My Language – My English. Towards a Lingua Franca Pedagogy

Back from „Sprachen & Beruf“, Berlin, 25-26 Oct. 2012,,
Kurt Kohn talked about „My Language – My English”  (presentation slides)

Kurt KohnEnglish enables non-native speakers to gain access to a globalised world of communication and to overcome barriers of language and culture. But more often than not they are also forced to hide their intellectual and communicative capabilities under a bushel, while native speakers can be quite carefree about how they exploit and display their ‘home field’ advantage. It is not always easy these days for non-native speakers of English to find their place of identity in the English-speaking world. Torn between seemingly conflicting needs and requirements regarding communication, communal participation, self-image and esteem, knowing and learning, non-native speakers sometimes find it hard to feel at ease with themselves and to perform at the top of their potential. This is all the more frustrating since out there in real life, non-native speakers are on the rise. In Europe and around the world they are increasing in numbers, using their own version(s) of English for their own authentic communication purposes.

Against this backdrop, researchers have convincingly – and encouragingly – emphasized the non-native speakers’ right to ownership of English (cf. Widdowson 2003, chap. 4). Owning a house is one thing; however, making it one’s home is yet another. If non-native speakers accept ownership, does this require them to let go of Standard English as a learning target, and of native speakers as role models? Graddol in his 2006/07 appraisal of the future of English finds evidence that seems to point in this direction; and Dewey 2012 sees a need for more research about how (non-native) ELF speakers communicate to be better able to understand the direction in which English language learning and teaching should go. The ELF-informed pedagogic message thus tends to combine a positive evaluation of natural ELF communication with the rejection of a pedagogic Standard English orientation.

In my talk I introduce the social-constructivist “My English” condition (cf. Kohn 2011) according to which ownership of a language is established in a creative construction process. It is only by developing their own versions of English that non-native speakers manage to make English their own – continuously influenced by a variety of shaping forces from native language to target language model and communicative exposure, from learning goals & requirements to motivational attitudes, learning approach and learning effort.

From this perspective, I argue that the pedagogic conflict between ELT and ELF is due to a conceptual misunderstanding. Theoretical and empirical evidence is provided to support of the following claims:

  • ELF communication is not “naturally” successful. More often than not, it is hampered by serious comprehension and production problems camouflaged by an overdose of ‘let it pass’.
  • In a weak, constructivist version, non-native speaker ownership of English is fully compatible with both ELF communication and a pedagogic Standard English orientation.
  • Beyond the cooperative achievement of mutual comprehension, success in ELF communication crucially involves speaker and hearer satisfaction.

The discussion of these claims sets the stage for an ELF-informed and ELF-oriented pedagogic approach that combines the following target dimensions with an overall Standard English orientation:

Raising awareness for lingua franca manifestations of English

  • to increase tolerance for others and for oneself;

Developing ELF-specific comprehension skills

  • to get accustomed to non-native speaker accents and “messy” performance;

Developing ELF-specific production skills

  • to improve pragmatic fluency and strategic skills for accommodation and collaborative negotiation of meaning in intercultural ELF situations;

Developing the learner’s sense of ownership (“agency”)

  • to ensure speaker satisfaction and self-confidence.

In connection with questions and challenges of pedagogic implementation, pedagogic issues of e-learning are briefly touch on, in particular with regard to the authentication potential of online resources and web collaboration.



Dewey, M. (2012). Towards a post-normative approach: learning the pedagogy of ELF. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca 1–1 (2012), 141 – 170.

Graddol, D. (2006/07). English Next: Why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’. British Council.

Kohn, K. (2011). English as a lingua franca and the Standard English misunderstanding. In De Houwer, A. & Wilton, A. (eds.). English in Europe Today. Sociocultural and Educational Perspectives. Benjamins, 72-94.

Widdowson, H.G. (2003). Defining Issues in English Language Teaching. OUP. [Chap. 4: The ownership of English (1994)].

Also see Kohn, K. (2012). “My English: Second Language Learning as Individual and Social Construction” []

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