What is English as a Lingua Franca?

English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) refers to the use of English as a medium of communication between peoples of different languages. We include as potential ELF users both those who speak English as an additional language and those who speak English (in any of its social, regional and national varieties) as their main language. So, if you are speaking English with another student who speaks English as an additional language, whether or not English is your main language, you are both using ELF (VOICE/FAQ 2009).

ELF has been studied by linguists interested in how its grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation is different from other varieties of English (Seidlhofer 2005). Other linguists have focussed on ELF as a process, rather than a product; noticing how speakers in multilingual situations are able to monitor each other's response and work out the grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, rate of speaking, volume, gestures, eye contact and so on that help communicate the messages needed to achieve a specific task (Smith 1983Canagarajah 2007). Process-oriented ELF analysts are interested in how speakers monitor and adjust their language to meet their needs and the needs of the task they are engaged in.

If you have grown up speaking English, shouldn't ELF be easy?

A number of linguists have suggested that this isn't necessarily the case (Graddol 2006Rajagopalan 2004Smith 1983). If English is your only language, you may not have had much practice in thinking about and trying to avoid the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation that speakers of other languages may not be familiar with. If, however, you have grown up or lived in a multilingual community, or put a lot of effort into learning an additional language, you might have had more practice at monitoring and accommodating speakers of other languages and be better at ELF (Canagarajah 2007).

For more about who this tutorial is for and what it aims to do, click here.