Scholarly article on topic 'Learning to become users of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF): How ELF online communication affects Taiwanese learners' beliefs of English'

Learning to become users of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF): How ELF online communication affects Taiwanese learners' beliefs of English Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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{"Global English" / ELF / "ELF online exchange" / "Learners' beliefs" / EIL}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — I-Chung Ke, Hilda Cahyani

Abstract In most online intercultural exchange activities involving English learning, students and classes in English-speaking countries serve as partners to English learners in expanding-circle countries. Most studies on such exchanges focus on participants' learning in language and/or culture. This study investigates something different: How do NNS-NNS/ELF (English as a lingua franca) online communication activities affect learners' belief of English, including their ideas of and attitude toward English native speakers, the cultures behind English language, and their identity and relationship with English. 58 Taiwanese students and 48 Indonesian students participated in the two-semester project using English as a lingua franca. Data includes questionnaires conducted before and after the experiences, students' correspondence records, messages they left in the online exchange forums, students' reflections after each semester, and students' retrospective interviews after the experience. Results indicate that although most students' beliefs about English remain consistent with the traditional NS-based ELT paradigm, students cared less about grammar after using English as a lingua franca in their written communication. Students gained confidence and started to perceive English as a language they may be able to use. Pedagogical implications and suggestions are also discussed.

Academic research paper on topic "Learning to become users of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF): How ELF online communication affects Taiwanese learners' beliefs of English"

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Learning to become users of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF): How ELF online communication affects Taiwanese learners' beliefs of English

I-Chung Ke a' *, Hilda Cahyani b

a Department of Foreign Languages and Applied Linguistics, Yuan Ze University, Taiwan b Department of Accounting, State Polytechnic of Malang, University of South Australia, Australia


In most online intercultural exchange activities involving English learning, students and classes in English-speaking countries serve as partners to English learners in expanding-circle countries. Most studies on such exchanges focus on participants' learning in language and/or culture. This study investigates something different: How do NNS-NNS/ELF (English as a lingua franca) online communication activities affect learners' belief of English, including their ideas of and attitude toward English native speakers, the cultures behind English language, and their identity and relationship with English. 58 Taiwanese students and 48 Indonesian students participated in the two-semester project using English as a lingua franca. Data includes questionnaires conducted before and after the experiences, students' correspondence records, messages they left in the online exchange forums, students' reflections after each semester, and students' retrospective interviews after the experience. Results indicate that although most students' beliefs about English remain consistent with the traditional NS-based ELT paradigm, students cared less about grammar after using English as a lingua franca in their written communication. Students gained confidence and started to perceive English as a language they may be able to use. Pedagogical implications and suggestions are also discussed.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Article history:

Received 27 November 2012 Received in revised form 30 May 2014 Accepted 5 July 2014 Available online

Keywords: Global English ELF

ELF online exchange Learners' beliefs EIL

1. Introduction

The global spread of English as one of the main issues in applied linguistics (Seidlhofer, 2003) provoked the development ofWorld Englishes (WE), English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), and English as an international language (EIL) as new fields of study in English Language Teaching (ELT). As Pakir (2009) pointed out, the traditional ELT paradigm "is being challenged in the 21st century by emerging and evolving paradigms (WE/ELF)" (p. 226). While theoretical discussions on WE, ELF, and EIL abound (e.g., Canagarajah, 2013; Saraceni, 2010; Yano, 2009), the current study focused more on the pedagogical implications of the ideas in the emerging paradigms. Friedrich and Matsuda (2010) defined EIL as "a term that describes a function that English performs in multilingual contexts" (p. 20). We adopt their approach and thus conceive the terms 'EIL', 'global English' and 'ELF'

* Corresponding author. 135 Fareast Rd. Jhongli, Taoyuan 302, Taiwan. Tel.: +886 3 4638800 2733. E-mail addresses: (I.-C. Ke), (H. Cahyani).

0346-251X/© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license ( licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

not as a linguistic variety, but as a function or a reality of how English is used in the world. These terms are used as labels that reflect the global English use.

As language is constantly changing, English evolves even faster with the diversification of English users. Particularly when English is used as a lingua franca between speakers of other languages, native-speaker (NS) norms and usages may not be relevant in such a context (Jenkins, 2006). The target model for English learners in non-English-speaking countries, as argued in the emerging ELF paradigm, should start to shift from NSs to bilingual or multilingual speakers (Pakir, 2009). The cultural contents in English language courses also need to be expanded to include international cultures, world cultures, and local cultures so that they can encompass the 'hybrid' and 'dynamic' nature of ELF at individual, discursive, and community levels (Baker, 2009, p. 574; McKay, 2002). These conceptions of English in the emerging WE/ELF paradigms differ greatly from those in the traditional ELT paradigm. Until recently it has been common to hear scholars advocating that learning American/British cultures would greatly improve English learning (c.f. Jiang, 2000). Similar assumptions abound in the public discourse because the traditional ELT paradigm has penetrated deep into our daily life (Seargeant, 2005).

