When I teach pronunciation, a feeling of unease claws at my chest. I scan the expectant faces from Iran, Turkey, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, China, Korea, Columbia and Cameroon. How do I respond to the needs of such an internationally diverse group?
Inevitably, I sigh and forge ahead. The schwa, long vowels and short, voiced and unvoiced…Whatever is the unit of the day. The students regurgitate the sounds en masse. They avidly scrutinize the exaggerated shape of my lips, the position of my tongue.
They desperately want to master the so-called “standard” English and sound like a so-called “native” speaker. After scrawling some phonetic symbols on the board, I walk around the desks, watch and listen. The students from Columbia and Cameroon are in luck because I know some French and Spanish and kind of get what their mouths are doing. The other students, though? All I can do is model the sounds and hope for the best. After all, I am a native English speaker, and they should use me as their model.
At least, that’s what I thought until I discovered linguist Jennifer Jenkins, who did extensive research on the core pronunciation features necessary for non-native speakers (NNS) to communicate with one another intelligibly. Based on her data, Jenkins proposed a teaching model known as Lingua Franca Core (LFC). She designed it specifically for learners who will ultimately communicate in English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and consequently need to be understood by other NNS and able to recognize and accommodate each other’s accents (Patsko, 2013b). Since most English speakers worldwide are now NNS (seeFigure 1)and since we live in a globalized context in which ELF is the most widely used language (Patsko, 2013a), it struck me that we should not only change our teaching model but also change our whole mindset about what constitutes “Good English.”
Jenkins divides pronunciation elements into those seen as coreto intelligibility and those that are noncore, or nonessential (Patsko, 2013a; Spicer, 2011; Mooney & Evans, 2015). In proposing this model, Jenkins redetermines what we think of as “pronunciation errors” and not only does she not try to rid students of their accents, she accepts them as an integral part of a learner’s identity (Spicer, 2011).
I now make a point of showing Kachru’s Circles representing Global Englishes to my mixed-L1 classes. The students look both surprised and empowered to learn that they, as NNS, vastly outnumber native English speakers. They are even more surprised to hear that there is no shame in keeping their accents. (We just need teacher training courses and IELTS and other international testing organizations to go along with this, and until they do, we are more or less compelled to focus on the unrealistic, impractical norm of NS pronunciation in a NS environment. For an interesting article on this, see Spicer, 2011.)
Although the idea of using LFC as a teaching model seems unusual and even scary to some, I think it is worth considering. At the very least, we owe it to our students to prepare them for the strong likelihood that they will need to communicate intelligibly with other NNS in international settings.
Not everyone agrees with Jenkins’ proposed list of core and noncore features. And that’s okay. We, as educators, are free to add to, subtract from, and amend Jenkins’ model and use her research to inform our teaching in any way we choose. Jenkins herself was the first to admit that more research needs to be done (Patsko, 2013a), so join in!
Laura Patsko (2013a), for example, did a study on teaching LFC to promote intelligibility in mixed-L1 classrooms. For the study, she developed a grid for teachers that highlights the overlapping pronunciation challenges of students from various countries. This is a fantastic resource and is just one of many available on the Lingua Franca Core website, including a minimal pairs battleship game that also caters to the pronunciation needs of mixed-L1 classes.
If anything, Jenkins’, Patsko’s, and Kachru’s research has encouraged me to think more about my students’ pronunciation goals. One thing is for sure: I no longer see myself as some sort of “pronunciation beacon” for my students. It’s more the reverse.
Mooney, A., & Evans, B. (2015). Language, Society and Power: An Introduction. (4th Ed.) New York: Routledge.
Patsko, L. (2013a). Using the Lingua Franca Core to promote students’ mutual intelligibility in the multilingual classroom: Five teachers’ experiences. Unpublished MA Dissertation. London: Kings College. Retrieved from https://laurapatsko.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/patsko_ma_2013.pdf
Patsko, L. (2013b). What is the Lingua Franca Core? Retrieved from https://elfpron.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/what-is-the-lfc/
Spicer, E. (2011). The impact of Jenkins’ lingua franca core on the teaching of pronunciation on CELTA and DELTA courses. International House Journal of Education and Development. (30). Retrieved from http://ihjournal.com/the-impact-of-jenkins%E2%80%99-lingua-franca-core-on-the-teaching-of-pronunciation-on-celta-and-delta-courses-by-eleanor-spicer