Saturday, November 26, 2011

VOICE Project and Teaching English as a Lingua Franca

This week I've been working on writing a research paper for course requirement in my graduate program. The topic I chose to research was pronunciation instruction of English as an International Language (EIL) or English as a Lingua Franca (ELF).

One of the important research agendas of ELF scholars is to provide a description of ELF usage. Jennifer Jenkins efforts to create a English as a Lingua Franca Core (ELFC) for pronunciation instruction is one such example. As a result of her research, Jenkins' ELFC focuses more on the teaching of segmentals (consonants and vowels) while downplaying the teaching of suprasegmental features.

Barbara Seidlhofer has also carried out descriptive research efforts to capture ELF through spoken interactions between NNSs of varying backgrounds through a corpus project in Vienna, Austria. The Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE) is a corpus that is dedicated to describing the use of English as a Lingua Franca by speakers from a variety of first language backgrounds and in a wide range of settings and domains. The corpus currently contains 1 million words of spoken interactions between nearly 1250 ELF speakers with approximately 50 different first languages.

Barbara Seidlhofer describes the objective of the corpus as attempting to discover what "salient common features of ELF use emerge, irrespective of speakers' first languages and levels of L2 proficiency" (Seidlhofer, 2004, p. 9). One of the aims of Seidlhofer is that this corpus might complement work that has already been carried out by those such as Jenkins in describing what linguistic features are most important for international mutual intelligibility.

Despite the efforts of ELF scholars, I'm still not certain about how feasible ELF instruction is for many English teachers. In the September, 2005 issue of the TESOL forum, Jenkins herself discusses the results of interviews of 8 NNS teachers on teaching ELF pronunciation. She found that many of the teachers did not view the teaching of ELF pronunciation as a viable option for their students, regardless of how they accepted and understood the concept. The teachers demonstrated a lack of confidence in their NNS accents and in teaching such accents to students.

At this point I'm inclined to believe that it will take a major conceptual shift in thinking for NNS English teachers to adopt ELF approaches to teaching pronunciation. Providing descriptive research and pedagogical approaches plays an important role in making ELF teachable, but the perceived socio-economic benefits of a learned NS accent by both NNS teachers and NNS students, despite however unachievable it may be, remains a major obstacle to teaching ELF pronunciation.

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