 235). Being able to take part in various discourses in and through a foreign language is also described as a main goal of foreign/English language teaching (Hallet, 2012). 

Essentially in an educational context, “inclusion is concerned with providing appropriate responses to the broad spectrum of learning needs in formal and non-formal educational settings” (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2005, p. 15). Viewing inclusion – in the context of ELT – as a “pedagogical approach that starts with the learning of everybody” (Black-Hawkins, 2017, p. 13), it becomes apparent that the needs and predispositions of every individual student have to be taken into account in order to ensure the best learning outcome for everyone. This does not only include those students with a diagnosed special educational need (SEN), but rather individual predispositions and learner characteristics (Klippel, 2017, p. 115). However, oftentimes this broad view on inclusion vanishes in practice to some extent where the focus is rather set on disabilities/special needs (Katzenbach, 2017, p. 124). 

Within a broad view of inclusion which does not exclusively focus on disability, the focus on individual needs and abilities entails differentiated learning goals for all – individual goals for individual learners (Amrhein & Bongartz, 2014; Bär, 2017) or “consistent individualization,” as Küchler and Roters (2014, p. 244) call it. This entails open (Bär, 2017, p. 14) and individualized approaches to learning, holistic learning, differentiated tasks and material, as well as various kinds of scaffolding (Klippel, 2017, pp. 117-118). It has to be stated that modern, communicatively oriented foreign language teaching already provides a solid basis for such individualized approaches (Küchler & Roters, 2014, p. 241; Schäfer & Springob, 2018, p. 164). For providing such an open learning setting in which the needs of every learner are addressed on the one hand and communication – an essential part of foreign language teaching – does not get lost on the other, Feuser’s (1998) Gemeinsamer Gegenstand2 or Hallet’s (2012) competence-based tasks are often mentioned as adequate models to be taken as a basis (Eßer, Gerlach, & Roters, 2018; Schäfer & Springob, 2018). 

Subject specific requirements have to be met and ways have to be found to make the subject accessible for students with different dispositions following principles of learner and competence orientation, as well as meaningful communication (Eßer et al., 2018, p. 10). Klippel (2017, pp. 117-118) remarks to remain realistic and keep high demands on the part of the teachers in mind, especially when it comes to pragmatic aspects , such as big classes, the need to work with a course book, hardly any team teaching, as well as  a lack of specially trained educators (Schäfer & Springob, 2018, pp. 163-164). It should thus become clear that inclusion also requires changes on the macro and meso level, including institutional conditions such as class size or teacher training (Küchler & Roters, 2014, p. 245). 

With a broad view on inclusion in the context of ELT, the overall goal of enabling students to take part in discourses in the foreign language – in English in this case – can mean various things for students when consistent individualization in open settings is applied. How English as a lingua franca (ELF) can contribute to this individualization will be described in the next section. 

2. Conceptualizing ELF for Inclusive Teaching Practices in ELT

With the ever-growing use of English on a global scale, the field of research into the use of English as a lingua franca (ELF) has grown over the past 20 years. With some similarities to the World Englishes paradigm, research in the field investigates the use of English in lingua franca settings, i.e. mainly – but not exclusively – between non-native speakers of the language. As the global use of English transcends boundaries, is not regionally restricted and thus becomes quite complex, uncertainty remains as to what the term ELF actually means and whether it can be conceptualized as “a language, a language system, a code, or a variety” (Mortensen, 2013, p. 27). This uncertainty often leads to misconceptions and critical voices (Baker & Jenkins, 2015). These misconceptions include that ELF denies diversity and researchers in the field try to impose a single variety of English or promote a simplified version of it (Galloway & Rose, 2015, p. 164). It is thus important to briefly clarify what is meant by ELF in the context of this paper. 

With much empirical research and theoretical progression in the field, commonly used definitions stress the use of English as a lingua franca, including its variable, flexible, context-dependent nature:3 

  • any use of English among speakers of different first languages for whom English is the communicative medium of choice and often the only option (Seidlhofer, 2011, p. 7)
  • the use of English in a lingua franca scenario (Mortensen, 2013, p. 42)
  • […] ELF is whatever it is in a situation where two (or more) speakers need to communicate through a lingua franca (Ranta, 2018, p. 246)

The basis of its inherent flexible nature can be best described through what Mauranen (2018, p. 10) calls second order language contact: 

[…] speakers who use ELF as their means of communication speak English that is a product of language contact between their other languages and English; a shared first language is the source of similect affinity, and English comes in as they have encountered it in their learning process. ELF, then, means contact between these hybrid, contact-based lects – that is, ELF is a higher-order, or second-order language contact. Therein lies its particular complexity. 