Despite the fact that English has been called 'an international language' in the mass media and public discourse for quite some time, in the realm of English education in non-English-speaking countries, English has still been taught as a foreign language, a language belonging to the United States or the United Kingdom (Holliday, 2005). In Kachru's (1985) World Englishes framework, both Taiwan and Indonesia belong to the expanding circle, or norm-dependent countries where English serves as a foreign language. In these locations, English tends to be 'exonormative' in that people have traditionally looked to American or British models for linguistic norms (Bruthiaux, 2003). Most English learners expect that the purpose of learning English is to use it with NSs from inner-circle countries (Jenkins, 2007). English plays a key role in school as a major exam subject and the English exams are based on NS standards. Consequently, when English teachers intend to engage in exchange activities with other classes in the world, they seek classes in inner circles since NS partner students are regarded as the model when learning the target language. This reinforces students' perception of English as an American/British language.

This paper reports on an attempt to offer Taiwanese and Indonesian students a unique experience of non-native to non-native speakers (NNS-NNS) online communication in order to broaden students' conceptions of the roles of English, especially in their daily and personal life. In light of such experiences, this study then investigated their beliefs of the roles of English.

Most studies on intercultural exchange projects focus on cultural learning, language learning, or the roles of software or technology in the communication process (e.g., Lahar, 2009; Liaw & Bunn, 2010). So far very few studies have even touched upon the issue of learners' beliefs of the roles of English in relation to NNS-NNS online communication. This exploratory research may yield wide implications as globalization continues to intensify.

2. Literature review

2.1. Online communication in ELT

Most studies in ELT involving intercultural online communication investigate students' learning in culture and language. Cifuentes and Shih (2001), which studied forty pairs of Taiwanese and American university students using emails to communicate, found positive effects of language and culture learning from students' questionnaires, journals and interviews. Lahar (2009) also illustrated the pedagogical benefits of using intercultural online communication with projects between Japanese and American psychology-major university students. Similarly, Liaw and Bunn (2010) reported intercultural learning on collaborative written interactions between Taiwanese and American students based on their discourse analysis. More such studies can be seen in various academic journals and books that promote incorporating online communication projects into ELT. The consensus suggests positive effects if the project is carefully planned and implemented.

In addition, most projects of ELT intercultural communication occur between NS inner circles and English-learning expanding circles. "Most studies of intercultural communication in English have, up until now, focused on NS-NNS intercultural communication" (Sharifian, 2009, p. 4). NS-NNS telecollaboration projects remain common nowadays as evidenced in the published projects in the field of computer-assisted language learning. Even though most English usages worldwide occur between NNSs (Graddol, 2006), most English teachers in non-English-speaking countries have not felt the need to adjust their teaching goals (Jenkins, 2007; Timmis, 2002). This may be related to the traditional concept that positions English as a foreign language, which is believed to be best learned from NSs.

Among a few EFL studies involving NNS-NNS online communication, positive effects were indicated. In Fedderholdt (2001), Danish and Japanese students communicated via emails, and "students felt at ease writing to other NNS" (p. 280). The inspiring experience also boosted students' confidence in English. Another study by Al-Jarf (2006) suggested that Saudi-Arabian, Ukrainian and Russian students who collaborated on Nicenet to enhance their English writing "developed a global perspective as well as language and communication skills" (p. 21). In East Asia, Taiwanese and Japanese students in the study of Ke and Suzuki (2011) were found to build their confidence after engaging in written communication on discussion forums. These results show that NNS-NNS exchange is at least as valuable and beneficial as NS-NNS exchange despite rare adoption by English teachers.

2.2. Learners' beliefs about the roles of English

Studies on language learner's beliefs have become more visible in the field of applied linguistics and second language acquisition (SLA), particularly in the case of English. As Barcelos and Kalaja (2011) stated, researchers have shifted their foci

from what learners believe to how beliefs are formed and changed because it has become widely acknowledged that beliefs are fluctuating, complex, and influenced by context. As local contexts have changed rapidly in recent decades due to globalization, so have English learners' beliefs about the English language.

One topic that is beginning to receive more attention is what learners believe about the roles of English as a global or international lingua franca (Csizér & Kontra, 2012; Pan & Block, 2011). ELF as an emergent topic in SLA and TESOL continues to draw more research interests (Jenkins, 2006). English learners' beliefs about the roles of English are also examined in light of the additive roles of English as a lingua franca and global language. For example, Pan and Block (2011) found via large-scale questionnaires that teachers and students in Beijing, China assumed the role of English as a global language based on its instrumental value, which derived from both its communicative function and as a highly valued commodity in China's exam culture. Csizer and Kontra (2012) also investigated to what extent EFL students were aware of ELF and whether the awareness of ELF influenced the learning goals. Based on quantitative analysis of questionnaires from 239 Hungarian students, the results showed that the construct of English as a native language (ENL), or the traditional ELT beliefs in NS norms, had the largest impact on students' learning goals and beliefs, followed by ELF. In other words, the Hungarian students' views on English corresponded mostly with the assumptions in the traditional ELT paradigm. While they have started to become aware of ELF, this awareness has not had a powerful impact on their beliefs and learning aims.

