ELF Oral Presentations in a Multilingual Context: Intelligibility, Familiarity and Agency

Iris Schaller-Schwaner


In the Swiss context, oral use of English in research and HE is embedded in a nexus of societal quadrilingualism, varying profiles of individual multilingualism and different forms of institutional and educational bilingualism, to which internationals contribute a further dynamic. High-stakes public speaking in academia can bring tensions and conflicting demands to a head. Oral presentations are thus among the first and most enduring challenges in multilingual academic contexts in which ELF is integrated into an individual's academic socialisation and multilingual repertoire.

A number of factors make oral presentations stressful for speakers: lack of experience in oracy, activation of competing languages, memory and processing overload in ex-tempore style, and insecurity about intelligibility in the interactional vacuum. Interestingly, ELF research has rarely focused on oral presentations, but teaching EAP in and for multilingual situations requires research into what happens in disciplinary contexts when multilingual users of ELF deliver oral presentations to other multilingual speakers in particular institutional conditions.

This chapter focuses on qualitative data, field notes and analysis of evidence- informed reflective teaching in an EAP ELF setting. It describes how an EAP lecturer's ethnographic ELF research on presentations in two disciplinary speech events in a bilingual Swiss university has fed into her pedagogical responses to ELF classroom presentations. Specifically, it focuses on how fluctuations in intelligibility are dealt with both strategically and through pronunciation work in order to promote learner agency and autonomous functionality in 'code-sharing' lingua-franca mode in ELF (Schaller-Schwaner 2010, 2011: 438). It explores how variability in ELF and the role of agency in coping with it require teachers to incorporate both in-depth experience of interactions among speakers from unfamiliar L1 backgrounds and to provide phonemic points of orientation to compensate for lack of such experience as well as for "similect" effects (Mauranen 2012: 28).

The Swiss linguistic landscape will be sketched in the first section. The second section considers ELF in European HE, specifically the author's institutional context, and connections with intelligibility. The next section focuses on ethnographic ELF research on presentations in disciplinary contexts and an EAP ELF classroom, while the final section interprets results and illustrates pedagogical implications for teaching English for Plurilingual Academic Purposes (henceforth EPAP) (Schaller-Schwaner 2009, 2012).

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