Oral presentations in academic ELF contexts

This section first outlines ethnographic work on the emerging use of ELF in two academic speech events in two different faculties of UFR. It then provides a reflective account of the author's classroom practices combined with student data produced in the teaching process.

Ethnographic research on ELF in academic contexts: oral presentations

Ethnographic research on ELF in UFR academic settings (e.g. Schaller-Schwaner 2005, 2008a, 2008b, 2009, 2011) set out to produce evidence of the bottom-up functions of ELF in local academic niches outside language teaching. Essentially following a Swalesian 'situation-first' approach (Swales 1998, 2004: 73), it involved regular attendance at two innovative disciplinary lunch-time speech events (presentation + discussion), one in psychology and one in biochemistry, over more than one year, taking detailed field notes, audio recording, interviewing and observing the disciplinary contexts to produce a 'thick' description of the two genres. The analysis included a differentiation of the local purposes of ELF in these events: as a sine-qua-non and/or a deliberate choice for negotiating the bilingual divide under very specific institutional conditions and vis-a-vis various multi- and bi(tri-)lingual audiences and expectations. The findings suggest that ELF academic speech genres, under partially fluctuating multilingual conditions, fulfil a variety of roles: they are communal, emerging, local, academic disciplinary traditions (cf. Mauranen 2002, 2005, 2006); they constitute tertiary-education, disciplinary and additional-language socialisation; they represent research genres as well as local instantiations of wider discourse communities; they are regular, cumulative manifestations of a collective LSP choice; and they are cohesive practices for local disciplinary colleagues and co-constitutive of the university environment and the institution (Schaller- Schwaner 2008b, 2009, 2011). Each of these factors shape the particular ELF that speakers engage in as organisers or chairs, presenters, (peripheral) participants, audience, teachers, students, visitors, regulars, novices, or experts. The study also shows more and less experienced ELF users differing in their (self-) positionings (in the sense of Davies and Harre 1990 cf. Schaller-Schwaner 2011) but coping with the challenges of orally presenting in English and asking or answering questions in a language that is not necessarily their default mode of interpersonal communication.

One setting, a lunch-time seminar in biochemistry, was attended by all research teams plus graduate students for weekly presentations and discussion. ELF had been in use for about 15 years and was being adopted officially as the primary teaching language of MSc programmes in the Sciences. In weekly Journal Clubs, doctoral students presented recently published research articles. From open-ended interviews about their experience with English, it emerged that the speakers with the least familiar pronunciations and those that displayed least awareness of their multilingual audience, for example, in terms of speed, were most difficult to understand. Speakers of Swiss national languages often found that Indian Englishes required getting used to and individual Indian speakers made remarks that indicated awareness of not only accommodating to European ELF users, but also 'subconsciously' adopting local ways of using words 'from seniors or elders in the lab'. They all relied heavily on visual support and many drew attention to its importance. This ethnographic research was not designed as a study of intelligibility, but the subject of 'difficult understanding' was raised by interviewees and experienced by the author as an observer in some presentations. In addition to interview and observation results, data triangulation was possible through analysis of participants' actions, for example involving visuals, which were essential and used in all presentations.

The other lunch-time event, in psychology, was a peer-event for colleagues from a hitherto linguistically segregated department. The presenters were external and internal junior and senior researchers. The observation took place during the second and third year of its existence so that the use of ELF as a local oral practice was still new to the department and some presenters. As explained in more detail elsewhere (Schaller-Schwaner 2011), of the different Experience- with-English positionings (Davies and Harre 1990) constructed by speakers in ELF lunch-time speech events, in psychology there was one subsumed under 'BTA-Returner' (Schaller-Schwaner 2011: 433) that co-occurred with noticeable hyper-use of a feature that very few learners of English ever assimilate, namely the lengthened 3i:: pronunciation of the definite article as a 'filler' (Roach 2009a: 167). It was used by a new professor to the psychology department, who originated from a country not held in high esteem at that time. He was indexing Britain explicitly and implicitly throughout the first few minutes of his lunch-time presentation as if flagging his 'BTA' - a safe positioning at a tertiary education institution. The local practice was only being established, he was a newcomer himself, so an authenticating feature as an experienced user of English in an L1 context signalled linguistic security from a different reference system in order to give a sense of orientation in a context which had not yet acquired local experience of ELF. Importantly, his use of this feature can be interpreted not as an individual displaying linguistic insecurity but as his agentive way of coping with insecurity.

The mainstream notion of language as a monolingual entity that belongs to its respective cultural community was still prevalent with regard to local language issues and insecurities. Another, established, local chair with plentiful experience as an international presenter was hesitant at first about being recorded and said this constituted 'additional evaluation' and heightened his 'reactivity'. In the local setting, with linguistically segregated chairs offering complete study programmes both in French and in German, he had every reason for heightened reactivity concerning his speech and for feeling evaluated when speaking in public as he was a Germanophone from Germany occupying one of the Francophone chairs and functioning entirely in French. Thus, as a cohesive strategy, conducting the lunch-time seminar in English drew departmental colleagues together, negotiated the departmental language boundary and emphasised disciplinary communality through the use of English. The signs of insecurity were a function not only of English being new but also of the language attitudes and ideologies English was intended to overcome.

 
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