Previous studies in WE/ELF pointed out that most NNSs changed their conceptions slowly, if at all (Jenkins, 2007). English continued to be seen as an American or British language. Surveys of attitudes toward NS norms almost invariably showed that the majority of TESOL teachers and students still held on to conception of English as belonging to the inner-circle (see Jenkins, 2007; Matsuda, 2003; Timmis, 2002). Mixed feelings or conflicting tensions within NNS toward NS English seem common (Jenkins, 2007, p. 231-3). NNSs continued to struggle in their relationship with English.

A study by the first author (Ke, 2010) found that after students spent time studying or touring in inner-circle countries, they regarded English more as an American or British language. Their confidence in English did not increase, though their proficiency level might have upgraded. They still had inferior feelings when speaking to NSs. Some students even thought that their NS peers were much better overall based on their English level, neglecting the fact that English was their first language. The myth developed from the tendency that more and more human knowledge and information have been conveyed in English, and most scientific and technological terms are now expressed in English. English linguistic knowledge has gained importance and students' worldviews have been influenced by the unequal reality. Unequal power relationships were reproduced through English. From this perspective, ELT plays an important role in the development of students' self-identity. On the other hand, those who volunteered or attended international meetings in a non-English-speaking country reported increased confidence in their own English. They found out that they were able to use English to communicate with other ELF users. They started to realize the important role of English as a lingua franca, and one student even regarded English as 'basic literacy' for all. The study suggested that NNS-NNS interactions helped students develop new beliefs of the roles of English.

2.3. Teaching English as an international language (TE¡L)

As Matsuda and Friedrich (2011) claimed, "much of the discussion on English in its international manifestation and its pedagogical implications has remained at the abstract level" (p. 333). Sifakis (2004, p. 239) used the term 'C-bound' approach to stress the importance of teaching communication, comprehensibility, and culture when teaching EIL, while Alptekin (2002, p. 57) suggested shifting ELT goals to teaching 'intercultural communicative competence', particularly in lingua franca settings. In principle, most EIL scholars have recognized the importance of teaching intelligibility across cultures, but so far studies at the practical level have remained insufficient. There have been more descriptive studies on attitudes and responses to the EIL or ELF ideas (tolerating different accents and varieties and prioritizing intelligibility over linguistic accuracy) (e.g., Erling, 2007; He & Li, 2009; Timmis, 2002) than studies that investigate the practices of teaching these ideas. The feasibility and effect of such pedagogies deserve more attention. Consequently, this study seeks to make contribution to this gap by investigating how the intercultural experience using English as a lingua franca in such an NNS-NNS project affected students' conceptions of the roles of English.

3. Methodology

This study investigated whether and how, if any, nonnative university students in Taiwan changed their conceptions of the roles of English after participating in NNS-NNS online communication for two semesters. In particular, students' conceptions about NSs, NS norms, cultures behind English, and their self-identity and confidence were the main targets of analysis. We also sought to understand what experience in particular influenced the participants' conceptions of English.

An online exchange project was implemented between two classes situated in the expanding-circle context (Taiwan and Indonesia). Students' perceptions were gauged in various ways. In the following sections, the details of the online project are first described, followed by a brief introduction of the English education contexts in the two countries. Data collection and analysis procedures are then presented.

3.1. The project

The NNS-NNS project was carried out between a university in Taiwan and a technical university in Indonesia, from October 2010 to May 2011. Before the students started to communicate with each other, they were given a lesson about how

to write email in a culturally sensitive manner. Students were assigned a partner based on similar interests. They were asked to communicate via email twice a week on the assigned topics. The topics required students to inquire their partner's experience and opinions. They then posted written messages on a public forum where all participants could read one another's messages. Students could interact with other students who were not their partner on the forum. Next they presented orally in class on their online activities as the teacher and classmates gave feedback. Table 1 below shows the project topics for the two semesters:

In the project, students had to use English to communicate with each other because it was the only lingua franca between them. Most correspondences were in written form, either asynchronous, via emails (majority) or synchronically using MSN messenger or Facebook. The length and style of students' correspondences varied greatly; some wrote long emails and others were only in short phrases but frequent to-and-fro, particularly Facebook interactions. The students submitted their correspondence records to earn the grades as one of the course requirements.

3.2. Participants

The research participants were 58 Taiwanese students (53 freshmen, 3 sophomores, and 2 juniors). The majority had intermediate proficiency level, and only 4 out of the 58 Taiwanese participants had any experience staying in America or Australia for over a month. The exchange project was a requirement in a reading course that included readings from nonnative or bilingual authors for two semesters. 48 Indonesian first-year students who took a General English course instructed by the second author served as their partners. The Indonesian students' English proficiency level ranged from pre-intermediate to intermediate level.