If ELF is viewed as second-order language contact, its underlying multicultural and multinormative characteristics (Mortensen, 2013, pp. 37-38) become apparent. The English of speakers taking part in a particular communicative situation is always influenced by other languages those speakers know. These individual versions of English in turn come into contact in ELF situations (see also Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Multilingual, multicultural, and multinormative characteristics of the use of English as a lingua franca resulting from second-order language contact (based on Mauranen, 2018).

ELF is thus not “just” another variety of English. It cannot be clearly identified as a code. ELF rather functions a communicative tool and mode which can be best described “as a series of more or less demanding communicative situations where speakers come with whatever their language skills to tackle the communicative tasks at hand” (Ranta, 2018, p. 247).

With growing awareness of the nature of ELF use due to empirical research, there have been calls to implement some of these findings into ELT (Jenkins, 2012; Kohn, 2015a). Seidlhofer (2001) introduces the idea of a conceptual gap

[w]hile pedagogic ideas about teaching and learning on the one hand and sociolinguistic ideas about the sovereignty and prestige of indigenized varieties of English on the other may have changed quite dramatically, […] assumptions about the ‘E’ in TEFL have remained curiously unaffected by these momentous developments. In TEFL, what constitutes a valid target is still determined with virtually exclusive reference to native-speaker norms (p. 135). 

The way English is conceptualized for ELT is not in line with the changes the use and role of English have undergone. Research into the use of English as a lingua franca provide an insight into the ways in which the language is used by people from various language backgrounds for their individual communication needs without necessarily sticking to standard or native speaker norms. However, standardized models of English still provide the basis for teaching, even if they might not be representative of the diversity of the language. 

The following remark by Bieswanger (2008) illustrates that exposing students to standardized language only does not adequately prepare them for the challenges they have to face outside the classroom, in real-life communication, with native and non-native speakers: 

The conversation failed because their interlocutors did not speak the type of standardized English they had themselves learned in secondary school, but used a variety they considered „strange“. […] The above reports indicate that many years of English foreign language education in secondary school had not prepared these speakers for the sociolinguistic reality in an increasingly globalized world and had failed to create any kind of awareness of the considerable regional variation in the use of English (pp. 28-29).

Even though the issue of a mismatch between what is taught in the classroom and what students need outside this rather protected environment is not new, the field contributes to this general discussion (Swan, 2012, p. 383). 

In relation to the ELT classroom and students’ lives, ELF can thus be viewed as a certain competence to use English in variable, context-dependent lingua franca situations which students should acquire given the realities of English use and communication they have to face outside of the classroom, in real-life. ELF in such a competence-based framework for educational purposes can be regarded as 

  • A set of features for international intelligibility 
  • A mindset 
  • A communicative mode and set of strategies 

Each aspect of this conceptualization and its links to inclusion will be further explained in the following subsections. 

2.1 ELF as a Set of Features 

Even though research in the field of ELF has moved away from establishing ELF as a fixed variety with characteristic features (Jenkins, 2015; Seidlhofer, 2009), it can nevertheless be useful to keep in mind certain features which appear to be crucial for international intelligibility outside the classroom, even though they might not be characteristic for ELF per se. The two most prominent examples describe certain features on the phonological and lexico-grammatical level. In her Lingua Franca Core (LFC), Jenkins (2000, 2008) describes some features of pronunciation which appear to be essential for international intelligibility – so called core features –, along with features which do not impede intelligibility, but might be regarded as essential in more traditional, standard approaches to pronunciation – so called non-core features. Some non-core features cover the following areas:

  • Individual consonant sounds 
  • Groups of consonants (clusters) 
  • Vowels 
  • Nuclear stress placement (Walker, 2010, p. 28)4 

On the lexico-grammatical level, Seidlhofer (2004, p. 220) provides a preliminary list of features which frequently occurred in the naturally occurring data in the Vienna Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE), a corpus of real-life ELF use: 

  • Dropping the third person present tense ’s’ 
  • Confusing the relative pronouns who and which
  • Omitting definite and indefinite articles where they are obligatory in English as a native language (ENL), and inserting them where they do not occur in ENL
  • Failing to use correct forms in tag questions (e.g., isn’t it? or no? instead of shouldn’t they?)
  • Inserting redundant prepositions, as in we have to study about…
  • Overusing certain verbs of high semantic generality, such as do, have, make, put, take
  • Replacing infinitive-constructions with that-clauses, as in I want that
  • Overdoing explicitness (e.g. black color rather than just black)

It has to be noted that these lists are not comprehensive, nor do they aim at replacing one model (Standard English) with another. However, they could raise awareness when it comes to “mistakes” or “errors” learners make when compared to the traditional normative reference model of Standard English in educational settings. Awareness of these features as an outcome of empirical research might provide teachers – as well as students – with a mindset that even if they might not be able to reach the expected Standard Language competence, e.g., when it comes to pronunciation, they are still intelligible at an international level, talking to other (non-) native speakers. This awareness is in turn connected to the second aspect of ELF conceptualized for (inclusive) ELT.

