Patricia Friedrich

NNEST of the Month 

November 2011

Patricia Friedrich is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University having received her PhD from Purdue University. She is an author of non-fiction and fiction, with two books by Continuum – Language, Negotiation and Peace: the use of English in conflict resolution and Teaching Academic Writing (ed.). She has also published some 25 articles and book chapters in such periodicals as Harvard Business Review and World Englishes. She has co-edited a special issue of World Englishes about South America and two areas of the Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics for Blackwell-Wiley. Her fiction work has appeared in several literary journals including Grey Sparrow, Eclectic Flash, Blue Guitar and The Linnet’s Wings. She is an editorial board member for several academic journals and now part of the editorial collective at Trivia. She teaches Critical Applied Linguistics, Composition and Sociolinguistics.

NNEST Blog November Interviewer: Isabela Villas Boas

1- Why did you decide to become an educator and what led you to engage in graduate studies in the U.S.?

I started teaching children when I was very young. My oldest memories of that time are of very eager faces, little minds that were curious about everything around them and ready to learn. Teaching and learning were not much different from playing, and I don’t think they ever need to be.

2-   Are you an “Accidental teacher” like many of us – who thought that teaching was a temporary job – or had you already chosen teaching as your career?

My mother has had a wonderful career as an ESL teacher. From a young age, I loved watching her teach, so I never thought of it as temporary. In fact, I am a firm advocate of the professionalization of teaching at all levels. I don’t think there is a problem at all with starting “accidentally” but to not honor the profession by remaining uncommitted to pedagogical innovation and amelioration and irresponsive to deep language knowledge is a problem. Respect for teachers has to start from within the field.

Like most young people, when I finished college I wanted to travel and learn from different experiences in different environments. I was thrilled that the opportunity to study and subsequently teach and conduct research in the US came my way, but I would have been equally happy to have these experiences in another country or back in Brazil if I were still learning from them and helping others learn in the process.

3- What sparked your interest in intercultural communication, English as a lingua franca, and English for peace?

I started studying intercultural communication more for personal reasons than anything else. I believe I am very susceptible to the climate and mood of the environment, and I wanted to understand how certain forms of conflict could be explained in better ways than “that person is being difficult.” It soon became obvious to me that although when we teach English and other languages we are trying to help students negotiate meaning across linguistic and cultural lines, we spend much more time teaching the formal features of languages than their social milieu. We tend to do this despite all the knowledge we might have gained from World Englishes, sociolinguistics and language pragmatics.

 My interest in English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) comes from a firm belief in the merit of diversity and variation and great reverence for human beings’ ability to negotiate meaning in specific contexts using a variety of skills. The idea of language that puts many people in contact, like a lingua franca does, is very appealing to me.

Finally, English for peace brings it all together. The point in understanding intercultural communication, in trying to contextualize and negotiate meaning in specific situations as we do in ELF is to move toward a more pacific existence.

4- You are a non-native speaker of English in an American higher education context, researching and writing about English for intercultural communication and English as a lingua franca, having both native and non-native speakers as interlocutors. In Friedrich 2011 (in press), you mention the changing face of communicative competence in ELF situations, especially at the strategic level in its sociolinguistic aspect. Baker (2009) brings culture to the forefront of this discussion, arguing that the “linguistic and cultural forms expressed through ELF are likely to be hybrid, dynamic and continuously adapting to local needs, global influences, and the demands of communicating across cultures”(pg. 574). Can you describe how you deal with these dynamics and how ELF-as-a-function is resorted to in your daily interactions?

 I always chose to see my non-native status in a native environment as an asset rather than a liability. I consciously chose to do that early in my career, believing that others tend to see us in ways we ourselves hint at. Being a user of multiple languages allows me not only to interact with more people, but it also contributes in vital ways to the approach I use to construct and understand linguistic theory. I think my students also end up benefiting from a more varied set of examples, contexts and learning opportunities.

The concepts of purpose and audience, borrowed from Rhetoric and Composition, have everything to do with this paradigm and with the quote by Baker. One can only make decisions about linguistic forms, register, and appropriateness of utterances (to cite a few) in context. The ability to do so is paramount to successful ELF interactions.

5- Could you perhaps give one or two examples of concrete situations in which you felt your non-native status was an advantage, for the sake of illustration?
 
What I know about grammar, syntax and other aspects of linguistics comes at the cost of much work and study. I don’t know these things because they “sound right.” I know things because they are rule-governed (in the broader sense of the term). Such knowledge means that I can break the rules with a specific rhetorical purpose in mind, knowing that I am doing just that. When I explain concepts to my students (many of whom are native speakers of English), I can rely on that knowledge to show the beauty in realizing that language works as a system.

6- In Friedrich and Matsuda (2010), you propose that ELF should be conceptualized as a function, not a variety, since ELF is context and situation specific and its linguistic features cannot be described. In Friedrich, 2011 (in press), you propose some steps to be considered by teachers in dealing with ELF. In what teaching contexts and with what types of learners (age, proficiency level) do you think such discussions about ELF should be more heavily emphasized? How and to what extent should this approach be used with NNEST in expanding- circle contexts who don’t frequently interact with NS and haven’t themselves experienced communication in English with NNES from other nationalities?