In both Taiwan and Indonesia, English is the most important foreign language at school; however, people seldom use English in daily life. Taiwanese participants started to learn English no later than in the fifth grade in primary school. Most students study English for exams. The situation in Indonesia is similar, only that due to lack of resources, regional differences are great and the overall English level is comparatively poorer. This is reflected in the current exchange project; in general most Taiwanese students had higher proficiency than their Indonesian partners.

While both Taiwanese and Indonesian students participated in the online project, the research project that investigates students' beliefs of the roles of English only includes the Taiwanese students, who were asked to fill out questionnaires before and after the online project and write reflective texts on the process.

3.3. Data collection

To answer the research question, both quantitative and qualitative data were collected, including bilingual (Mandarin and English) questionnaires before and after the project (at the beginning of the first semester and at the end of the second semester, only collected from Taiwanese participants), students' messages in the project forum, students' email records, students' written reflective texts written in English at the end of each semester on their experience in the project, and focus-group interviews conducted in students' first language Mandarin with 13 Taiwanese students after the project ended. The same ten questions were used in the pre- and post-project questionnaires, though in different orders to create a sense of difference. The ten questions were designed to investigate students' concepts of English in terms of NS norms, culture, identity, and the roles of English (see Appendix). The first questionnaire was distributed in the second week of the first semester, while students filled out the second questionnaire in the week before the final exam in the second semester. Students' emails and other communication records as well as their messages on the discussion forum were collected after each semester.

3.4. Data analysis

Paired t-test and correlational analysis were used to analyze quantitative data collected from questionnaires. Grounded theory was applied in analyzing the qualitative data. Qualitative data was extracted for critical passages which included statements or sentences that touch upon the issues of NS norms, culture, identity, and perceptions of the roles of English. Passages with similar concepts were compared to develop abstract codes, which were used to examine the qualitative data. These critical passages were also analyzed from the angle of individual students; that is, each student's

Table 1

Project topics.

Semester Task Topic Weeks

First 1 Describe your partners 2

2 What are the meanings of the names of your partners? 2-3

3 Growing up in another country: Family and school life 3-4

Second 1 English learning experiences and difficulties 2

2 Idols or role models 3

3 Religious rituals, God, ancestors, death, and the meaning of life 3

data was juxtaposed and the critical passages were compared to understand the context of certain codes. The aim was to preserve the context of abstract concepts condensed in the process of constant comparison. Individual students' backgrounds and values were the root of the concepts, and such contextualized analyses provided more grounded research findings. Qualitative findings and quantitative results were then compared and synthesized to generate a holistic understanding about the issue.

4. Results

4.1. Quantitative results from questionnaires on Taiwanese students

In the survey results before the project, most Taiwanese students had a positive attitude toward including different cultures in English teaching and developing the ability to understand different accents. Meanwhile, they also wished to speak like an NS and be taught by NS teachers. Their conception of English may be described as 'learning English as an Anglo-American language while perceiving it as an international language used by the world'. They hoped to use English to communicate with the world, while the English they produce should be similar to the NS English, particularly in terms of accent (Mean = 4.5 in a 5-point scale). After-project questionnaires indicated that students' answers showed significant changes in three statements; paired t-tests point out that after the project students accepted local accents more (t(57) = -3.668, p = 0.001, effect size r = 0.47), had lowered their desire for speaking with an NS accent (t(57) = 2.594, p = 0.012, effect size r = 0.33), and regarded grammar less important in communication with foreigners (t(57) = 3.29, p = 0.002, effect size r = 0.40). The results suggest that the NNS project had intermediate effects on students' perceptions on the three statements. In the beginning, only 15 students agreed to the statement that 'having a local accent is fine with me', and the number doubled to 30 in the second questionnaire. However, most students still wanted to have a native-like accent, though not so strongly (33 students chose 'strongly agree' at first, and only 21 did in the second questionnaire). 16 students regarded grammar important in communication with foreigners in the beginning, while only 3 still agreed to this statement after the NNS-NNS project. There are no significant differences in the other seven statements (see Appendix for detailed results).

Further correlational analyses revealed that students' preference toward English, which significantly correlates with their self-perceived reading and writing proficiency, also relates to their opinions on speaking NS accent (r = 0.443 p = 0.001), and being taught by NS teacher (r = 0.364 p = 0.007). Those who said they like English very much were more likely to prefer NS accents and NS teachers after the project. This may be due to the fact that their preference toward English originated from their interests in Anglo-American cultures: these English lovers were also more likely to agree to the statement, 'to learn English well, one must know a lot about American or British cultures' (r = 0.341 p = 0.012). In the project, they did not receive much Anglo-American cultural content or contact, so consequently their desire for NS accents and NS teachers became even stronger, compared with other students who had less passion for English. In interviews such students expressed explicitly their desire to participate in NS-NNS exchange instead of the current NNS-NNS project. These students expected NS-based English course content, so the dearth of it probably led to their desire for it. Their beliefs regarding the roles of English, after years of English learning in the traditional EFL paradigm, remained unchanged after the project. This is reasonable because they were successful in the NS-based discourse; there was less incentive to change their beliefs in contrast to those who struggle in the traditional EFL paradigm. Reality is of course more complex as we will see later in qualitative findings that participants had various attitudes toward the roles of English in light of this ELF exchange project.

