Focusing on communication strategies instead of language per se

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Last Saturday Evan Frendo gave us at ELTABB an absolutely excellent presentation on the latest research in Business English, focusing on four key areas: English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), Communities of Practice, Intercultural Communication and Lexis and Genre/ Corpus Linguistics. His presentation and handout are here: scroll down to the bottom for all the links.

In discussing ELF, he quoted, among others, Alan Firth saying that the practice of communication has been overlooked by the general focus on lexico-grammar. Despite its relevance for our business clients, Evan said that teaching practice will presumably only begin to change when the big testing organisations budge and develop new standards. How exactly the level of skills in practical communication can be tested to standard levels is still unclear. Even so, a few key elements have become central in my teaching, and are learnable: Jennifer Jenkins’ Lingua Franca Core, being able to analyse and apply successful communication strategies, and successful listening comprehension across varieties. I can well imagine them becoming a part of a set of new testing standards that extend the old ones rather than throwing them overboard entirely.

I saw the relevance of prioritizing communication strategies again yesterday. I was teaching back office skills to a group of management and team assistants and administrators at Mundipharma in Limburg. They’re part of an international corporate group where 1/3 of the staff they normally address are based in Germany, and 2/3 are based in Britain. As they wrote practice emails and we went through them, it became very clear that it was far more valuable to discuss how their British colleagues would respond to their direct formulation of requests and orders, and how to reformulate them to reach both the Germans and the Brits, than to nitpick minor errors in their use of the tenses and prepositions.

ELF, or BELF, will also be the focus of the BESIG pre-conference event at IATEFL with Vicki Hollett, Chia Suan Chong, Almut Koester, and Mark Powell speaking. I’ve decided to go and am very much looking forward to this. Have to sign up today, I think, to still get an early bird discount. I’ve never been to Scotland…


3 Responses

  1. I’m not going afterall. I’ve done the math and checked my budget, and have decided to try to get speakers to come here and to go to conferences nearer to home. And I’ll be in the online audience.
    I desperately want to go to Scotland, but it’ll be with Helmut and will involve such lovely things as boats, castles, walking and scotch!

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