Research Bites: ELF and EAP

Björkman, B. (2011). English as a lingua franca in higher education: Implications for EAP. Ibérica: Revista de la Asociación Europea de Lenguas para Fines Específicos (AELFE), (22), 79-100. [link]

Björkman describes three contexts for EAP and each context’s English requirements:

  1. international students studying at universities in English-speaking countries
    • requires both productive (speaking and writing) and receptive (listening and reading) skills
  2. students studying in local universities through English-mediated instruction
    • requires mostly receptive (reading and listening) skills
  3. speakers from different backgrounds using English as spoken medium
    • requires both productive and receptive skills, primarily speaking

Björkman identifies several problems in EAP and ELF (ELFA). One problem is the instructional and assessment emphasis on academic writing despite speaking ability to be in higher demand in ELF settings. Another problem is a focus on target native-speaker usage of English. ELF research has shown that native-like proficiency is not required to be communicatively competent. Except for question word order and question intonation, nonstandard uses of subject-verb agreement, third person -s, plural -s, articles, and other morphosyntactic features do not cause breakdowns in communication. Björkman importantly states that “communicative effectiveness takes precedence over accuracy, fluency and language complexity…[and] effectiveness of a speaker of English…is determined primarily by the speaker’s pragmatic ability and
less by his/her proficiency.” (p. 85). Higher linguistic accuracy does not equate to higher pragmatic competence. Therefore, to strive for native-speaker target usage does not represent the realities of ELF.

Several implications stem from the juxtaposition of ELF in EAP. First, Björkman argues that new standards for English need to be set not on written English but on spoken communication, which requires . These should be based on analyses of spoken corpora of not just native English speakers (such as the MICASE corpus) but a mix of language speakers in ELF settings. Shifting standards also implies a shift in what is considered and taught as “good English” rather than “correct English”. She cites Greenbaum (1996) who says that “Correct English is conformity to the norms of the standard language. good English is good use of the resources available in the language.” While accuracy is no doubt important, the effective use of resources to communicate effectively should be emphasized in instruction.

Besides shifting standards of English, what Björkman considers a theoretical implication, she also lists a number of important practical implications. The first practical implication is to as clearly as possible identify the needs and expectations of the learners in order to better address what type of English they will need. A second implication is that teachers should prioritize comprehensibility. This includes:

  • exposure to a range of different Englishes and English accents
  • reduction of idiom usage
  • teaching of accommodation strategies
  • teaching of pragmatic strategies
  • teaching of structures that increase explicitness of meaning
  • teaching of question word order and proper question construction

(See Ollinger (2012) for a meta-analysis of strategies with explanations and examples.)

A final implication is a shift of focus on testing spoken production. This includes focusing on effective use of the language, not only correct use of the language. This means not penalizing students for mistakes that do not hinder comprehension (such as not using -s for plural or third person) as well as not penalizing explicitness or repetition. Spoken tests should not be monologic in nature. Assessing dialogic tasks (e.g. between two students) allows assessment of more authentic production as opposed to prepared speeches or presentations which are far less common. Finally, native-like accents, while they can be a student’s personal goal, should not be a criteria for assessment.