4.2. Qualitative results: grammar and mutual adjustment

In an NNS-NNS project, the first shock that many students encountered was the deviated English forms that they had never seen before. In their first-semester reflections, most students mentioned the difficulties to understand strange syntax (non-NS-based grammar):

There were some sentences that I could not understand. Such as ... "-what in campus you are using a Uniforms?" (Ki-First semester reflection)

I couldn't catch up what she wanted to express in some parts. I think what she expressed English in Indonesia is like we use English in Taiwan. We are affected by our mother tongue. Once in a while, her questions seemed a little bit strange so I would see this as the way that they use English of Indonesia style. (Est-First semester reflection, underline added by the authors. All underlines in the following quotes were added by the authors to highlight key points.)

Actually, I couldn't understand what my partner wrote usually. I don't know whether the English education is different from the both countries. Because I felt some usages we use are extremely distinct. (Mi-First semester reflection)

Some students were aware that the English used by their partners was influenced by their first language, particularly the ways words are arranged (syntax) and some vocabulary borrowing. An example also appears in the above excerpt: while Mi stated that 'some usages are extremely distinct', Ki's example of 'use a Uniforms' demonstrates this distinction. At the beginning students were confused and struggled to understand the unique English expressions of their Indonesian partners.

On the other hand, to keep the communication going, they also needed to make themselves understood, so they made different kinds of adjustments in their communication. Quantitative findings indicate that a small number of students after the survey had a stronger belief in the importance of correct grammar in their communication to be more intelligible, whilst a greater number disagreed more to this statement after their experience (see Table 2).

As can be seen in Table 2, over half of the participants had the same response to the statement, but those who disagreed more outnumbered those who agreed more to the importance of grammar. Comparing different students' reflections and interview, we found mainly two types of adjustments: one type of students responded to this situation by ensuring that they used 'correct grammar' according to NS norms which they saw as making themselves more intelligible. Other students simplified their English to achieve intelligibility. In what follows the beliefs of these two types of students are delineated.

4.2.1. Correct grammar equals intelligibility

There were only 5 students who regarded grammar as more important after participating in the exchange project. In their beliefs, as they were often taught by their teachers, producing the 'correct' forms and following 'standard' grammar would naturally equate to communicability. So encountering non-standard forms of English alerted them to follow so-called correct grammars, believing that this would be easier to understand:

I think he could understand me because I always check my grammar and I looked up the dictionary on the net when I did not know the words I want to say, (Sasa-Second semester reflection)

I would use formal sentence to express myself, checking grammar, and avoiding making mistaking so that she could get it easier. (Est-First semester reflection)

In these students' perceptions, using correct (NS-based) grammar would ensure that their partner could fully understand their meanings. They were using the same strategy that they would use with an NS partner. Indeed in traditional EFL education, the target is set to develop the ability to communicate with NS, not other NNS. As a result, correct grammar is constantly emphasized. It seems natural that students used this strategy to enhance intelligibility.

4.2.2. Grammar has nothing to do with intelligibility

On the other hand, a large number of students adjusted in a different way. These students realized that to communicate with NNS foreigners, correct grammar may not matter, especially their Indonesian partners who had insufficient proficiency levels. Instead, intelligibility and communicability based on simple English vocabulary was more effective. They adjusted their own use of English with 'understandable words' when expressing themselves:

Because we were all nonnative English users, I possibly avoid some oral English, phrases, idioms and slang. I avoid this because I was afraid that he might misunderstand what I was saying. I also wrote my sentences simple and short. I thought that it was easier to understand. (Lai-Second semester reflection)

If we write too difficult sentences, neither I nor my partner can understand the meaning in the context. Using easy words to reply to your partner is quite a good way. I think writing is based on easy understanding. Always using difficult grammar or sentences does not mean that you are a good English writer. Most important of all is to let readers realize what you are writing. (Chen-Interview)

Many students also realized the importance of utilizing multimodal channels to communicate, not solely relying on languages:

I sometimes used some pictures and videos to help my partner to understand my idol, Yo-Yo Ma. My partner could understand what I was talking about and how is my idol look like. (Isa-Second semester reflection)

Moreover, they need to be patient with their partner's unique ways of using English, and learn to accommodate it. It's important to have patience when communicating with another nonnative English user. (Na-Interview)

The realization that both sides are NNSs is important for students to adjust their ways of using English to communicate in the project because without such shift of attitude, students would not change their usual way of using English, which was developed in the traditional NS-based EFL paradigm. In addition, this empathy for their partner stimulated students to consider the underlying culture beneath their partner's use of English:

Table 2

Pre-post survey comparison on participants' answer to questionnaire item 10: correct grammar is important for me to communicate with foreigners in English.

