Jan 262012

Alex Case of the wonderful Tefltastic blog wrote to me a little while ago with some questions about teaching functional language and English as a lingua Franca. Oooooo, two irresistable topics that were bound to get me started. It resulted in a long piece that you can read on his blog here: Me vs Vicki Hollett on functional language and ELF

I’ll be taking part in a whole day on the subject of ELF and BELF at a pre-conference event prior to the BESIG conference in Glasgow. (Today is the last day to get the early bird discount for that so sign up now if you can.) Chia Suan Chong and Mark Powell will both be speaking too, and what’s exciting about that is we’ll be trying to move the discussion on from theory to practice, something that has come up in this blog before.

And finally, to refresh your memories on some of the issues, here’s another link to the video about ELF and BELF that I made for a webinar we had last year. Hope to see y’all at IATEFL.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

  9 Responses to “More on ELF & BELF”

  1. Dear Vicki,

    It would be lovely if the Glasgow (B)ELF event were broadcast, or even simulcast.

    I’m very curious about this connection between functional language and communication between NNS. This semester I’ve had a chance to watch intercultural pragmatics at work, teaching professional communication skills to a class with international students from 18 different countries. It’s basically a supplementzary English class that aims to give them the writing and speaking skills they need to navigate through their masters studies in public management, run in English by mostly German professors. Their levels of English vary pretty dramatically. Sometimes their professors hand back papers for a rewrite. Some of the accents are quite difficult for me (and, I’m sure, for their German professors, though they won’t admit it), and cultural differences mean that the Asian students are participating a lot less in discussions and debates. My work cut out for me.

    The more successful sessions had them collaborating on tasks. They got a lot out of thinking through communication strategies they found worked best. But developing functional language based on that (what do you actually say? how could you reformulate that?) feels very forced and unnatural in this group. They use English all the time and have their own ways of getting things done together. Evan Frendo and you have passed on the wonderful work by Firth, showing how NNS avoid face threatening acts. I kept the focus on exponents and reformulation exceedingly brief, and discussed and had them practice the strategies instead.

    Is this a slow, deep way into functional language? Or am I actually keeping them from practicing the functional language they “should be using at some point”? I rarely heard the students trying out, correcting themselves or helping each out with any of the exponents we’d make explicit. On the other hand, strategy exercises were obviously thoroughly engaging. It’s has a playful quality, focussing on a single aspect like adopting an attitude and a related code of behavior, like accentuating the positive first in a debate, or mirroring the exact same unusual words to ‘make them right’ (that’s a brilliant insight of Firth’s!).

    We could have used some good unscripted listening material to allow students to notice exponents used within such strategies. I love Ian Badger’s Listening (Collins English for Business), great for things like phone calls and explanations, it just doesn’t have more sophisticated dialogues such as debates and discussions and negotiations – which is a real bummer.

    So my question: Is it ok to focus almost exclusively on communication strategy and to all but disregard functional exponents, letting the NNS come up with their own sets of solutions? Or do we have to extract (B)ELF-friendly-but-correct exponents and, in fact, teach them?

    Looking forward to the discussion!

  2. Anne, so sorry that I have been so slow to respond. I think Widdowson might have the most useful insight here when he said we should be teaching language to learn from rather than language to learn. And when your students walk into your classes it’s not necessarily just the language you perceive yourself as teaching that’s going to be interesting for your students. It’s also the way you structure the course and deliver your thoughts – it is likely to be a different approach to learning that will be interesting in itself.

  3. Argh, I didn’t address your final question. But I need clarification Anne. Do you see functional exponents as being at odds with communication strategies and if so how?

  4. Hi Vicki,
    So if they are exposed to, say, a recorded debate, and we look at the functional exponents, they will at some point start using those phrases? I’m not so sure. If they are doing just fine using ELF, why should they bother?
    Highlighting the exponents would only be at odds with raising awareness for the communication strategies they already employ successfully among their peers.
    So, Vicky, what would you teach in such a scenario:
    In a debate, my African students used “my brother” extensively to create rapport: “I’d like to agree more with my brother (name of fellow student) that” or “I will argue with my brother (looking at him) that”. One created a sense of non-agression by saying “I disagree (pause) that…”, using very high intonation and a big smile on “disagree”. NNS in the class generally used “totally”: “I totally agree/ disagree”. I thought they were doing great, so I decided not to teach anything!

  5. PS: Actually, in hindsight, watching the video I made, their “coming in” strategies and exponents need work. The debate was moderated and they raised their hands and the shyer ones waited their turn. The group needs to try organizing a discussion without a moderator.

  6. I’m not sure I understand Anne. There’s no point in teaching stuff our students don’t need, but it’d be odd if they knew everything they needed to know for every ELF context they might encounter. Obviously we can’t teach them that either, but we can make them aware of some of the ways things will differ in other cultures and contexts.

    Knowing how to string together phrases is one thing, and knowing when and where they will be appropriate (or inappropriate) is another. If you have video of a formal debate (is that a British or American debate?), rather than just looking at the functional phrases, might you be wanting to look at who the people are who are debating, what their purposes were for debating, when and why they used the phrases and what effect they might have had on the audience (as compared with other phrases that could have been used)?

    Re forms of address like ‘brother’, ‘friend’ etc. would you want to point out where you might hear brother used by NSs? Black speech, religious sects – possibly not NS speech groups your students are aspiring to be classified in? I can’t see the point of trying to impose our social norms, but we’d be doing our students a disservice if we didn’t point out obvious ways in which they were different. Maybe explore it with the whole class too? If one arab or african calls another arab or african ‘my friend’ or ‘my brother’, but addresses students of other ethnicities differently, doesn’t it imply they are excluding other members of the class? Have they considered that? Students are often charitable when you bring up questions like that – “did he offend you when he said that?” is bound to elicit a “no”, but they should be considering what impression they might make on others.

  7. This is a great help. I’ve addressed the “brother” issue, because of course you’re absolutely right.

    I think the issue is that on the one hand, these are learners in a fishbowl situation, mastering communication within their group, their environment for one year; and any emergent language and behavior that they recognize works within that group in that cvery articfical scenario (as is any classroom), yet which is their reality for this time, is not necessarily going to work in the various setting they will be in. So the skill they really need is to step outside and look in at what they are actually doing, and what others do.

    Here is a video of a debate between world leaders that highlights differences in cultural norms, which I’m going to study with them.

    Davos Annual Meeting 2008 – BBC World Debate Davos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1_dJnnfaIo

    So analyzing successful strategies in the real world – be it the fishbowl of the classroom or what comes out of Davos – is a good thing.

  8. […] Dealing with large classes that will go their separate linguistic ways rather than moving collectively up to a common norm is a challenge. Here the key is to make explicit how we change registers and accommodate differently depending on whom we are addressing. Vicki Hollett was a wonderful guide in making me aware of what I was missing. […]

  9. […] as a Lingua France, here’s a nice introduction made by Vicki Hollett (you can find her blog here also, which is well worth a […]

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