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Preliminary facts

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ENGLISH AS An international language

Preliminary facts

Probably between two and three billion people speak English, the majority of whom use it as a foreign or second language.

It is used for academic purposes, political negotiation, tourism, entertainment, business and finance, information, personal social interaction.

Most educated speakers of other languages are at least bilingual.

The most important function of the English language today, therefore, is as a lingua franca rather than as a native language.

The typical English speaker:

- Speaks English as a foreign/second language;

- Is at least bilingual (‘English-knowing bilingualism’);

- Speaks the standard international variety;

- Is not interested in aspects of culture of ‘inner circle’ countries;

- May never have visited an ‘inner-circle’ country, may not be particularly interested in doing so;

- Is skilled in communicative and comprehension strategies.

World Standard English

There is rapidly developing an international variety of English (‘World Standard English’), distinct from native varieties.

It has the basic standard grammar and lexis; but beyond the basics, some international norms are evolving.


Jenkins, 2002: What mispronunciations lead to a breakdown in communication? What mispronunciations make no difference to understanding?

The following items were found to be essential for good understanding (a selection):

/I/ versus /i:/ (‘i’ versus ‘ee’);

/p/, /t/, /k/ versus /b/, /d/, /g/;

initial consonant clusters eg. Strong;

use of tonic stress e.g. He came by TRAIN versus HE came by train.

The following items were found to be non-essential:

/ð/ and /θ/;

The schwa sound /ə/.

Found to be helpful: the pronunciation of the /r/ as in rhotic dialects.











two weeks













I have / Do you have?

I’ve got / Have you got?

She just finished

She has just finished

If I would have

If I had

We have been waiting for an hour

We are waiting for an hour

Her name is Jenny, isn’t it?

Her name is Jenny, right?

Her name is Jenny, no?


Fairly standard written dialect, more varied spoken

Development of an ‘e-dialect’:

  • informality of style (headings? sentences? salutations?)

  • short paragraphs, line spaces

  • characteristic formatting: use of capitals (‘shouting’), asterisks, repeated punctuation, emoticons :-)

  • The ‘save-a-keystroke’ principle:

    • American spelling

    • abbreviations [pls, B4N, CU, thanx, fyi, CWOT]

    • ‘close it up’ [startup, email]

    • minimal punctuation and capitals [london, i]

(Crystal, 2001)

In general:

‘Native’ dialect is not necessarily the model

And we do not necessarily have to follow purely American or British English.

Some Implications

A. Standards, goals and models for teaching

If the standard is not a native speaker dialect (British or American), then what is it?

If the goal of English teaching is not to reach native-speaker competence, then what is it?

If the model is not the native speaker, then who is it?

Key concepts:

  • Lingua Franca

  • World Standard English / International English

  • International comprehensibility and acceptability

  • The proficient speaker / user of English

B. The native/non-native English-speaking teacher

The native-speaker teacher

The non-native speaker teacher

May speak a more correct and fluent English

Feels confident of own knowledge of English

May speak an inappropriate (native) variety of English

May not be familiar with students’ home culture

Cannot serve as a role model

May speak a less correct and fluent English

May feel less confident of own knowledge of English

Probably speaks an appropriate variety of English (WSE)

Familiar with students’ home culture

Can serve as a role model

Probably the whole issue of ‘native’ / ‘non-native’ is an irrelevant question anyway.

What is important is that the teacher should be a competent and fluent speaker of (World Standard) English; a good teacher; fluent in the learners’ L1 and familiar with the learners’ home culture.

C. Intercultural competence

Importance of genuinely intercultural competence: i.e. not just ‘foreign’ versus ‘English-speaking’ cultures.

There is possibly evolving a ‘world culture’ of international interaction, to match ‘World Standard English’.

D. Coursebook content

The language: predominantly WSE

The cultural content: ‘source’; ‘English-speaking’; ‘international’

Scenarios: in international rather than English-speaking locations.

Recordings: a mix of native and non-native accents

More use of L1.

E. The source of expertise

The relative number of EFL experts coming from places outside the ‘core’ English speaking countries is rising.

There is a similar rise in the proportion of home-designed EFL materials.

Summary and Conclusions

English today has two major communicative functions:

As the means of communication between its native speakers within a ‘core’ English-speaking country;

As the means of international communication, anywhere in the world: a Lingua Franca.

The second is predominant in the world today, and it is the one on which we should focus in our teaching.

There is in the process of development a variety World Standard English variety, based on:

internationally acceptable lexis (very large, but often domain-specific);

grammatical rules based on commonly accepted standards (mainly American);

pronunciation to some extent variable, but has to be comprehensible.

The goals of English teaching are therefore to enable our learners to reach a high standard of comprehension and self-expression in an English which will be readily understood worldwide.

It is the proficient user of English as an International Language who is the appropriate model for our learners, rather than a native speaker.

Learners need to learn ‘intercultural competence’: enabled to recognize and respect other cultural norms and communicate effectively with their owners.

Coursebooks should be based on the source culture of the learners, moving towards international culture(s).

Authoritative experts on English as a Lingua Franca may or may not themselves be originally native speakers; but the geographical focus of such expertise is increasingly the countries where English is a second or foreign language rather than the first.

References and further reading:

Alptekin, C. (2002). Towards intercultural communication competence. English Language Teaching Journal, 56(1), 57-64.

Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33(2), 185-209.

Crystal, D. (2001). Twenty-first century English. In Pulverness, A (Ed.), IATEFL 2001: Brighton Conference Selections (pp.137-154). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2002). A sociolinguistically-based empirically researched pronunciation syllabus for English as an International Language. Applied Linguistics, 23(11), 83-103.

Seidlhofer, B. (2004). Research perspectives on teaching English as a lingua franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 209-239.

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