About a year ago, quite unpretensiously, checking my Facebook timeline, a message popped up on the right corner. It was a woman from a city in Iraq. She had sent me a message with a very simple request: help her improve her English. Unfortunately, as I think many people would have felt, I was initially apprehensive to accept her as Facebook friend. The fact that she was from Iraq rang a sort of alarm in my head. This may sound like a horrible thing to write, but don’t we normally associate Iraq with terrorism and sociopolitical chaos? Sadly, I believe we do, thanks to the media bombarding us with all sorts of terrible news from that country.
I decided to put aside my own prejudice and befriend her. It was definitely the right decision and I’ll tell you the story. Afrah has opened my eyes to what’s going on in her country and what the Iraqi people are like. She is a normal young woman who went to college to study English. She lived in a big house with her parents, siblings, and her pretty little nieces. Her level of English required some work, though. But most of the time we had no problem to communicate. That was when I decided to invite her to talk to my students through my Facebook messenger in class. Since she was not allowed to show herself to us, we used audio messages. I’ll never forget the first time she said hello to my teenage students and how happy she was to hear their voices. From that time on, we used Afrah’s help in every possible way we could think of, including WhatsApp calls to interview her, photos of her house to learn about houses and rooms, letters and postcards, you name it. She became part of my Project-Based Learning (PBL) adventure.
That short story brings me to a concept that has been going around for some time now. It’s English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). According to Henry Widdowson:
‘The modified forms of the language, which are actually in use should be recognised as a legitimate development of English as an international means of communication. The functional range of the language . . . enables its users to express themselves more freely without having to conform to norms, which represent the socio-cultural identity of other people (in Jenkins, 2007)’.
You see, in short, ELF is the global use of English that focuses on communication rather than accuracy. It’s what allows us, non-native speakers of basically any level, to have a meaningful conversation with someone from the most unusual parts of the globe. It’s what allowed Afrah to talk to me and tell me her impressive story.
I found out that she wanted to become a teacher. She told me she loved fish and pizza. She sent me a photo of her little nieces dressed like Santa Claus for Xmas. Her father is the kindest man she knows, who likes everybody and is helping oppressed families being slaughtered by Daaish (terrorist group) in Mosul. She’s a person. A human being, just like any other and she inspired an article I wrote for the Braz-Tesol Newsletter.
The best part is that I’ve had some impact on her. A couple of months ago she decided to pursue a master’s degree in Iran and now she is studying Methodologies in ELT. It was such a brave move for her to leave her family for a while and continue her education. Her father is supporting her and she couldn’t be any happier. She told me today that she’ll write her thesis on PBL and I’m over the moon with the news! And to think that I could’ve ignored her…
As a non-native English teacher and proficiency certificates examiner, I realize the importance of teaching accuracy and sticking to the rules. However, I can’t help thinking about how relevant ELF has become and how it serves as an instrument of collaboration. Through ELF we can learn about people’s culture, listen to their stories and relate to them, destroying stereotypes and promoting more tolerance.
I’m really proud of my friend Afrah and I want her to keep reaching for the stars.
حظا موفقا يا صديقي
What about you? What do you think about ELF? Here’s a short article from the British Council, coincidentally in Iran, to help you organize your thoughts:
I’d love to read some comments.
Jenkins, J. 2007. English as a lingua franca: attitude and identity. Oxford: Oxford