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An ELFish response to Alex Grevett

A bulbous comment to A Breathy Vowel

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These thoughts on ELF, EIL, NS, and CoPs started life as a comment on Breathy Vowel’s new post, so it might make sense to read that one first. These thoughts also allowed me to put off finishing the post I started last week that turned into a wrestling match.

Alex (et.al),

I’ve often thought the best things in life are the ones I can’t pin down. Many years in, ELF sounds like something each has to define in the moment. I’m not too well read on it either, but I recall Alen Maley scoffing at the idea that it could be taught two KOTESOL’s ago, and I THINK I prefer understanding it as EI(nt’l)L, because otherwise it sounds like what you’re talking about is a bit too close to the idea of Discourse, which I like to view as something fuzzy and always changing, but not only present just while two people are talking. We can imagine ourselves as members of a Discourse even when we’re using the language of a different Discourse.

I’d also like to try to clarify the Community of Practice notion. I hope I don’t do the reverse instead.  I highly recommend Lave and Wenger’s Situated Learning, if you haven’t read it yet. It was one of the first books I swallowed when I did my Master’s, and it remains thrilling, at least to me, who hadn’t yet understood “language” as a byproduct of the identity construction by members of a community claiming their membership by coparticipating at differing points along multiple periphery <–> mastery continuums in the community’s knowledge production.

Ugh. I’ll pause while you try reading that sentence again. Sorry about that mess.

In other words, a legit member of a community has learned how to ‘talk (or refrain)’ like the ‘full’ or ‘master’ members. I’ve been quite conscious of this paradigm lately, as I’ve started blogging, getting involved with you KELTers and the wider ELTers. Still feel like I’m adjusting my communication until I feel ‘ratified’. I think this is related to what ELF and EIL are trying to get at (And maybe Alan Maley two years ago). Just as language teachers are commonly encouraged to learn to be eclectic and themselves in the moment as their classes unfold, the ELF and EIL movement seems to be about helping language learners acquire the skill to be eclectic and themselves appropriately in any communicative context. If one doesn’t know what the contexts will be (and we never can without time machines), how can this “LF” be taught?

And I dunno how I feel about that. I agree wholeheartedly with the principle, and love that, as you imply, the very existence of the EIL/ELF movement (loosely stating that people use the English appropriate for them in their unique context) proves that the native speaker doesn’t exist (come to think of it, much like Douglas Adams’s characters proved that God doesn’t exist in the Hitchhiker saga…), but it seems a very short walk from that to the denial of English itself, and perhaps the non-existence of our profession… Really? What CAN be taught by English teachers?

So the other side of me thinks there needs to be a language model, but I guess nothing says it needs to be a universal or global model. Not sure how the big publishers would feel about that, though. Likewise, Maley’s point was — I seem to recall him arguing for a standard ‘language’ as course content, but given his drama/creative arts footprint in the field, he was probably also suggesting supplementing the input with imagination, cross-cultural, and negotiation tasks.

Anyway, Alex, I’d like to know what you eventually do with ELF and your MA thesis — What does an appropriate ELF syllabus look like? Lots of ICC roleplay stuff? Loads of accents and varieties in the listening materials? Or is it without one, waiting on the needs analyses of learners? Genuinely curious…

An ELFish response to Alex Grevett

Comments (2)

  1. Tom,

    Thanks so much for this. I can already feel it’s going to push me into the right kind of areas of thinking, but maybe not at 1am.

    The one question that I’d have about “community of practice” applied to ELF is if the linking between various “nodes” of ELF communication is strong enough to create a larger discourse/COP of ELF speakers. For example, at an international business conference a COP of businessmen doing “business in English” could certainly spring up, but would it have any lasting effect on a wider community of people doing “being an ELF speaker”. Is there even such a community? Could one exist without, especially, the stabilizing influence of a culture?

    As for the teachability of ELF, that’s what I’m planning to tackle in my next post, probably near the beginning of next week.

    Cheers,

    A

  2. From what I can tell, your question points right at my major concern – from the little I’ve read so far, the ELF concept appears to describe the interaction in English between two or more people with different mother tongues, in their unique context. To me, it’s extremely useful to remember that reality as I guide learners towards more successful personal storytelling with simple past verb forms, but am I or is any teacher in Asia, of any stripe, going to sign off on ‘was/were + base form’ even if they know that all of their learners in a particular class only want English for ELF within Asia?

    That last bit relates to the COP notion. You and I are by-producing English while we try to produce a common and reasonably accurate elbow ledge of ELF as it relates to CoP, but that’s where it will stop. I think to understand this chat usefully, we have to see it as situated in a larger CoP of socially networked LT professionals within Asia, as we’ve both claimed and implicitly acknowledged membership therein, and are conscious of the possibility of other members reading and contributing to it.

    From what you describe of ELF, it is ephemeral, and I look forward to how you cope with this, as I thik it’s everyone’s stumbling lock. Do you have access to journals? I recall a recent raging debate in one of the og ones. This idea IS discussed in the Books, I think by the Scollons, but I’ll have to check on that.

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