Category Archives: Conferences

A(nother) beginner’s guide to English as a lingua franca!

A while ago while starting my MA dissertation I wrote a series of posts detailing my early incursions into the world of ELF (1, 2, 3, & 4). Now, I’m writing another one (sigh). But with good reason (yay)! I’m going to be presenting on ELF at the KOTESOL International Conference at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea sometime on the 12th or 13th October.* If you’re in Korea, or even further afield, you should certainly come and watch.

I feel as if ELF still leaves people with a lot of unanswered questions, and so I’m taking the brave/foolish step of having the question and answer session right in the middle of the session, so there’s a lot of time and space to explore. Not wanting to be caught out too much, this post is a preview & practice run in which I answer eight of the questions I anticipate getting. It’s also a chance to solicit a few questions from people reading this (see later). In order to keep things short, I’ll try to keep my answers to 80 words or less.

What’s the difference between ELF and English as a native language (ENL)?

ENL is dependent on external norms and standardness for understanding, ELF, however, draws standards and norms from users language systems during each interaction. This means that ENL users try to conform to the linguistic traditions they have experienced since being born. ELF is more pragmatic, seeking only what is needed to communicate between the interlocutor language systems present. This can mean that ELF shows more lexico-grammatical flexibility and variability than ENL.

What would an ELF syllabus look like? 

The variability mentioned above means that a traditional syllabus sequenced by forms would be unlikely, especially those forms with little communicative value (eg third person -s). Collocations would also have a smaller role to play, as would idiomatic language. In the place of these, we’d expect more focus on pragmatic skills such as rephrasing and signalling misunderstanding. We might even expect to see a place for extra-linguistic communication. Drawing up a syllabus would be a tricky job.

Why is ELF necessary?

Great question! It may not be so much a case of necessity as inevitability. It’s claimed that there are more interactions in English featuring no native speakers than there are featuring native speakers. ENL then is increasingly becoming a very specific and rare end point for English learners, as well as being extremely difficult to reach. In Korea, we are much more likely preparing learners for ELF environments.

Do students want to learn ELF? 

In my experience students in Korea don’t really know about ELF. However, there’s certainly a desire to not continue to spend their educations slavishly following exact native speaker forms. The growth in confidence that I see over the course of my classes where grammatical accuracy is de-emphasized shows what can be achieved. I think that sociolinguistic education is necessary in English classes in Korea, if only to stop students apologising to me when they think they make a grammar mistake.

Isn’t this just encouraging low quality English?

This depends on your definition of quality. From a native speaker point of view this could be seen as deficient in terms of conformity to NS norms, but given that native speakers are generally not involved much in ELF, their point of view actually doesn’t matter too much. An ELF view takes communicative success as a quality measure, and research actually shows that it’s native speakers who have greater trouble in ELF or multilingual environments. 

Where does culture exist in ELF?

Clearly the conception of culture as being intrinsically linked to a native language cannot apply to ELF, as the native cultures and languages in any interaction will be different. Thus ELF becomes less about learning culture, and more about negotiating culture. Preparing students for ELF environments requires more focus on open-mindedness, curiosity and comity. This has fascinating but perhaps underdeveloped implications for language teaching.

What are the downsides? When might it not be appropriate?

There are downsides to ELF. Two relate to the end point of learning. For learners looking to integrate into native speaker communities completely it’s not relevant. The other significant area is for those preparing for proficiency tests which use an ENL model. I would argue that it is time for the tests to better reflect linguistic realities though. Finally, it could be seen as increasing the risk of fossilization, but again this depends on the desired end point of learning.

Do I need to think about it? I have so many other things to consider? 

Unhelpfully, this is something that you need to consider for yourself. Your learners are a good starting point. Mine are future engineers and scientists, and are likely to need English for very practical and pragmatic uses, rather than academic or poetic ones. If you’re in a similar position, the good news is that the change is more one of re-orientation than complete overhaul.

Thanks very much for reading this far. I hope you found that informative. If you found yourself with any further questions about ELF, I’d really love to hear them and answer them in a further blog post. Please do leave them as a comment below, or tweet them to me at @breathyvowel. The more obscure or uncomfortable the better!



* I will edit in the date and time when they are confirmed.


Make Your Students The Experts: My KOTESOL National Conference Presentation 2012

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been working pretty hard recently getting ready for a presentation at KOTESOL‘s National Conference 2012 in the southern city of Busan. The conference has now been and gone and I’m still here, which is a positive. Actually, my presentation went really well (I thought) and the seven people who came were quite complimentary. I would have liked a few more people to speak to, but at least the small numbers made for a personal and constructive atmosphere.