Change Number of students Type of adjustment

Agree more to the statement 5 'Correct grammar' = intelligibility

Disagree more to the statement 23 Simplify their English to achieve communication

Remain the same 30 No adjustment

I think it must have some miscommunications between the two nonnative English users, so you have to try to understand their culture and don't be mad at them about this. We need to try to understand each other. (Wu-second semester reflection)

Most students prioritized communication and intelligibility ahead of correct grammar or forms (though some equated correct grammar to intelligibility as they were taught that way). Their purpose was to understand their partner and be understood. Those who adjusted faster and better had more frequent and interactive email correspondences.

However, students paid more attention to grammar when they posted their messages in the public forum. In private emails, they did not have to worry about grammar, but in the public forum, with peer pressure, they needed to produce passages written with 'high quality', not just conveying their meanings. As one student revealed in interview, 'Everyone would read my message, so I was nervous. Some classmates would even pick out my grammatical errors!' With a different audience, the importance of grammar and language forms also changed.

4.3. Qualitative results: identity and NS norms

Qualitative data from interviews and students' reflections reveals many interesting insights, many of which demonstrate how the power of the educational system and the dominant discourse in ELT influenced students' thinking and conceptions. One of the reflection questions was: When you speak English, do you want the world to know who you are (a Taiwanese)? Or do you prefer that you sound like an NS? The quantitative result from the questionnaire shows a significant change in students' acceptance of local accents (see Appendix, Q3). Table 3 below summarizes students' attitudes toward their local identity when using English as they answered the reflection question:

4.3.1. Decouple English and local identity

The majority of the participants did not see English as connected to their local identity. Most still hoped to be able to speak like an NS though they gradually came to accept their own ways of using English. Nevertheless, their desire to be able to speak like an NS originated not from identification with NSs, but perhaps from the intention to be hospitable:

I want to talk with foreigners with their familiar accent. I hope they will feel (I'm) friendly and nice. (Lin-Second semester reflection)

Lin's reaction was quite typical among Taiwanese students. Many students believed that speaking like an NS shows their considerateness, and this is probably founded on local cultural values that tend to follow the guest's norms to show hospitality. Another assumption from the quote is that foreigners are all English NSs. They do not think of the situation in which the foreigners are not NSs, and how would these foreigners feel about their NS-like accent.

Another common perception was that identity and English was totally decoupled since NS English was regarded as purely a linguistic benchmark:

In my opinion, I think I would like to let world to know I am a Taiwanese but by my appearance or other hint. I still prefer that my pronunciation is like a native speaker because I want to let foreigners surprised about that if I could do it. (Dai-Second semester reflection)

Dai thought that speaking like an NS would surprise 'foreigners'. Again, she regarded foreigners as English NSs, and the ability to imitate NSs was regarded as a great accomplishment, which does not involve her own identity. This belief seemed quite prevalent.

In addition, most students were aware of how local people perceive NS accent, which has been commodified as a linguistic good to be acquired to enhance one's market value (Bourdieu, 1991):

If you speak fluent NS accent, people believe you have a good overall command of English and they won't care about your true proficiency level, so I want to speak NS accent. (San-Interview)

Again identity is not relevant as the statement assumes that the public discourse in Taiwan perceives NS accent as representing proficiency level, a valuable skill in the market. San's experience points to a reality which illustrates Kuo's (2006, p. 220) claim that English learners have the rights to pursue what they want, i.e. speaking like NSs and teachers should not see this as subservient to colonial power or being naive about linguistic inequality. The cultural, linguistic, and economic reasons account for the perpetuation of the traditional NS-based EFL paradigm.

Table 3

Major types of attitudes on English and local identity.

Attitude Reason Proportion

English not part of local identity; they are irrelevant. Using NS English represents only linguistic competence 40/58 (69%)

Abandon local identity when using English Adopting a new 'English identity' 3/58 (5%)

English as part of local identity Aware of English variations 5/58 (9%)

No comments 10/58 (17%)

4.3.2. Transforming into an NS as the learning target

While most students disconnected English and local identity, a small number of students would hide their Taiwanese identity when speaking in English:

I don't want the world to know that I came from Taiwan, and I prefer my accent sounds like a native speaker. Because when I listen to native speakers say something, I would think their accent is so enchanting to me. Therefore, I would want to sound like native speakers when I speak English. (Amy-Interview)

Amy's statement seemed to reflect the dominant values in the traditional NS-based ELT discourse, using 'enchanting' to describe NS accents. She gave high evaluation to NS accent, and aspired to be able to do it while hiding her local identity. Her English level was among the best and she seemed to identify more with NSs. The implicit ideology that enshrines NS accents remains powerful as it permeates the ELT discourse and teaching and learning materials, both key players in linguistic imperialism (Phillipson, 1992). Amy's case was an anomaly as few students in this study held this view.

