Registration is open for an intensive, three-week course entitled “English as a lingua franca – a new language?” (5 ECTS) offered from August 4-20, 2015, through Helsinki Summer School. The University of Helsinki’s annual summer school brings in students from around the world, and we look forward to welcoming a diverse group to join in our research into English as a lingua franca (ELF). Professor and university Vice-Rector Anna Mauranen is a trailblazing expert in ELF research, and her ELFA project leads the way in the study of academic ELF.
What makes this course different? First of all, it will be hands-on and data-centered. One of the advantages of studying in Helsinki is our wealth of linguistic databases. In addition to the spoken ELFA corpus (1 million words), we recently completed the first written ELF corpus, WrELFA (1.5 million words). Each teaching day will begin with a lecture, followed by a language lab in which students will get to work with ELF data, applying and exploring the concepts in practice.
Secondly, our course is linguistically oriented. If you’ve read about ELF research before, you might have the idea that this is an ideologically driven field, especially toward reforming the status quo in English language teaching. In Prof. Mauranen’s group, however, we tend to focus on the descriptive challenges of ELF and how it should be understood in relation to English(es) as a whole. Is ELF a new language? Or is it just English?
Three levels for understanding ELF
The summer course will mainly be taught by two ELFA project researchers, Svetlana Vetchinnikova and Ray Carey (that’s me). We base the course on Mauranen’s three-level framework for understanding ELF: the macrosocial, microsocial, and cognitive levels. This framework is also the basis of her book, Exploring ELF: Academic English shaped by non-native speakers (2012, CUP), and Prof. Mauranen will provide a lecture introducing these perspectives at the beginning of the course.
The macrosocial, microsocial, and cognitive approaches not only provide a conceptual framework – they also provide different approaches to analysing and describing data. The course and its hands-on exercises will apply these levels in different ways:
- Macrosocial perspective: this is the level of community, variety, and dialect – concepts that are challenged by the relative instability of ELF communities. This is also the level of a corpus linguistic methodology, and the available ELF corpora show patterns and frequencies that might suggest which direction global English is headed. Together as a class, we’ll carry out original research to answer some questions about how ELF looks from this broadest viewpoint.
- Microsocial perspective: moving from the broad communal level, we can narrow our focus to the individual speech event – how do groups of speakers manage to achieve successful communication using ELF? Corpus data is useful here as well, but with a closer level of analysis. Here we can see how turn-taking, negotiation of meaning, and co-construction of utterances are used to enhance mutual understanding. With a close analysis of transcriptions of spoken interaction, we can see how misunderstandings are resolved and even prevented.
- Cognitive perspective: now we reach the narrowest level of an individual’s cumulative language use over time. As a form of second language use (SLU), ELF data also reveals some differences in each of our collective experience with English, and questions are raised involving memory and how language is stored and recalled. Here we can see the “fuzziness” of language processing and how it might affect the other micro/macrosocial levels as well. Both linguistic data and psycholinguistic tests can tell us a great deal about the sources of variability in ELF.
A team effort: what will you contribute?
Our summer course will be a team effort. In addition to sessions led by Prof. Mauranen, Svetlana, and Ray, other researchers from our project will contribute. We’ve invited Dr. Jaana Suviniitty to lead a session on how an ELF approach can inform English language teaching, and Dr. Niina Hynninen will discuss issues surrounding ELF and language assessment. In this way, we’ll broaden the linguistic study of ELF to some of its applications and implications.
A team effort is in store for students as well – the language labs will be a source of collaboration and itself an ELF interaction among an international group. For the end of the course, groups will carry out and present short projects on their topic of choice. This is a chance to explore topics not covered in the course, or dig deeper into the databases that we’ll make available. Groups will submit a short text on their projects, and although it will be optional, students are encouraged to post their project reports to this blog. That way, you also get to join in and contribute to our ongoing work.
For more information on applying for the course, see the Helsinki Summer School website!