Having been asked by at least one person, I’m going to share my presentation with you here. Unfortunately I don’t have time to write it up, but if you have time to sit down and watch/listen to it you can watch the Youtube videos below, (as filmed by the wonderful Anne Hendler (@annehendler), thanks!), or watch and listen to one of my slightly ropey practice screencasts further down the page.

If you watch the videos, you’ll need good eyes to see the projector screen, so you might want to take a look at the Prezi first.

I hope you find these useful. If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments section.



Youtube Videos


Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:



A preview of my upcoming presentation

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t written for a while, thanks. It’s nice to know I’m missed 🙂 There have been a few reasons; I hit the wall (metaphorically) two weeks ago and found myself mentally and physically struggling to do or think about anything. Thus last week was declared a mental week off – I woke up when I wanted, did nothing on my MA, no blogging and set my classes a bunch of project work to absolve myself of any lesson planning. And it worked, I’ve come back feeling much more refreshed and ready to face the teaching world again.

However, this week I’ve still found little time to blog this week as I’ve been working towards the biggest presentation of my career so far (it’s still not that big though) at the KOTESOL National Conference in Busan this Saturday. My presentation is called “Make Your Students the Experts” and will be on in room H at 1:30pm. Here’s a sneak preview of the Prezi (which won’t seem to embed):

On the way through that we’ll touch on classroom discourse, question tagging, professional development, the theory of contingency and a whole load of other stuff. If you’re going to the conference I’d be honoured if you’d come and watch. If you can’t make it though, I’ll upload the whole thing as a screencast next week.

I hope to see you on Saturday.



KOTESOL National Conference 2011

Last weekend saw me heading off to Daejeon for the KOTESOL national conference at KAIST. It was only my second ever teachers conference, and I was perhaps expecting something a little larger than the 250 or so person event that it turned out to be, but that was mostly due to my previous conference being the heaving scrum of English professionals that is the International Conference. From talking to a Daejeon chapter member I gathered that the turn-out was reasonably high, so congratulations to the Daejeon chapter for organising an interesting and useful conference.

The plenary speaker was one of the people who I most admire in ELT, Jason Renshaw, in what could be his last ever ELT related appearance. His take on where materials design is headed was not particularly new for regular readers of his blog, but the vision of fully digitised, modifiable, selectable materials where the author and publisher can be immediately questioned is certainly an enticing one. What was interesting and inspiring was his “DIY” message, that any English teacher with a small amount of technical knowledge can circumnavigate the traditional ESL apparatus of schools and publishers and go it alone. If you’re interested I suggest reading Jason’s blog for more info. Who knows, this could be something that I find myself trying sometime in the future.

I also saw a slightly disappointing presentation entitled Advancing TESOL in the 21st Century by simply doing less by Kevin Giddens. It suffered most from having an introduction which built up expectations of the presentation that it was never going to reach. Kevin showed us a video about a Japanese botanist, who created a system of farming in which nature did most of the work, yet still produced equal or greater yields. This farmer stopped flooding his rice paddies, and Kevin used this example to call for a reflection on teaching practices that we do just because they have always been done. At this point I was expecting something revolutionary, perhaps that he had stopped talking to his students entirely, or stopped writing on the board, as maybe expected of “Do nothing teaching”. What we got was three examples of teachers who had adapted their lesson plans on the fly to take advantage of learner interest, which while laudable classroom practice is nothing particularly revolutionary, and very little from Kevin himself. I’m sure there are elements of our teaching practice that could be stripped away as unnecessary, but I don’t feel that this presentation took us much closer to finding them.

The most useful presentation I went to was Julien McNulty’s on sentence building and editing. His method of building sentences from coloured blocks is something I hope to adapt for all of my classes who can actually write. Sentence structure is a huge problem for a lot of my early writers, so I look forward to several weeks of directing students to pick up red squares for nouns, and green triangles for verbs. For editing purposes, Julien’s idea was that it is rarely meaning that has to be edited, but just the number of words. Thus students are encouraged to use ‘Hemingways’, and reduce the length of sentences or utterances.

I also found some useful ways to present grammar in Maria Pinto’s presentation Grammar patterns: More conversation, less teacher talk about the QASI system and how it can be expanded to all forms of question grammar. A little way in to the presentation the basic grammar left me feeling like I was being taught to suck eggs by my granddaughter, but the key is in the presentation and I have already used this approach in a lesson this week. I also did some revision of giving instructions and content checking questions with Joanne McQuaig, which led to my instructions being (rightly) torn apart. This is something I do need to work on, though I would like to have had more strategy than examples (but perhaps I’m just bitter).

Finally, a quick shout to fellow Gangwon chapter member Andee Pollard who presented his research findings in the face of relentless questioning from a member of the audience. He may have persuaded me to submit my own attempts at writing Korean to .

That was all I got to see – how about you? Who did you see? What did you learn? What have you used since? Leave a comment.