28 May 2011

ELF-based teaching

I am currently in Hong Kong, at a conference on English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) organised by the Hong Kong Institute of Education. It's lots of fun.

Among academics such as me, ELF seems to be all the rage at the moment, and everyone at the conference was in complete agreement that it makes sense, that teaching should be based on ELF, that native speaker norms for English are not a good idea, and so on.

With so much agreement among us, it is sometimes hard to remember that these ideas are not widely accepted in society as a whole, and if you try and tell learners of English that they do not need to aspire to native speaker norms, they tend to be horrified. I guess that most teachers out there would be really shocked to know that over 200 academics spent three days discussing ideas like this that most educators don't want. It would confirm to them that university academics are completely divorced from the real world.

So what is the point of promoting ways of teaching that teachers do not want? I believe we should always be considering fresh ways of thinking, and even if some of these new ideas might not become accepted for many more years, that should not stop us considering them. Furthemore, if we, as academics, just continue to talk about ideas that are already accepted, then what is the point of that?

But at the same time we need to acknowledge that the ideas we are promoting are not widely accepted. I believe that ELF-based teaching is absolutely right, and that we have to move away from native-speaker norms, but we must realise that we have a huge amount of work to do to convince others about it.