6th Issue, January 2010

How Non-Native Speakers of English Communicate Effectively

In situations where non-native speakers of English mainly communicate with other non-native speakers of English, they use English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). ELF speakers effectively use a number of strategies for communication and learning, which make them successful communicators.

Researchers have investigated the learning, use and perceptions of ELF in three European countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary and the UK. They identified strategies which are not only used for communication, but also for learning and for expressing ones identities and for building relationships.


Code-switching as a resource
The investigated ELF speakers quite often switch to their mother tongue or, sometimes, to foreign languages not only if they cannot think of a word, but also to build relations and create a certain feeling of group membership. The other speakers not only accept such code-switching, but they help with providing suggestions for the meaning of a word, describe its meaning, give examples and routinely use their linguistic resources creatively.


Informal learning and teaching
ELF speakers consciously use words which others may not know and which they may find useful, funny or otherwise interesting. They do this not only in English but also in their mother tongue or other languages. By doing so, they build relationships, signal membership in a community of multilingual speakers, teach and learn informally.

In general, ELF speakers automatically assess an interlocutors competence in a language and adjust to it. Often, they seem to identify an expert in a group and try to learn form him or her. This expert does not necessarily have to be a native speaker of English, but just a successful communicator.

The norms concerning language use do not come from outside, but they are created within the group itself. What works in the community is important, not what is considered to be correct according to what one has learnt in language classrooms.


Ambivalent perceptions
While ELF is considered by both native and non-native speakers to be positive, and ELF communication is considered to be successful, the investigated speakers also sometimes showed feelings of inadequacy when speaking English or tended to compare their speech with that of English native speakers.


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