to the Editor
funny but useful
Function words in action
MED Magazine is
2 years old!
on Study Skills:
Guide and tools for
becoming a better writer
Types of composition
words of the month
What is ELF?
Old and new abbreviations
in English Language Teaching
Tips for Business English
Teaching negotiations skills
ELF noun [U]
English as a Lingua Franca: the use of English
as a language for international communication
'ELF is real English. In
fact, if we define it in terms of the number of speakers, ELF is more
real than native English. The problem is that, in our minds, real equals
(Teaching English, British
The acronym ELF has been used in a variety of ways
in English over the years, including as an abbreviation for Earth
Liberation Front, Extremely Low Frequency,
and indeed even Elvish Linguistic Fellowship!
In the context of the teaching and learning of the English language however,
the acronym ELF has gained a new significance in the noughties,
being recently used to refer to the interesting concept of English
as a Lingua Franca.
Lingua franca is a sociolinguistic term which refers
to a language used to enable routine communication between two groups
of people who speak different languages. There are many examples of lingua
francas across the world, including Swahili and French. English however
has long been thought of as the world's most international language, and
therefore represents the most common lingua franca.
The concept of English as a Lingua Franca, or ELF,
is interesting however because it encompasses not just the use of English
internationally, but the use of a particular form of English which
does not necessarily reflect the language of native speakers. ELF
is often thought of as a 'pidgin' language, a non-native language which
has a simplified lexicon and grammatical structure. Rather than basing
its norms of correctness and appropriateness on the language of Britain
and the United States, ELF often incorporates trends of use observed
in continental Europe. One of the main theorists in ELF research
Barbara Seidlhofer, Associate Professor of English at the University
of Vienna. Seidlhofer claims that a number of characteristic 'errors'
in non-native speaker use of English in fact have no significant impact
on communication between non-native speakers, and could therefore be readily
incorporated into a form of English used as a lingua franca. For instance
ELF users will often use relative pronouns who and which
interchangeably, or use the same present tense form for all verbs, such
as You seem happy and She seem happy.
Whilst some features of English may be significant when
attempting to 'blend in' within a native speaker community, the same features
may in fact be insignificant with respect to effective communication,
i.e. when English is being used as a lingua franca. Proponents of ELF
therefore predict that the English taught to non-native speakers will
evolve into a more pidgin-like form of the language as it begins to acknowledge
the most common language forms used for international communication, many
of which would be considered 'errors' from a native speaker perspective.
Some theorists have proposed a useful distinction between
ELF as a 'language for communication' as opposed to a 'language
for identification' which would be the learner's own language, or the
English spoken by native speakers. With current research suggesting that
more than fifty per cent of English learners want to learn international
English, i.e. a 'language for communication', it looks like the concept
of ELF is here to stay.
ELF is another recent example of the use of acronyms and abbreviations
in the field of English language teaching, itself most commonly referred
to by the abbreviation ELT. The 'E' always stands for English
in these abbreviations, many of which we see dotted through English teaching
resources without always being sure what the other letters stand for!
Below we round up some of the most common ELT acronyms/abbreviations and
attempt to explain them.
EAP English for Academic Purposes
This term represents the idea of competence in English as appropriate
for the reading and writing of academic texts, taking notes at lectures
and seminars, and giving academic presentations. EAP courses
are often aimed at non-native speakers of English who are studying at
British or US colleges and universities.
EPP English for Professional Purposes
This describes competence in English as appropriate for a particular
job, such as working in the tourist industry.
ESP English for Special/Specific Purposes
This term covers competence in the technical English appropriate to
a particular subject domain, such as medicine, law, business, etc.
CALL Computer Assisted Language Learning
This term refers to the use of specially designed computer programs
as an aid to the teaching and learning of English and other languages.
CALL software may range from simple games and grammatical exercises,
through to complete language courses on CD-ROM. Record and play-back
as an aid to pronunciation practice is another typical CALL activity.
The term CALL is also sometimes used to refer to the general
use of electronic media (e.g. the Internet) in language classes.
ELT English Language Teaching
A generic term for the teaching and learning of English by non-native
speakers, used especially by publishing houses which produce resources
(coursebooks, reference books, exams) for learners and teachers of English.
EFL English as a Foreign Language
This represents the teaching and learning of English in a country where
English is not generally spoken, especially the countries of continental
Europe. It can also sometimes be used to refer to non-English speakers,
again typically continental Europeans, being in an English-speaking
country for an educational visit with the specific purpose of learning
English. EFL tends to concentrate on English for academic or
TEFL Teaching English as a Foreign Language
A term often associated with teaching courses, teaching qualifications,
and teaching certificates. IATEFL
is the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign
Language, based in Britain.
ESL English as a Second Language
This represents the teaching and learning of English in an English-speaking
region. Typical ESL students are immigrants and refugees, for
whom English is not always a second language but possibly third or fourth,
hence the term is not always entirely accurate. ESL tends to
concentrate on English for daily needs when living as part of an English-speaking
TESL Teaching English as a Second Language
Teaching English to non-native speakers in a country where English is
EAL English as an Additional Language
In Britain, the term EAL is increasingly being used in preference
to ESL, particularly in the context of learning support for schoolchildren
from ethnic minority groups, for whom English is an 'additional' language.
EAL is also sometimes used as a generic term for the learning
of English by speakers of other languages, covering both ESL
ESOL English for Speakers of Other Languages
Though a generic, catch-all abbreviation for English language teaching,
this term is often used in the same contexts as ESL, referring
to the learning of English in an English-speaking country by immigrants
and refugees. The same abbreviation is also associated with the University
of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (or UCLES)
as part of its Cambridge ESOL suite of exams
for learners of English.
The main exams are:
KET (Key English Test) (pronounced /ket/): elementary
PET (Preliminary English Test) (pronounced /pet/): intermediate
FCE (First Certificate in English): upper intermediate
CAE (Certificate in Advanced English): advanced
CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English): very advanced
BEC (Business English Certificates) (pronounced /bek/):
An exam in business English which can be taken at three levels (Preliminary,
Vantage and Higher)
YLE (Young Learners English): English exams for children
aged 7 to 12.
TESOL Teaching English to Speakers of Other
Languages (pronounced /tisl/)
Again, a term usually associated with teaching courses, teaching qualifications,
and teaching certificates, and also with the professional teaching organisation
TESOL Inc., in the
IELTS International English Language Testing
A test of English language proficiency accepted by most Australian,
British, Canadian and New Zealand academic institutions, by many academic
institutions in the USA, and by various professional organizations.
IELTS is jointly
managed by The
British Council, the University of Cambridge ESOL
exams and IELTS Australia.
Test of English as a Foreign Language (pronounced
An American English language test for speakers of other languages that
must be passed before they can study at a university in the US or other
English-speaking colleges or universities.
Test of English for International Communication (pronounced /tk/)
A test which measures the ability of non-native English speakers to
use English in everyday work activities, often used to demonstrate proficiency
in English to a prospective employer.
For more information about new and topical words and phrases,
read Kerry's articles
on the MED