English as a lingua franca
What is English as a lingua franca?
English as a lingua franca (ELF) refers to the use of English as a common means of communication among people with different mother tongues. For instance, a Danish tourist in Athens asking a Greek passer-by for directions; a French teacher discussing with a Spanish colleague during an international conference in Oslo; a group of Italian students chatting with Portuguese and Turkish students via Skype about their eTwinning programme; German, Chinese and Hungarian co-players sending each other online messages about their team’s future strategy in the game: they all communicate in English as a lingua franca.
Why is using English as a lingua franca important?
Nowadays, English is the most widely employed language in Europe and beyond and, very frequently, the only option for people who do not share their mother tongue or have another language in common. Using it is important not only for personal communication in various social domains, including the Internet, but also, for professional reasons. It is a ‘shared’ language, in other words, that opens doors for better social and professional opportunities.
Do we need to integrate this role of English in our classrooms?
Research shows that, while communicating in English as a lingua franca, people tend to employ a range of strategies and practices to ensure that they arrive at a common understanding. There is evidence, however, that these are not sufficiently incorporated in current teaching and learning practices, which prevents learners from achieving their potential as efficient users of English. Integrating the role of English as a lingua franca in the English classroom is essential, especially in multilingual environments.
European Commission. (2015). Languages and employability. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
European Parliament. (2016). European Strategy on Multilingualism – Policy and implementation at the EU level. Brussels: European Parliament.