Monthly Archives: June 2011

Jennifer Jenkins

NNEST of the Month

July 2011

J [dot] Jenkins [at] soton [dot] ac [dot] uk


Jennifer Jenkins is professor of global Englishes at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom. She first became interested in the phenomenon of ELF in the 1980s and researched it for her doctoral thesis. ELF is also the focus of most of her numerous books and articles, which have played a substantial role in establishing ELF internationally as a major field of enquiry. Professor Jenkins has also served on the advisory boards of many international journals and is one of three coeditors who will be launching the new Journal of English as a Lingua Franca (de Gruyter Mouton) later this year.

NNEST Blog July Interviewer: Davi S. Reis

1. Could you tell us about your educational and professional background, and why you decided to become an educator?

I began my professional life in TESOL teaching English to immigrants in London (known as ESL in the UK), and then EFL at a private language school. I later became a teacher trainer for both pre- and in-service training (the Cambridge CELTA and DELTA, as they’re now known). Subsequently I moved into the university sector, initially as a teacher of English for academic purposes, and later of applied linguistics at BA, MA and still later, doctoral, levels.

As to why I decided to become an educator, I was always interested in language and linguistics, and specialised in these for my undergraduate degree in English language and literature.  Earlier on, my main interest was in old languages, particularly Old English and Old Icelandic, and I spent some time researching these at Oxford and doing a little teaching of Old Icelandic. But when it came to a ‘proper’ job, I decided that it would be more useful – and easier to find students! – if I switched to something more up to date, and so began the history that I’ve outlined in my previous paragraph. And having found how much I enjoyed teaching, I’ve stayed with it in one form or another throughout my working life.

 2. English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) is sometimes confused with other related notions, such as Lingua Franca English (LFE), English as an International Language (EIL), and Global Englishes. In your view, what are the main controversies or misunderstandings surrounding ELF currently? Where do you stand on these controversies (or could you clarify any misconceptions about ELF)?

There is a great deal of confusion over what ELF actually is, and this isn’t helped by the fact that some scholars who don’t themselves research ELF have introduced other terms and acronyms. At its simplest, ELF could be described (as I described it in the 2nd ed. of my university course book, World Englishes) as “English as it is used as a contact language among speakers from different first languages” (p.143). It should be evident from this that in my (and almost all ELF researchers’) view, ELF doesn’t exclude native English speakers of English (NESs). The point is simply that when NESs take part in ELF communication, they shouldn’t expect to set the linguistic agenda and for the non-native English speakers (NNESs) to defer to them. Instead, the kind of English used in ELF interactions is (or should be) co-constructed with no expectation that forms preferred by NNESs and not by NESs are, by definition, ‘incorrect’.

Unfortunately, some who comment on ELF (with, to my mind, rather limited knowledge of it) promote the notion that ELF is used only by NNESs. A few such commentators have even proposed that there should be a division between ELF (NNESs only) and EIL (English as an International Language), which should be the term for communication involving both NNESs and NESs. I personally find this distinction unworkable, as interaction is never as tidy as it implies. Another term that is being promoted by some non-ELF researchers is LFE (Lingua Franca English). But again, it has been rejected by the majority of bona fide ELF researchers, myself included, because of its implication that ELF is a variety of English on a parallel with, e.g., Indian English, Singapore English, British English (though curiously, those who prefer the term LFE seem to believe that it is more plurilinguistic than ELF in its connotations!). Over the past ten years or so, ELF research has demonstrated very clearly that ELF is neither a single variety nor a group of varieties, but that it is more fluid and flexible than other kinds of language use with which we’ve been familiar up to now. Indeed, its context-related variability is thought to be one of its defining characteristics, and one prominent ELF research, Barbara Seidlhofer, has argued that ELF’s variability calls for new ways of approaching traditional concepts of ‘language variety’ and ‘speech community’, as ELF communication does not conform to conventional expectations.

3. How have you conceptualized “accommodation” in the context of ELF? One might speculate that this notion can be threatening to some inner-circle speakers of English, who may be used to being ‘accommodated to’ much more often than doing the accommodating themselves. In this light, how can we prepare ELF speakers to be empowered in interactional instances when NSs from inner circle countries are resistant to accommodating?

