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by Kerry Maxwell

ELF noun [U] /elf/
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 native.'
(Teaching English, British Council/BBC, April 2004)

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 is Dr 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 (pronounced
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 professional success.

TEFL Teaching English as a Foreign Language (pronounced
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 community.

TESL Teaching English as a Second Language (pronounced
Teaching English to non-native speakers in a country where English is generally spoken.

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 and EFL.

ESOL English for Speakers of Other Languages (pronounced
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 United States.

IELTS International English Language Testing System
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.

TOEFL 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.

TOEIC 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 Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.