4.3.3. Developing a new goal for English learning

On the other end of the continuum, some students abandoned the goal of using English like an NS after some serious reflections. The two students' answers below illustrate the process of their change in their beliefs about English-learning goals:

Since I was an elementary school student and started to learn English, I've been taught that we should imitate our speaking like native-speakers and even for now. So it seems to be very natural and right for me to try hard to speak as standard as an American though it might be a kind of worshiping foreign things. Worst of all, it's hard for me to understand different accents. But I think it's not good because we will have to contact a wide variety of cultures and accents. It's important for us to try to listen to all kinds of accents. (Su-Second semester reflection)

Actually, I preferred to speak like a native speaker before; that was my final goal. But the more I learn, the more I think about pronunciation. In my opinion, now I think effective communication is more important than pronunciation. Whether the person you talk to can understand you is more crucial. If you speak too quickly, even if you are a native speaker, people may still ask for a repetition. That is not what I want. Now I'd like to speak it fluently and understandably; pronunciation is not the only consideration. (Wei-Interview)

Being aware of the NS norms is already a big step from just taking it for granted. Many students were not able to realize the fact that they were taught this way. Su started to sense the inequality in the notion of imitating NSs when she compared it to 'a kind of worshipping foreign things'. She then became conscious of the language politics and the inherited inequality in learning English that way. Furthermore, she saw a more serious problem associated with only following NS norms: she could only understand standard accent, not other various accents by people who do not speak the standard accent. Perhaps the questionnaire questions and discussions in the class about using English as a lingua franca with their Indonesian partners prompted her to contemplate on this issue. She realized that she should be comfortable about her own accent, as long as it is understandable. In fact students cared more about intelligibility than accent, and NS accent often means 'easier to understand' for them due to lack of other alternatives. What matters is that they have taken a broader view on their own English. These students' change of mind leads to the significant difference in the two accent-related questions in the questionnaires (Q3 and Q4 in Appendix).

5. Discussions

The ELF online project did make some impact on helping students realize that NS-based grammar and norms may not be the most important in intercultural communication. Ideas in the emerging ELF/WE paradigm such as tolerance and comprehension of different varieties have gained acceptance among young students who grew up in a globalizing world. Students were particularly more likely to accept different syntaxes and word usages after having experience using English as a lingua franca. This is an encouraging result considering that most of the previous studies on teachers' and students' attitudes toward WE/ELF showed that the concepts in the emerging WE/ELF paradigm had not been widely accepted (e.g. Jenkins, 2007; Timmis, 2002). But as a linguistic yardstick, NS-based competence remains the learning goal for most students.

In previous ELF interactional studies (e.g. Cogo, 2009; Firth, 1996; Kaur, 2009) and descriptive ELF corpus studies such as Vienna Oxford International Corpus of English (VOICE) (Seidlhofer, 2011) and the Corpus of English as a Lingua Franca in Academic Settings (ELFA) (Mauranen, 2012), the participating ELF users were mostly proficient English users. These studies do not reveal how they transformed from ELF learners to ELF users, showing the accommodative and cooperative behaviors in ELF interactions. The current study contributes to the understanding of the transforming process. The perceptions of the student participants, future ELF users, on their ELF interactions illuminate the process in which EFL learners transform themselves into ELF users. The majority adjusted their English use by accommodating to their partner's linguistic levels and prioritizing intelligibility. Most interviewees revealed that English was not an issue in their communication with their Indonesian partners, while language could be a barrier in NS-NNS exchange projects (e.g., Liaw & Bunn, 2010). This may be beneficial for English learners as they could naturally switch from 'language-learning mode' to 'application mode' in which

they intuitively use their English repertoire to achieve communication. Few other pedagogical activities serve this similar function.

While incorporating an ELF exchange into pedagogy may be a fruitful approach to teach EIL (Matsuda & Friedrich, 2011), simply bringing NNS-NNS exchange into English courses alone is not enough to help students better prepare for future ELF use. Teacher's role is critical in facilitating students to develop effective ELF communication strategies and an awareness of the underlying native-speakerism (Holliday, 2005) in the public discourses. The socio-political reality in the world system and the prevalent language ideology that privilege the English NSs still remain strong and relevant to NNS English learners and users (c.f. Park, 2009). For most English learners around the world, intelligibility and NS-like competence are both desirable. On one hand, they prioritized intelligibility over accuracy and forms when communicating with other NNSs, but on the other hand, they still desire for reaching their learning target—to be able to use English like NSs. We do not see a conflict here, and believe teachers should help them fulfill both goals. The following section elaborates what teachers can do.

6. Suggestions and Conclusion

In light of the findings, we propose an approach that makes compromises between the traditional EFL and emergent ELF paradigm. When teaching the English language we still adopt NS norms in language forms, but when helping students to apply their linguistic repertoire in language use we take the ELF approach (Ke, 2012). Contacting and accommodating different written Englishes may be a feasible starting point for English learners around the world to develop awareness of the role of English as a global language and lingua franca. English learners have ample time to revise and look for resources when constructing their written messages. It is less stressful to communicate in written and non-synchronic manners than oral interactions. The meaning negotiation process may take more time but it would be a valuable process to learn how to understand non-standard Englishes and producing understandable English expressions. Learners are allowed to gradually build up their confidence and comfortableness in using English.

