The elves on our doorstep

So who really needs to learn English? Maybe the native speakers according to an article I came across this summer in the Irish Times. The report begins with a recent call for Irish business students and executives to learn foreign languages and in particular languages to cover the Brazilian, Chinese and Russian markets. Compare this to the French, German and Spanish traditionally taught and leaarned in schools.

The author continues, however, to point out that while this array of languages is daunting for a native English speaker, the reality is that non-English speakeers have it much simpler: they only have to think about learning English as it is clearly the international language of commerce. He even quotes the numerous companies that have made English their language of senior management including Siemens of Germany, Ericsson of Sweden and Lafarge of France. In other words, we return to the idea that there is a reason why native English speakers often do not study and learn foreign languages: it isn’t necessary.

But, here comes the twist and one which I think is very valid. As teachers we know the problem, we have seen it in action but it is nice to see it put forward as an argument in an Irish newspaper: the fact of the matter is that non-native English speakers can communicate much better with each other than with native speakers (and statistically will actually have more dealings with non-natives than native speakers). The article discusses the multiple reasons for this including over reliance on phrasal verbs, idioms and overly complex expressions. This is compounded, of course, by the fact that most native speakers do not speak foreign languages and are therefore completely unaware of the complexities involved.

The conclusion is simple and pointed out clearly in the article: rather than studying various foreign languages native English speaking executives need to study their own language and learn how make more comprehensible to non-native speakers.  Native speakers need to speak English as a Lingua Franca!

Original article in English:


2 Responses to The elves on our doorstep

  1. Yes, many native speakers will need help in adapting their own English to be more globally intelligible. Not sure that there is a single, unitary model “English as a Lingua Franca” though. I picture ELFs as a constellation of international varieties in evolution, hopefully mostly converging. What everybody needs in this context is flexibility to accommodate to other speakers, both productively and receptively.

  2. eflbytesEnda says:

    Thanks guys. Indeed! “Flexibility to accommodate” may be what native speakers need to work on 😉

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