An Interview with Michael Swan from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I was very happy to speak to Michael Swan at the JALT conference in Nagoya in November 2010, and now you can listen to what he had to say too! We discussed grammar and how it should be approached by teachers, ELF and errors, and changes in methodology over the years he has been involved in teaching.

I recommend Michael’s excellent website, which is well stocked with articles on these topics and many more. A particular favourite of mine is ‘The use of sensory deprivation in foreign language teaching’ from ELTJ in 1982… read it with an open mind.

An Interview with Alan Firth from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I recently met Dr. Alan Firth at the JALT National Conference in Hamamatsu, Japan. If you are not familiar with his work you should probably start with his articles on reconceptualizing SLA, written with Johannes Wagner and published (and critiqued) in the Modern Language Journal. Dr. Firth has a background in conversation analysis, which he still employs as a tool to research communication between English as Lingua Franca users in non-classroom based settings. Amongst other things, we also discussed the development of SLA as a field and the relationships between research and teaching. Please watch and enjoy!

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I talked to Professor Jennifer Jenkins about English as Lingua Franca, what it is and what it means to us as teachers. As usual, a google scholar search turns up quite a lot of good reading in this area, but I would recommend this short article as a good starting point.

Barbara Seidlhofer’s name came up in the discussion too, and I recommend this article as a very important one in the development of the field.

Seidlhofer B. (2004) ‘Teaching English as a lingua franca’. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics Vol.24: 209–239

The Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English is an ongoing attempt to build a sample of non-native interaction in English.

Here is a review (mine!) of her 2007 book ‘English as Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity’

And finally, some commentary on David Graddol’s book (and a free pdf download of the whole thing) which we mention later in the podcast.

From this particular conversation? I am still in agreement with the philosophy behind ELF… but it ELF doesn’t need my permission, as a native speaker, to exist and thrive. The fact is that non-native speakers are now driving the language forward. My difficulty, as a teacher, is what I do about it. What is a mistake, and what is just a difference? How does this impact on my writing class? How long have I got to become fluent and fully literate in another language, before I become obsolete? Listen, enjoy, and comment please. But play nice – I know this topic can get particularly feisty….

Some eye-openers….

In 2003 an estimated 1500 Master’s programmes were offered in English in countries where English is not the first language.

In 2005 about 20,000 American schoolchildren were receiving e-tutoring support from India.

More than 60% of transnational companies see China as the most attractive location for R&D

A study in 2000 found that over 300 languages were being spoken in the schools of London.

74% of interactions in English do not involve a native speaker of English.

More of a report than a book, Graddol manages to cover an incredible breadth and scope of  research and uses it to provide pithy and well-considered analysis. If only more academics could be so concise….

The mobility of people, money and information has been increasing since the nineteenth century. Are we reaching a point at which English becomes ubiquitous, and it’s teaching unnecessary?

Several basic assumptions are challenged as Graddol tries to make sense of the state of the world now and in the past, in order to posit his predictions. One is the accepted history of English as a hero, battling the French and coming out triumphant (history filtered through the lens of the nineteenth century empire builders). Another is the modernist idea of history as constant change – he suggests that we are in a transitional period, a shift, which started with the industrial revolution and is still underway. These ways of looking at globalisation, as both a cause and effect of international English, help us to see where we are going. This is a debate which needs the heat slapped out of it with the cold hand of reason.

In the next section, Graddol focuses on the past and present of English teaching. The EFL tradition, he informs us, is designed to produce failure; pedagogically in it’s unrealistic aims of native-like pronunciation and grammatical accuracy, and socially and politically as a gate-keeping device to keep people ‘outside’. ESL, ESOL, CLIL, and especially ELF, all get more favourable feedback in the acronym soup race.

For teachers, Graddol’s policy implications are sobering, terrifying, exciting and / or liberating. But they are perfectly believable. Native speakers are a hindrance to the growth of English. By 2050 there may be very few English learners at all, besides the very young or those with special needs. Bilinguals will not be at an advantage; Rather, monolinguals of ANY language will pay the penalty.

The conclusion is this – this is a time of great opportunity, which could just as easily be buggered up by those shaping decisions. The time is certainly done for old fashioned quibbles about which variety of English we should be teaching. That ship has sailed, mate!

Don’t take my word for it. Two great things this book has going for it before you crack it’s metaphorical spine. First off, it’s short. But better than that, it’s free to download. Go and read it now and come back and comment when you are done.

(Update – 26/4/2010: Comments disabled due to huge spammage! Please email if you have anything to add!)