Learning the fact that non-standard L1-influenced Englishes are being used commonly worldwide would greatly enhance learners' confidence in using English. Once their awareness is aroused, NNS learners gain more self-confidence to use English (Ke, 2010). Building learners' confidence in using English is particularly important in expanding circle countries like Taiwan and Indonesia where most learners do not have the courage to use English due to inability to produce 'standard' English.

Moreover, the prevalence of ICT facilitates ELF communication online. Considering time zones, the majority of such communication would be in asynchronous written forms. One of the main goals for ELT in this globalizing world should be to help students understand various non-standard forms of written Englishes and produce understandable written Englishes with a basic proficiency level. So far there have been very few relevant studies in this respect since traditional ELT assumes that when students learn standard English they will be able to communicate with each other.

As Csizer and Kontra (2012) argued, "focusing on mutual comprehensibility, the development of communication strategies and accommodation skills rather than on native-like accuracy might have a liberating effect on learners and might lead to higher achievements" (p. 7). Incorporating an ELF online project, as shown here, naturally forces teachers to shift their foci. More and more studies on ELF communication strategies (e.g. Kaur, 2009; Knapp & Meierkord 2002) can illuminate teachers ways to adjust their pedagogy. In addition, when engaging in such real experience communicating with other NNSs, students are prompted to reflect on their conceptions of the roles of English, which are often cultivated by the traditional ELT paradigm and often do not reflect the new reality.

With so many NNS classes around the world and the increasing technological facilities available, such ELF online communication activities should benefit both English learners and teachers. Teachers can utilize the NNS-NNS interactions to assist students in adjusting their production of English, such as providing more contextual cues, more repetitions, paraphrasing, visual aids, and multimodal communication. Students also learn how to decode nonstandard Englishes that they have no exposure to in textbooks and classrooms by gaining understanding in the contextualized communication discourse and giving constructive feedback to their NNS partners to negotiate meanings in reaching mutual understanding. Most TESOL teachers may not be aware of the importance of these skills, nor equipped with these skills. Therefore TESOL teacher education needs to incorporate these into the curriculum.

This study has shown that some students had become aware of relevant issues regarding the roles of English when reflecting on their experience, but this is just the beginning. The change in mental attitude takes much time, and to be able to use English(es) to reach intelligibility with other global English users who produce a variety of English forms may take even more time and effort. Researchers and teachers in EIL, ELF, and WE still face an uphill challenge to construct an alternative paradigm to the traditional ELT paradigm. More studies into ELF communication with English users at lower proficiency level may be a starting point of a viable path, as well as pedagogical studies on how to teach ELF communication skills and strategies.


This project was funded by the National Science Council Taiwan (NSC 99-2410-H-155-042).

Appendix A. Questionnaire results

Questionnaire results: descriptive statistics.

Statements (N = 58) Strongly agree Agree Okay Disagree Strongly disagree Mean Standard deviation

1. English teaching materials should include cultures Before 11 34 12 1 0 3.95 0.686

of Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. After 7 33 16 2 0 3.78 0.702

2. To learn English well, one must know a lot Before 3 22 27 6 1 3.38 0.745

about American or British cultures. After 2 20 28 8 0 3.28 0.744

3. Having a local accent is fine with me.a Before 1 14 29 11 3 2.98 0.848

After 2 28 19 9 0 3.40 0.793

4. I want to have a nativelike accent.b Before 33 21 4 0 0 4.50 0.628

After 21 31 6 0 0 4.26 0.637

5. It is not important to be able to understand Before 0 2 20 23 13 2.19 0.826

different English accents such as Indian, Japanese, After 0 4 15 34 5 2.31 0.730

or Middle Eastern English.

6. English native speakers should learn my language Before 11 30 16 1 0 3.88 0.727

when they come to my country. After 11 28 17 2 0 3.83 0.775

7. Everyone in the world should learn English Before 4 8 36 14 3 2.95 0.867

After 2 16 29 11 1 3.09 0.808

8. When I speak English, I feel that I am a world citizen. Before 9 29 18 7 2 3.62 0.895

After 5 30 20 2 2 3.60 0.842

9. It's best to have native-speaking English teachers Before 7 20 26 5 0 3.50 0.822

After 6 11 35 4 2 3.26 0.870

10. Correct grammar is important for me to Before 3 13 34 6 2 3.16 0.812

communicate with foreigners in English.c After 1 2 43 10 2 2.83 0.625

Bold items are those that have a significance of p < 0.05 in the paired t-test. a Paired t-test, N = 58. Having a local accent is fine with me: t = -3.668, p = 0.001. b I want to have a native-like accent: t = 2.594, p = 0.012.

c Correct grammar is important for me to communicate with foreigners in English: t = 3.29, p = 0.002.


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