IATEFL Joint GISIG/PronSIG Event on October 14, 2017 in London, UK

Review by Justin Jacobs

Two Special Interest Groups (SIGs) of the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language joined forces in London on October 14 for an event focused on Global Issues and Pronunciation. The coordinator of the Pronunciation SIG decided upon the suggestion of the Global Issues SIG to blend the two together and have an event with speakers giving talks on both topic areas. The result was a highly informative blend of talks concerned with pronunciation, global issues and a mixture of both. A highlight of the discussions was a presentation given by Professor Jennifer Jenkins about English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). 

* Pronunciation for Iconoclasts… Mark Hancock

Hancock opened his discussion by invoking the idea of iconoclasm, i.e. the destruction of institutionalized norms, to approach the teaching of schwa [ ə ] in pronunciation instruction. According to Hancock, schwa has become an icon of sorts. He refers to it as an elusive phoneme that, once it is mastered and fully understood, develops a kind of cult following. He wants to dismantle this devotion to schwa and its teaching, in hopes of a “pedagogic phonology” whereby one considers the “what,” “how” and “who” of pronunciation teaching. A pronunciation curriculum should be chosen based on the needs of the learner population, instead of using a monolithic syllabus applied in all cases. Using a Venn diagram, he clarified by offering an approach centered not just on phonology and pedagogy, or pedagogy and purpose, or even phonology and purpose, but a blending of the three. Of course, he was not suggesting to remove schwa completely from the curriculum, but rather to reserve it for a topic to increase receptive skills, and not to force it upon the learner. Once one has entered into the schwa in-group of those who understand its function in English phonology, he warns against elevating it to a mythical status.

* Positive Psychology in ELT for Refugees… Aleks Palanac

For Palanac, positive psychology is an important aspect of psychology because it focuses not on abnormality, but on strength, success and resilience of the human psyche. Briefly introducing the concept and an important figure, Martin Seligman, she interrogates it and investigates how to exploit it for use in English language instruction, especially when working with refugee populations. Approaching subjects such as mindfulness and exploration of emotional topics can be difficult for those who may have experienced trauma, so she details how to be sensitive when broaching these ideas with such a population. She gives a variety of practical strategies that can be used in the classroom such as (1) clearly establishing boundaries, (2) inviting learners to be present rather than reflecting on past, possibly traumatic circumstances, (3) facilitating a sense of “dignity, control and self-efficacy” in the learner, (4) carefully creating a curriculum, (5) enabling positive experiences both in the classroom and in the outside environment and (6) keeping aware of your needs and limitations as a professional. 

For one activity, the learners were invited to respond to a question about the future. She suggested that instructors be sensitive to potentially traumatic experiences in learners and to provide shortcuts in such questions by giving the opportunity for learners to disassociate themselves from the question and provide an imagined situation as a response. For example, in the question asking about future plans of learners, she proposes that the instructor allow the learner to imagine an individual to describe if the question is too personal and may provoke a negative response. The learner can provide an answer about somebody they know, a famous person or even someone who does not exist. Living through trauma does not mean that the learner should have a disadvantage if they do not want to access the past. Instructors are not qualified as psychiatrists and it is not fair to instructors or learners to try to assume that role.

* What, Why and Whence English as a Lingua Franca?... Professor Jennifer Jenkins

Professor Jenkins delivered a less practical, more theoretical discussion on ELF. To begin with, she discussed ELF in terms of “phases,” stating that we are currently in phase three of ELF. During phase one, ELF was concerned with the effect of language attitudes and ideologies on mutual intelligibility, Speech Accommodation Theory, and the early World Englishes literature (such as Braj Kachru’s 1982 “circles” model). Formerly, markedness was held to the standard of a native speaker’s judgment, but ELF acknowledged the dimension of use among non-native speakers, redirecting the focus from the judgment of a native speaker to intelligibility among other users of English. With regard to mutual intelligibility among non-native speakers of English, phase one sought to further legitimize non-native varieties of the language. 

Then in the second phase, ELF was concerned with removing the focus from “traditional, national speech communities” and aligning more with Lave and Wenger’s concept of “community of practice,” in which a group is defined by a common practice (in this case, linguistic repertoire). Now, a concept called “similect” became relevant. Formerly, the talk about “transfer” and “interference” of features from a speaker’s first language predominated the discussion about what a user of ELF brings to an interaction. This has progressed to the consideration of similect as a variable to conceive of the features of a first language that may appear during a certain interaction. Ana Mauranen’s concept of similect refers to the variety of English that occurs as a result of interaction between speakers of the same first language. It is not a dialect of English, as it develops “in parallel” rather than as a result of “mutual interaction.” With this concept in mind, Jenkins discusses the importance of identifying the similect(s), identifying the features of each similect involved in an ELF interaction and the locality of the interaction. 

In the current third phase of ELF, Jenkins has proposed a focus on multilingualism and framing ELF within it, giving the term English as a Multilingua Franca (EMF). Drawing research away from centering ELF around English and monolingualism, there is an emphasis on translanguaging and integrating English into the repertoire of available linguistic resources. Rather than championing ELF as the goal with multilingualism as a feature, the third phase repositions multilingualism as the goal, with ELF as a feature. Jenkins thus proposes the following definition for EMF: “Multilingual communication in which English is available as a contact language of choice, but it is not necessarily chosen.” This will require changing the focus from communities of practice to “contact zones,” to account for EMF in passing instead of always being in situations in which an established group is communicating. The multilingual approach will change the native/non-native distinction to mono-/multi-lingual, disadvantaging monolingual speakers. As a result, Professor Jenkins proposes that assessment be conducted in a multilingualism-with-English approach rather than an English-only approach. Accommodation skills continue to be relevant in this phase, to encourage translanguaging. 