2.2 ELF as a Mindset

With more research devoted to how non-native speakers of English use language to generate meaning and communicate successfully, more emphasis is put on non-native speakers as users of the language in their own right, with their own unique abilities.5 As multicompetent users (Cook, 2006; 2007), they differ fundamentally from native speakers of English. Comparing them and their abilities exclusively to those of native speakers inevitably leads to a rather deficit-oriented view. Rather, attention should also be paid to how communicatively effective their language is (Seidlhofer, 2011, p. 195). This also takes into account the learners’ unique predispositions and (linguistic) resources. 

Heavily stressing individuality and emphasizing the active role of the learner, learning English becomes a matter of actively constructing what English entails for the students within Kohn’s (2011; 2015a) concept of a my English approach. Creating my English involves several aspects, such as 

  • creating one’s own declarative and procedural linguistic communicative knowledge (what is considered possible and appropriate) 
  • developing one’s individual profile of performance requirements
  • creating one’s own identity orientation (Kohn, 2015a)

Within a social constructivist framework, the construction of the students’ my English thus becomes a highly individual process which is influenced by numerous factors, such as aptitude, motivation, target norms and others, rather than being a purely normative or even behavioristic process in which native speaker/standard language target norms have to be approximated – the closer the better for the learner. 

This more resource-oriented approach to the learners’ individual abilities and resources is in line with a less deficit-oriented view in inclusive teaching practices and focuses on what learners can do within their individual possibilities. ELF as a mindset can thus support teachers and students in learning to value their own abilities more, even if a standardized version of English remains the model for the classroom. Like in inclusive approaches to ELT, the learners and their individually attainable learning outcomes become the central aspect in the classroom. Individualizing learning as a central aspect of inclusive teaching measures in ELT are strongly connected to the idea of constructing one’s own English within the range of what is possible and desirable for each individual student. For some students, this could also be connected to potential pronunciation or lexico-grammatical features listed above. ELF can thus contribute to a more positive and supportive atmosphere. This more general awareness of one’s own role as a non-native speaker of a language is connected to the last aspect of ELF in ELT.

2.3 ELF as a Communicative Mode and Set of Strategies

Viewing ELF as a communicative mode perhaps provides the most tangible aspect of a competence based model for the classroom. On the one hand, being competent in Standard English – especially in writing – certainly has its justification for ELT. On the other hand, a certain competence to use English in lingua franca settings as an addition to Standard English and as an aspect of the sociolinguistic reality of the use of English in today’s globalized world can be regarded as an important addition to ELT, particularly in connection with the construction of my English. Kohn (2015b) mentions ELF competences as a tangible framework for classroom practice (see Figure 2).6

Figure 2: Aspects of ELF competence described by Kohn (2015b).

Students should be made aware of the way English is used as a lingua franca and that the basis for successful communication in such settings might be different from the one in more standardized usage in the settings they are mainly exposed to in the classroom. This also includes greater awareness of the different ways in which English is used – by non-native speakers in lingua franca settings. Working on ELF comprehension skills, students are exposed to ELF in use, i.e. mainly unfamiliar pronunciation, unclear utterances, different sentence structures and others in a way that students develop processing strategies for this type of unfamiliar language-in-use. ELF-aware production skills in turn are more concerned with the students’ own language, especially outside the classroom in ELF settings. Considering the students’ own requirements for correctness and performance, they should be enabled to focus on their own linguistic resources to express themselves. Strategic communicative interaction might be viewed in the more general context of communicative competence. However, some communicative strategies might be particularly common in ELF communicative encounters (e.g. paraphrasing, self-repair and repetition, code switching, etc.). Regarding non-native speaker creativity, students should be given the space and possibility to actively and creatively use their linguistic resources to get meaning across. 

What becomes evident is that ELF should not be regarded as simply another variety which could replace Standard English or which could be seen as a simplified version of English for weaker students. The way English is conceptualized within ELF and how learners of English are viewed in their own right does, add to how English is conceptualized in a way that could be beneficial for inclusive teaching practices. Furthermore, a less deficit-oriented view with a focus on the individual learner is an essential element of inclusive teaching practices in English (Amrhein & Bongartz, 2014; Küchler & Roters, 2014). Using English in ELF settings is part of what Hallet (2012) calls fremdsprachliche Diskursfähigkeit7 as the main goal of ELT. Being able to actively participate in discourse does not only require competence in Standard English, but also competence in the use of English as a lingua franca.8 

ELF provides possibilities of differentiating more within open, learner-oriented settings. Research findings of naturally occurring ELF talk between non-native speakers (see 3.1) provide empirical evidence for a less deficit-oriented view when it comes to student abilities. Even though students’ spoken production might not conform to Standard English norms, they can make themselves understood. Closely connected to this is the more general idea of an ELF-aware mindset. ELF competences can be integrated as an additional element in the ELT classroom and provide more choices for students according to their individual propensity and abilities. 

