This post was contributed by Louise Rolland, a NewRoutePhD student in Birkbeck’s Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication.
Professor Jennifer Jenkins presented a talk on the 18 March as part of a series of talks celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication at Birkbeck. Professor Jenkins gave a brief introduction about her early career in English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and shared the first experience that triggered her passion in this field. She gave her take on the development and trends of ELF and then talked about her recent projects in details.
Professor Jenkins started her career as an English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher and taught large groups of students from all around the world. During her experience in teaching EFL, she made a keen observation of students’ ability to apply the English language rules very well in classrooms and exams but hardly ever elsewhere. She noticed that even though the students were not applying those rules outside classroom premises, they still managed to communicate successfully with each other. This struck up a question for Professor Jenkins as to why it would be necessary to teach students ‘native English’ when they were effectively capable of using English in their own way. This question has led Professor Jenkins on a journey to explore non-native students’ use of English among each other, i.e. their use of English as Lingua Franca, in her PhD and a number of publications such as English as a Lingua Franca, Attitudes and Identities (2007, Oxford University Press) and English as Lingua Franca in International Universities (2013, Routledge).
The 2014 monograph is based on her research project which she outlined in-depth in the talk. It investigated the following aspects of the use of English in international universities using different data collection methods ranging from analyzing website data to open ended questionnaires and unstructured interviews:
- The prevailing academic English language policies and practices of universities around the world that teach partly or entirely in English medium, in respect of any stated or implicit attachment to native academic English norms
- The academic staff’s dominant beliefs about non-native academic English
- The perceived effects of current English language policies and practices on international (including mainland EU) and home students
The project findings as a whole pointed to the fact that international UK universities demonstrated a lack of critical thinking about language on the part of many who work or study there. Some of the main conclusions from the study indicated that positive orientation to diversity was rarely extended to English. Native English speakers among management and staff showed little awareness of difficulties faced by non-native English speakers operating in their second or third language and had no sense of linguistic fairness.
Professor Jenkins thought that Doiz et. al.’s (2013) comment in their conclusion of their book Global EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction) on diversity echoed her views on ELF. They quote that “diversity does not prevent the emergence of many commonalities between the different case studies presented” (p.213); but rather “Every context has its own characteristics and, therefore, studies rooted in each specific context will be much welcomed. Results from other contexts may always be helpful and enlightening, but every situation should carry out its own research, which ideally will lay the foundations of the most appropriate language policy for them” (p. 219). This inspired her to start her second on-going project by comparing practices in universities (now nine universities in nine different countries have joined the project). Data will be compared and contrasted to answer the following questions:
- To what extent do language practices correspond to stated language policies in the partner institutions?
- What are the overt/covert English language expectations of/made of students and staff, and how far do students and staff feel they meet these?
- What similarities, differences, and implications from questions 1 and 2 emerge across the nine research settings? Are there any particularly noticeable differences between the EM and English dominant settings, and/or across the nine settings, or across the two English dominant settings?
Professor Jenkins concluded her talk on a positive note. She explained that despite the two massive obstacles in English in HE, i.e. academic publishers and international exam boards such as IELTS and TOEFL, there are many signs of change in relation to ELF. The Editorial of the Journal of English as a Lingua Franca stated that “We see no need to insist on conformity to native-speaker usage for its own sake… . We have therefore removed conventional publisher’s submission guideline … and simply ask that authors submit manuscripts writing in an English that will be intelligible to a wide international readership.” (Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, Editorial, Vol 1, issue 1). In addition, McNamara (2014) stated that “The distinction between native and non-native speaker competence, which lies at the heart of the movement, can no longer be sustained; we need a radical reconceptualization of the construct of successful communication that does not depend on this distinction.”
- Doiz, A., Lasagabaster, D., & Sierra, J. M. (Eds.). (2012). English-medium instruction at universities: Global challenges. Multilingual matters.
- Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford University Press.
- Jenkins, J. (2013). English as a lingua franca in the international university: The politics of academic English language policy. Routledge.
- McNamara, T. (2014). 30 Years on—Evolution or Revolution?. Language Assessment Quarterly, 11(2), 226-232.