 I believe there is no limit to the applicability of these ideas with regards to level of proficiency, age or even interactional patterns. Of course the more advanced a student gets, the greater the opportunities for implementation. But thinking of ELF as a function (the idea had already been hinted at by Berns and Canagarajah independently) is more than anything a change in paradigm. Culturally, the Western world has shown a preference for binary, neat divisions (left and right, advantages and disadvantages, NNS and NS). Adopting an ELF perspective means inserting users in a context where everyone needs to negotiate meaning without a hierarchical, binary division. This kind of attitude you can practice in any classroom, with any level of proficiency.

7- In an April, 2011 post in his widely read blog – An A-Z of ELT – Scott Thornbury mentioned the plenaries and talks on English as a Lingua Franca, Global English, and English as an International Language in the TESOL 2011 program, focusing primarily on Ramin Akbari’s talk and his claim that ELF is a case of “linguistics applied”. Thornbury concludes his post:
It is the learner, in the end, who must decide what code best serves his or her needs,   and  what is achievable in the available time and with the available resources. For most learners, the arguments as to what constitutes the global variety are academic. As an article in a recent TESOL Quarterly put it, “To learners in developing, resource-poor EFL settings especially, it matters very little who says tomahto and who says tomayto. Knowing the word tomato is achievement enough” (Bruthiaux, 2010, p. 368).

How would you respond to this comment in light of your research and practice?

 I was lucky enough to be a part of one of these plenary sessions, the one organized by Aya Matsuda, in which I had the privilege of presenting alongside Ryuko Kubota and Nobuyuki Hino too. I focused particularly on the cultural aspects of ELF. I was there to argue for greater “strategic level” emphasis in the classroom, which is in a way analogous to what Thornbury is saying in that post. We as users decide on form based on function and such aspects as time, familiarity with other participants of the interaction, goals of the interaction, etc. In that sense, ELF does not offer many certainties; there is no definitive form or utterance that will open all doors, no joke that will make everyone laugh, and no variety that will be completely intelligible in all contexts, but then again such is the nature of language itself. When we introduce an ELF perspective to our students, we are in a way making them feel more comfortable with uncertainty, unpredictability and variation, but at the same time, we are giving them the tools to help them do well in such situations. Even potentially underappreciated skills such as the ability to paraphrase, engage in circumlocution, ask for clarification, and guess from context are extremely useful in ELF situations, and we should make sure our students take those along in their toolkit wherever English may take them.

 As for the Bruthiaux quote, I feel a little more ambivalent toward it. It seems to underestimate the capacity of learners everywhere to go beyond limits – their own and their environments’. Who says what to whom matters not because we necessarily need to copy those forms but instead because an analysis of those forms and of the users’ motivations tells us who they are/might be in the world and thus helps us decide how we want to interact with them. In that sense, I don’t believe in a “global variety.” Provided one has a choice between tomayto, tomato and what other forms may come, I am fine.

8- What advice in dealing with ELF would you give to practicing teachers of English to speakers of other languages?

 It might seem that teachers need a complete overhaul of their practices and materials before they can deal with ELF in the classroom, but that is not the case. Every classroom activity, every material already has the potential to become part of an ELF pedagogy. What teachers need to do is look at those elements critically, asking important questions such as,

“What variation might there be to this form/utterance/interaction/habit?”
“How can I better present such variation to my students?”
“If we change the context of this particular interaction, what else will need to change?”
“Who are the participants in this interaction? What do we know about them? How does this kind of information help us make decisions about what and how to say what we have to say?”
“How do I as a teacher and person respond to difference and variation? How do my views of the above impact my teaching?”
“What is the context in which my students are likely to use language? Can I emphasize those while also introducing other scenarios/varieties of language/vocabulary items/cultural orientations?”

This of course goes for both oral and written language. The trick is really to show students what they already do all the time but might not be conscious of. They adapt and make choices about language sometimes from minute to minute in their native languages – they change their register to speak to a boss, they incorporate slang to gain membership in a community of friends, they use ‘big words’ to impress a teacher and simplified vocabulary to talk to a small child. ELF situations should be one more set of language occurrences in which students make adaptations to be better understood by and better understand other people.

REFERENCES

Baker, Will. (2009). The cultures of English as a lingua franca. TESOL Quarterly, 43 (4), 567-592 (26).

Friedrich, Patricia (2011). ELF, Intercultural communication and the strategic aspect of communicative competence (in press).

Friedrich, Patricia and Matsuda, Aya (2010). When Five Words Are Not Enough: A Conceptual and Terminological Discussion of English as a Lingua Franca. International Multilingual Research Journal, 4 (1), 20-30.

Thornbury, Scott. (2011). E is for ELF. An A-Z of ELT, Web. April 03, 2011. http://scottthornbury.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/e-is-for-elf/

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About isabelavb

I'm a teacher, teacher developer and Academic Superintendent at Casa Thomas Jefferson, Brasilia, Brazil. I am engaged in lifelong learning and am eager to interact with other like-minded professionals around the world. I'm particularly interested in second language writing, methodology, assessment, NNEST issues, and 21st Century learning and leadership.

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