2.1 Introducing Lingua Franca Usage

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Concept

English is now used predominantly as a lingua franca

English is now used predominantly as a lingua franca: a bridge language between individuals who don’t share a common first language. In many diverse contexts around the world—in tourism, higher education, hip-hop, business, science, aid work, sports, etc.—global participants communicate in English, without native-speaker involvement. Lingua franca English is also becoming increasingly common in the large urban centres of Anglophone nations, where communities and schools are characterised by ethnic and linguistic ‘superdiversity’ (Blommaert, 2010).

Governments too are beginning to recognise the utility of English as a Lingua Franca and the futility of insisting uniquely on the use of their own ‘national’ languages for international communication. English, for example, is the official working language of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the language in which its charter was written. And although in the European Union ‘relay translation’ through English is quite regularly used between less common languages like Estonian and Greek, non-native English speaking officials are increasingly drafting documents directly in English, and hold informal discussions and meetings in English without the need for interpreters.


Relay translation image
Figure 2.2: Relay translation, for example Estonian to English, and then English to Greek

[Source: adapted from tableatny]



Yet the monolithic myth of native-speaker English still holds sway, with non-native speakers invariably referred to as learners rather than users of English, and native speakers assumed to be the best teachers because, as such, they use the language ‘correctly’. Learners (and non-native speaker teachers) who visit Anglophone nations are often amazed and disconcerted by the variation they encounter in local ways of using English. Most ELT material conceals the fact that there are many ways of using English in the Anglophone nations, and that individuals can vary widely in the repertoires they employ.