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Negotiating varied proficiency levels in Lingua Franca English

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It is now commonplace for people around the globe to use English as a language of wider communication or, as it is now often called, a lingua franca. Growing research into the use of lingua franca English (ELF) tends to focus exclusively on L2 speakers. In the case study to be reported here I assume a more liberal definition, recognizing that L1 speakers are also lingua franca users in many contemporary contexts. Inevitably, levels of proficiency in lingua franca English are always likely to be varied, even more so when L1 speakers are also involved, raising the question of whether such disparities disadvantage, or even marginalize, less proficient speakers.

The paper reports a longitudinal study which aims to assess the impact of varied proficiency on communication among a group of lingua franca English users who include both ‘true’ lingua franca users (in the now accepted ELF sense) and also some L1 (‘native’) speakers. It examines discourse data gathered over a period of four months from participants involved in a shared learning project and ostensibly functioning as equals linguistically. It identifies the strategies adopted to deal with very varied proficiency, and analyses how these develop over time as the group bonds as an ‘interculture’ group. The focus is primarily on turn management and topic control and the emphasis is on the successful accomplishment of communication, rather than on failed or mis-communication. The findings suggest that the ability to adopt successful mediating strategies for varied proficiency depends on previous intercultural experience and experience of being learners and users of a second, or foreign, language. The paper will consider the implications of this for language education.

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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