English as a Lingua (ELF)
There are about three times as many people who speak English as a second or foreign language as there are native speakers. Many people use English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) to communicate with others with whom they don’t share a common language. When they do so, the English they use isn’t necessarily the same as the English used by native speakers. ELF tends to have a more restricted vocabulary, a simplified grammar and pronunciation, and fewer idioms than native English.
According to an article in the Financial Times I came across today, via this blog, ELF users tend to find it easier to communicate with one another if no native speakers of English are present. Native speakers who don’t adjust their language for non-natives tend to be difficult to understand. The article mentions a student conference in Amsterdam where everyone spoke English and where the sole British participant was asked to be “less English” so that the others could understand her.
I first heard the term English as a Lingua Franca a few years ago on a radio programme in which the linguist Jean Atchinson discussed the phenomenon. She suggested that native speakers of English should become familiar with ELF in order to communicate effectively with non-native speakers. I sure this isn’t too much of a problem for those who communicate regularly with non-native speakers, but probably can cause difficulties for others.
In another article about ELF, the author mentions research from Sweden and the Netherlands on the widespread use of English as a medium of instruction in higher education. The research found that “Test results were about ten percent lower on average in English taught courses than in courses taught in the mother tongue.”