Content



Scope of Study

The study "English and Multilingualism, or English only in a Multilingual Europe?" covers mainly three questions: how does the dominant role of English limit the opportunities for students to become multilingual, what are students attitudes towards native speakers and non-native speakers use of English, and what role do native speakers play in multilingual contexts?

The data for the study comes from three sources: semi-structured interviews with 26 Erasmus students; semi-structured interviews with 18 students, teachers and administrators at two secondary schools in Szeged (Hungary); 410 contributions on world-wide, European, Czech and Hungarian Internet forums.

The interviews with students included questions on the interviewees linguistic background, experiences and use of English. Furthermore, they listened to speech samples of English and rated and discussed them.

Interviews with administrators and teachers were carried out in a similar way, but questions concentrated on educational issues rather than language use and they did not carry out the speech sample rating task.

The selected Internet forums were searched for threads dealing with English native speakers, then researchers looked for keywords like "language" or "English" and finally analysed what the users were writing about and how they did.

LINEE News
4th Issue, August 2009

English as a Lingua Franca Can Promote Learning of Other Languages


Using English as a lingua franca (ELF) does not necessarily discourage people from learning further languages: this is what interviews with Erasmus students and secondary school students indicate. They also indicate that native speakers English is considered a model, but not necessarily a desirable goal and that native speakers of English are less successful in communicating in multilingual contexts than non-native speakers.

LINEE researchers have investigated whether English promotes or hinders multilingualism, how students use their English and what their attitudes are towards ELF and native speakers English (see Study Outline). To do so, they interviewed Erasmus students and secondary school students and they analysed Internet forums on language issues.

 

English is only the first step
For Erasmus students, English appears to be a tool to enter communities to which they may not otherwise have had access to for example, to schools in Hungary and the Czech Republic. They feel that speaking English is not enough and that one has to acquire at least some knowledge of the local languages, too. One interviewee put it like this:

"I think if you just speak English everywhere, you feel a tourist wherever you are. Of course you cant be a local but maybe something in between and for that you need some language skills."

Furthermore, English enables Erasmus students to communicate within a group of students with many different mother tongues. Consequently, they do not only learn some of their host countrys language, but also some of their fellow students languages, as the statement of another interviewee illustrates:

"People tell their words to others, the words in their language and, and it is one of the topics of conversation always that how is it in your language? how is it in your, and you, you already learn the new, new words and new things."

 

Native speakers as reference
When students were asked to rate speech samples from speakers with different accents, they considered the native speakers accent as a model. This means that they see it as a point of reference, yet it is something they consider not achievable. Their goal is to achieve the competence of a speaker with a high, but understandable level of non-native English.

Students reasoned this by saying that, first, a native speakers accent was probably not achievable after a certain age and that, second, they were more likely to communicate with non-native speakers than with native speakers anyway, a situation when a native speaker accent might even be a liability.

 

Native speakers are potential outsiders
The study indicates that native speakers are not considered the most successful users of English in the Erasmus community. They are reported to be difficult to understand due to speed, accent and vocabulary.

Furthermore, Erasmus students seem to develop their own variety of English with unconventional vocabulary, phrases and grammar. Native speakers, however, may not adjust to this "new" English and therefore run the risk of being perceived as outsiders.

 

Meet attitudes with resources
Although interviews showed positive attitudes towards learning other languages besides English, these attitudes must be met with resources and opportunities to actually learn these languages. If there are not sufficient opportunities to learn further languages, there is the risk that speakers of English rely solely on their English skills.

 

Train native speakers to talk to non-native speakers
Both interviews and the analysis of Internet forums suggest that native speakers of English should learn (and be taught) to speak in a manner that is understood by non-native speakers and that they should learn other languages at least on a "polite" level instead of automatically assuming English competence of others.

Although the results of this study cannot be generalized, there is potential for this analysis to add to the discussion of English and multilingualism in Europe, particularly in understanding the complex relationship between non-native speaker communities of English users, attitudes towards English, and native speakers of English.

 

>>> Comment by Don Peckham, University of Szeged