Using authentic ELF data

Flowerdew (2012) sees a few advantages to using corpora to support language learning from an EIL perspective. As he points out, a wide range of corpora proves that 'real' English is not just native English and corpora representing various Englishes can help students to understand multilingualism in reality. He also hypothesises that a diversity of corpora allow for more cultural assumptions than those exclusively associated with native English. He further notes that language learners' needs and wants should be respected, and so they should not be exposed to mainstream native English exclusively. While these points certainly provide support to the value of authentic ELF data, the limitations of Flowerdew's suggestion need to be considered in order for authentic ELF data to be effective for ELF awareness development. Firstly, noticing the diversity features does not necessarily lead to positive attitude to English that does not conform to mainstream norms (e.g., Dewey 2012; Galloway and Rose 2014). Secondly, teachers cannot assume how students perceive their needs or wants. A body of research shows a wide spread of aspiration for native English and some studies reveal that students perceive a need for native English in the era of ELF (e.g., Groom 2012; Kuo 2006; Timmis 2002). Wang (2013) looks into the complexity of language attitude and finds that aspiration for native English relates to the symbolic power, whereas English that does not conform to native English is motivated by needs for cultural and communicative effects. The point is that teachers need to help students to identify their needs and wants for English that is relevant to their context of use.

To utilise ELF corpora for the purpose of ELF awareness, teachers first need to select and present authentic ELF data that is appropriate to the class. A few ELF corpora offer authentic ELF data, including Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English (www.univie.ac.at/voice/) and the ELF academic corpus (http://www. helsinki.fi/englanti/elfa/elfacorpus). Traditional ELT corpora are usually presented in order to show similarity of linguistic features and to prescribe usage on that basis. ELF corpora, on the other hand, should be presented in order to show diversity of features and be used descriptively not prescriptively.

More importantly, teachers can use questions to facilitate student understanding of ELF-related issues and to guide students in consulting their own needs and wants for English that is relevant to their context. Possible questions include:

• What is your purpose of learning and using English? What kind of English do you think would suit your purpose?

  • • What do you think makes a successful communication? Is your view relevant to the contexts in which you might use English?
  • • Are there any features of this ELF data which fit in or conflict with your views of good English? What are the implications of the comparisons for your language learning and practice?
  • • What do you think of the speakers' use of English? Do you like their way of using English? Why?
  • • Do you think that the speakers have achieved their purposes? If yes, how? If no, what do you think are possible reasons?

This approach will boost student understanding of the nature of ELF communication and further free them from the reliance on prescribed rules of Standard English. However, teachers need to make it explicit that the use of ELF data does not encourage students to imitate the patterns emerging in the data but helps them to discover the strategies underlying successful communication. To assist students, the teacher can have students work in groups to evaluate the acceptability of given examples of English and discuss the criteria behind their judgement. Then, the teacher checks student explanations of their criteria. Attention can be paid to whether and how students draw on the information that the teacher provides prior to their discussion. Feedback can be offered if misunderstandings occur or if students struggle to make sense of the abstract concept.

 
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