* How to Help Learners Understand the World’s Accents… Laura Patsko

In this presentation, Patsko presented an activity to use to address students’ accommodation skills by exposing them to the world’s accents. She presents the activity in five steps: (1) listen, (2) notice, (3) analyze, (4) practice (predict), (5) reflect. For the presented example, she showed a video of a Spanish woman responding to a question. She has Spanish-accented English and in order to be more adept at accommodation, communicators must be able to shift their reception and production more or less toward the speaker, depending on the needs of the interaction. In the listen stage, students listen to the woman speak. In the notice stage, the instructor has already prepared a particular focus (in the case of the example, Laura selected the use of the voiceless post-alveolar sibilant fricative [ ʃ ] in the words “English” and “education”) and asks the students to identify the target words when they hear them. In the analyze stage, she asks the students to identify the marked pronunciation (the speaker uses a retroflex realization more like [ ʂ ] than [ ʃ ] in the video) and its environment. She follows that by asking them to predict other instances in which the speaker might produce this sound where [ ʃ ] may be expected. She wraps up the activity by asking the learners to reflect on the process. 

One recurring fact in the ELF literature is that, when pronunciation misinterpretation occurs, a listener tends to default to bottom-up processing to understand an utterance rather than relying on context as one may expect. Therefore, Patsko suggests fostering a flexibility in listening and expectations may benefit learners in processing the pronunciation of speakers from other languages. This can be especially salient in English as a Medium of Instruction situations and other English for Academic Purposes contexts. Accommodation has always been an important part of ELF and continues to be.

* Nature Is Speaking—It’s Time to Listen!... Gergő Fekete

Giving a talk from the Global Issues SIG, Fekete is a proponent of addressing nature and global issues in the English language classroom. He presented Conservation International’s series of internet videos in which celebrities narrate short high-quality videos about topics related to nature from the perspective of the topic being presented. For example, Kevin Spacey narrates a video about the rainforest, speaking in character as the rainforest. An endless amount of activities can integrate the video series into the classroom, and Fekete suggests this series due to its high-quality approach to a subject matter that, these days, can seem boring and done to death, especially in the English language classroom. Fekete uses these videos to breathe new life into a topic that can become redundant to a learner after several stages of lessons coming back to the same topic. 

* Incorporating GI into Business English... James Quartley

Quatley teaches Business English in Germany and offered some insight into his practice, using the course textbook Market Leader, 3rd ed.  He shared excerpts from the textbook and discussed ways to integrate global issues while still addressing the topics of the textbook such as management information systems or mergers and acquisitions. Using the photographs or headings, he brought forth topics in global issues that are not covered in great detail in the textbook. He demonstrated how one can integrate global issues into almost any subject area, even in small doses such as a quick five minute discussion before beginning on the objectives for the lesson.

* PC or Not PC? THAT Is the Question... Rose Aylett

Aylett discussed the current environment of political correctness (PC) and the suggestion by some that PC has taken on a life of its own and “gone mad.” She discussed the role of intructors to decide whether or not to introduce PC and non-PC language and how to do so. In a controled environment such as a classroom, a teacher can choose to introduce PC and non-PC language as a way to highlight global issues in the classroom. For Aylett, to avoid any controversial language does not benefit the learner, and to intentionally present the language and content in a safe environment is a good way to introduce potentially difficult topics.

* The Emancipation Continuum: A Framework for Evaluating the Societal Impact of ELT Practice... Steve Brown

Brown believes in lifelong learning and believes that teachers should inspire a desire for lifelong learning in students. He proposes that teachers look beyond merely meeting objectives, beyond benefitting the learners, into how they can provoke the learners to make an impact on the world beyond the classroom. In doing so, he has created what he calls the “Emancipation Continuum,” describing types of English language teaching spanning a spectrum of disempowerment, indoctrination/imperialism, empowerment and emancipation.

In the domain of disempowerment, the education is prescriptive, using mundane materials and activities from outside sources where the teacher is a dispenser of knowledge and students are the receptors of knowledge, simply taking the information and depositing it into their minds. Traveling along the continuum to indoctrination/imperialism, the education continues to be prescriptive and the teacher continues to have the same role as in the domain of disempowerment, but the materials more directly control the classroom work and the tasks are intended to practice “normative behavior.” Moving into the domain of empowerment, the teacher continues to have the same role, but the curriculum is attuned to the needs of the students, focusing on real-world skills and working to replicate that which will be encountered by the learners outside of the classroom. The final domain is the emancipation domain, in which the curriculum is co-created with learners, the teacher participates in a “multi-directional” learning plan, materials are student-generated, and tasks focus on developing skills for critical thinking. 

Brown believes most ELT, due to the popularity of the Communicative Method, is in the empowerment stage (although many instances of indoctrination/imperialism exist and occasionally, disempowerment is certain situations). Brown wants to issue a call to action, citing Freire on the Myth of Neutrality (which cannot exist; so-called “neutrality” is not truly neutral, but rather benefitting the status quo or whosoever holds the power in a superordinate/subordinate dichotomy), calling for ELT professionals to push the practice into the domain of emancipation. He calls for ELT professions to broach difficult topics, investigate global issues, and do more than simply empower students. For Brown, ELT needs to push forward into emancipating students, and therefore, the world.