It’s true that many NESs assume that the way they speak is internationally intelligible and that it’s for NNESs to make all the adjustments. In many cases, this isn’t based on an ideological position, but simply because a lot of NESs don’t know any different (better!). They’ve been brought up to understand that ‘everyone speaks English’, and therefore they don’t themselves need to learn other languages, and that their own (i.e., what is known as standard British or American English) is best and most intelligible. So when they meet with NNESs, they don’t realise that the way they speak English, often with heavy use of local idioms, phrasal verbs and, pronunciation-wise, lots of elisions and assimilations, is not in fact widely intelligible, and is merely their local dialect. On the other hand, many NNESs, who by definition speak at least one second language, seem not to assume that their own kind of English will be easily understood by all, and to be much more ready to make adjustments to it. In my view, all English speakers, whether non-native or native, should learn about the importance of accommodation, and how to develop their accommodation skills, during their school years. This will empower everyone who takes part in ELF communication.

4. In reference to the power of the ELT literature, you have stated (Jenkins, 2007) that

“It seems that the sheer weight of the NS ideology being communicated to NNS teachers around the world on a regular basis is convincing many of them (along with NS teachers, should they need convincing) that ‘good’ English is NS English, and that its most important experts are NSs in terms of both the language itself and by a somewhat curious and tenuous link, its teaching. Much of this may take place below the level of consciousness for, as Holliday (2005: 10) observes, ‘native speakerism is so deep in the way in which we think about TESOL that people are standardly unaware of its presence and its impact’. This, in turn, goes a considerable way to explain NNSs’ admiration for NS norms, their deficit view of their own NNS Englishes (which they see as characterized by errors rather than local NNS variants), and their sense of linguistic insecurity, all of which inevitably reduce their receptivity to the notion of ELF” (p. 58-59).

Unfortunately, many (if not most) NNESTs have experienced this sense of “linguistic insecurity” in both their personal and professional lives. Some never seem to move beyond it. How can those in TESOL who see the inherent legitimacy of ELF and World Englishes work to undermine such pervasive and harmful ideology, both in research and practice? More specifically, how can teacher educators make a positive difference in preparing NNESTs to become aware of and work against the NS myth?

This is a difficult question. But I think that even in the few years since I wrote the piece you quote above, things have started to move on. It seems to me that it’s primarily a case of awareness, and that the best way those in TESOL who see the legitimacy of ELF can best undermine native speakerist ideology is by raising awareness of it and of the (ELF) alternative at all levels of teaching and teacher training. I’d recommend that it should be introduced into course books and courses for English learners, starting with a few basic simply expressed facts for lower level learners and moving on to serious conceptual discussions and debates for the highest levels. I also believe that awareness of ELF should be incorporated in a major way into all teacher training and teacher education programmes. This has recently started to happen, if in a small way as yet, in the Cambridge-ESOL teacher training programmes (CELTA and DELTA), but I’m not sure that there’s anything comparable going on elsewhere. And of course, until the hugely anachronistic examination boards show some understanding of how English is used in the world today, and a willingness to start testing this instead of the kind of English used between one NES and another, teachers will be obliged, however good their understanding of ELF, to continue teaching native English when it comes to getting their learners through exams.

5. You have previously pointed out that “…a [large] number of users [of English] seem to have been convinced by the prevailing native speaker ideology into believing that their English is interlanguage or fossilized if it is non ‘native-like’.” (Jenkins, 2007, p. 240). Do you believe things have changed in this respect? Or is the influence of traditional SLA research on gatekeeping practices still just as strong as it was a few years ago?

As I said in my answer to the previous question, I think things are starting to move on. Some SLA researchers have begun to engage with ELF, and are beginning to have an influence. But the gatekeeping practices are so firmly entrenched that it will take a while before their influence is substantially weakened. We still see plenty of adverts asking for teachers or authors with native or near-native English, and one way we can challenge this kind of gatekeeping is to always contact the institution or publisher concerned, ask why they believe this is necessary, and educate them about the current demographics of English.

6. Have you personally either witnessed or experienced any instances of ‘native speakerism’ or linguistic racism that you would like to share with our readers?