For inclusive ELT, ELF as a set of features, a mindset, and a communicative mode provides more ways to differentiate and to meet the needs of every learner, e.g. giving students the chance to be exposed to non-native speaker accents if it is more relevant for them and their later lives (see Schulte & Schildhauer fc.) or practicing certain communication strategies. Being aware of ELF thus fosters several ends: 

  • Having an empirical basis and justification for the skills of weaker students when it comes to the potential minimal requirements for international intelligibility  
  • Opening up more challenging ways to being exposed to the language for more skilled students 
  • Providing a motivational factor in the sense that students can deepen their knowledge about the use of English in lingua franca contexts and the relevance of this mode of communication for their lives9

3. Discussion: The Role of ELF for Inclusive Teaching Practices in ELT on the Methodological Level

Elements of ELF competences can be implemented in open, task-oriented settings, such as competence-based tasks (Hallet, 2012) or the LAP model (Eßer et al., 2018) for planning inclusive English lessons. The competences can further be divided into: 

  • more input-oriented aspects (e.g. dealing with other non-native pronunciation or raising awareness of the role English plays as an international lingua franca)
  • communication strategies used in lingua franca encounters  

Within the framework of competence-based tasks, ELF and its associated competences can provide another element of choice, e.g., when it comes to input, topics, or scaffolding. The material provided for students could thus include input by non-native speakers or scaffolding which is based on features of ELF (see section 3.1). 

The same applies for the LAP model, in which ELF competences could be added in exercises (Übungen) or situational tasks (situative Aufgaben). Again, giving learners the opportunity to be exposed to input of other non-native speakers as a part of ELF comprehension skills could be one element. There is a lot of audio material available online which teachers can use as a source of input. Platforms like youtube.com, ted.com, myenglishvoice.com, or ello.org provide numerous chances to expose students to non-native speakers. Even though communication strategies might be hard to practice in the classroom to some extent, students could still practice skills like paraphrasing (e.g., having to explain certain specialized words for a presentation, taboo warm-up game, see Figure 3), code-switching, other-initiated repair, or self-repair, particularly when communicating with weaker students. 

Figure 3. Example of a taboo card for the warm-up game to practice paraphrasing.

Apart from implementing communication strategies in the classroom, communicating with other non-native speakers could be facilitated using apps or social media, e.g., through joining or creating an eTwinning project10 or joining epals11.

4. Conclusion 

English conceptualized as a lingua franca – a set of features, a mindset, as well as a communicative mode and set of strategies – provides a way to differentiate what successful communication and fremdsprachliche Diskursfähigkeit12 mean. It thus contributes to individualization and individual learning goals as a central aspect of inclusive teaching practices in ELT. Based on a broad understanding of inclusion, it can serve as a valuable addition for weaker and stronger students. This also includes motives for learning English. 

Similar to other inclusive teaching practices in ELT, practical ideas for teachers are much needed. To illustrate what implementing ELF into ELT practice could look like, the author of this article is currently working on a project which aims at developing best practice examples and material in close collaboration with teachers and students. For this, interviews with students and teachers are being conducted, and curricula as well as material in use are analyzed to explore institutional framework conditions in a multi-perspective view within a research design based on a constructivist Grounded Theory approach (Charmaz, 2014). Results of this framework analysis will then be taken into account while developing practical measures on the lesson level. 

Endnotes

1.  Learning task planning model 

2.  shared theme

3.  In contrast, earlier definitions of ELF stress its nature as a bounded, additionally acquired language system which often excludes native speakers in ELF settings: 

4.  For a detailed description of the LFC see e.g. Walker (2010). 

5.  This is not restricted to research in the field of ELF, see also e.g. Butzkamm and Caldwell (2009), Cook (1999, 2001, 2006).

6.  It has to be noted that these competences are mainly concerned with speaking and listening skills rather than writing due to framework conditions set by the respective curricula.

7.  Being able to take part in discourses that involve the foreign language. 

8.  The use of English as a lingua franca and its role in our globalized world is also mentioned in the curricula e.g. for North-Rhine Westphalia (e.g. Ministerium für Schule und Weiterbildung des Landes NRW (2004, 2014, 2019)). 

9.  Students display a clear awareness of the role English plays outside the classroom. Many students have experienced lingua franca situations in real-life which they perceived as different from using English in the classroom. The way they use English as a lingua franca outside the classroom evokes feelings of pride and confidence (Zehne, in press).  

10.  https://www.etwinning.net/en/pub/projects.htm

11.  http://www.epals.com/.

12.  Being able to take part in discourses that involve the foreign language.

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