2.5 ELF



ELF is the use of English between speakers of different first languages

English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) is the use of English between speakers of different first languages. The following video explains how increasing numbers of L2 English learners become L2 English users in transnational, multilingual, and intercultural ELF interactions, and how this shapes their language resources.

Fig. 2.9 English as a Lingua Franca


   In Depth

Early attempts by applied linguists to deal with the diversity of ELF concentrated on formal features, especially pronunciation and grammar. Some scholars originally conceptualised ELF as a distinct set of forms, attempting to identify those features that were optimal for teaching purposes (e.g. Jenkins, 2002) and making a case for describing those that were most commonly employed in successful ELF interaction (Seidlhofer, 2001). The main criterion used to specify the forms of ELF was that of mutual intelligibility between users of different L1s.



activity  Activity

Here are some features of the kinds of Englishes you might hear in ELF scenarios, placed in the mouths of fictional speakers. Half are listed by Jenkins (2002) as ‘acceptable’ pronunciation features in ELF interactions, because they proved less likely to cause misunderstanding than other features in her study. The other half led to communication problems, so are not preferred. Which do you think are acceptable, and which are not preferred?

    • 1. A Chilean who pronounces live the same way as leave.
    • 2. A Brit who pronounces mar without the final ‘r’ sound (like Ma).
    • 3. A Malaysian who pronounces milk with the ‘lk’ the same as book without the ‘b’ (‘miook‘).
    • 4. A Thai who pronounces tactful without a ‘t’ sound in the middle (rhyming with sackful).
    • 5. A Belgian who pronounces they with the initial consonant as a ‘d’ sound (like day).
    • 6. An Egyptian who pronounces water like warder (but without the ‘r’ sound).


Recommendations have been made about what forms of English to teach in ELT classrooms on the basis of such intelligibility studies. But more recent research on ELF (see Seidlhofer, 2011) stresses that more important than the forms of English used in ELF contexts are the ways they are used in negotiation for meaning by speakers and hearers in interaction, often as part of part of a multilingual repertoire (see Jenkins, 2015 and 2.6 below).