I can’t remember any specific examples, but I’ve quite often noticed NESs pretend not to understand someone with a NNES accent. Sometimes, though, it’s not so much a question of pretence but of being unwilling to make the effort to understand an accent which isn’t like their own. Which takes us back to accommodation…..

7. What advice would you offer to teachers and NNS worldwide who are subject to native speakerism on a frequent, sometimes daily basis?

It’s impossible to generalise. So much depends on whether the teacher/NNES is located in the world, and the specific situation in which the native speakerism occurs. And as an NES, it would be too easy and glib for me to simply say ‘be yourselves’. But native speakerism is disgraceful and I do believe that we should all, NNES and NES, do all we can to draw attention to it, ridicule it where this is feasible, and contribute to its demise.

8. How did the writing of World Englishes: A resource book for students (Jenkins, 2009) come about? What were your motivations and hopes for this publication?

When I was asked to contribute a course to a new BA programme, English language and communication, at my previous university, I decided it was time that students learning about English should learn about English around the world and not only about the English spoken by a tiny proportion of its speakers (i.e., the natives). But when I hunted around for materials for my course, I realised there were very few suitable sources and no single book that could be used as a core text. So I began to design my own course materials. At exactly that moment, Routledge approached me to write a book for their new Routledge English Language Introductions, a series of course books for undergraduates, so I offered to turn my World Englishes course into a book for their series, and piloted it on my own first cohort taking the course with me. It was first published in 2003 and proved a very popular book, so I was very soon asked to write the 2nd edition (2009), and am now being persuaded to start work on the 3rdedition, which I’ll do as soon as I’ve finished writing the monograph that I’m currently working on.

9.  Could you tell us about the Lingua Franca Core (LFC; Jenkins, 2000) in terms of how it evolved, the challenges that it still faces, and future directions? For example, what are the implications of the various and diverse, as well as changing sociolinguistic contexts around the globe in terms of keeping the LFC current?

Oh my goodness, I could write a book on this. Well, actually I have done – the one you mention!  The LFC arose out of my PhD research, which was actually on phonological accommodation among NNESs. My data also demonstrated how certain pronunciation features were/weren’t intelligible, and from this data came the LFC. I said at the time that it wasn’t definitive and needed lots of replication. After all, it was just one piece of research! So far, the replications that have been done have, in the main if not entirely, supported my original findings, but more are still needed before the LFC can be fine tuned and then, perhaps, incorporated into pronunciation teaching. Having said that, as you point out, the LFC is not a once for all set of features, so the research will need to be ongoing in order to identify any future changes in what is/n’t mutually intelligible in ELF communication. This could mean that some core features become non-core and vice versa. It could also mean that some features that are core/non-core in, say, East Asia are the opposite in Europe and Latin America. But these things haven’t been much researched, and I hope that a new generation of researchers might be interested in taking on the challenge.

10. How has Corpus Linguistics research and the use of corpora such as VOICE influenced the ELF research arena? In turn, have these influences started to make their way into teaching practice and pedagogy?

I’m not a good person to ask about corpus linguistics, as I’m not myself a corpus linguist. But as far as I know, for the time being we are still with description and analysis. Although corpus findings from VOICE and ELFA (the corpus of English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings) are much discussed in the academic literature and even in the teacher training literature, to my knowledge they haven’t yet begun to make their way into the teaching of English. One reason for this is that ELF researchers are very reticent about telling teachers what they should do. We believe that it’s for teaching professionals to decide what is most appropriate for their own learners and to take from ELF research as they see fit. In this sense, we see ELF as offering teachers and their learners more choice.

11. Do you have any updates on the Journal of English as a Lingua Franca (JELF) that you would like to share with our readers?

JELF was formally launched by a representative of its publisher, De Gruyter Mouton (Berlin) at the 4th International ELF Conference in Hong Kong in May 2011. The first issue will appear early in 2012, and the articles for that are now being reviewed and edited. A further piece of news is that De Gruyter are also going to publish a book series, Developments in English as a Lingua Franca, to be co-edited by me and my colleague Dr. Will Baker, also at the University of Southampton. Several key ELF researchers have already offered to write for the series and we hope that the first books will appear in 2013.


Jenkins, J. (2009). World Englishes: A resource book for students (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Jenkins, J. (2007). English as a lingua franca: Attitude and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.