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Next steps in research: English the ‘multilingua’ franca

Professor Jennifer Jenkins outlines her latest research and thinking on the use of English as a lingua franca.
JENNIFER JENKINS: Hello, everybody. In this week, we’re going to be talking about changes in the way we’ve been thinking about ELF and how we’re thinking about it now. Last week, when we all talked about ELF, what we didn’t say to you was that actually what we were talking about was the second phase of thinking about ELF and that it had already been through an earlier phase. That earlier phase was the very beginning of research into ELF where it was all very new. And we thought it was to do with ELF varieties bounded kinds of English. So for example, German-English, Chinese-English, and so on. But we very quickly moved on from that because we realised that ELF isn’t like that.
ELF transcends boundaries. ELF is about communication across linguistic boundaries. So certainly, we realised there is influence from people’s first languages. But that isn’t the only influence. What there also is is the influence of the people that ELF users are speaking with. People use ELF when they’re communicating with people who speak other languages than their own. And that influences the way their ELF use develops. So you’ve got both influence from their first language and influence from people’s conversation partners.
So what I’ve just talked about is what I’m calling ELF 1 and ELF 2– ELF 1 looking at ELF as if it was individual varieties within boundaries and ELF 2 as something much more fluid and flexible and hybrid and that means how people change the way they speak to make it more easy for their conversation partners to understand them. But that’s not the end of this story. Current thinking has moved on, particularly my own thinking and my colleagues here in the Centre for Global Englishes. What we felt was missing was ELF is, of course, very multilingual. And multilingualism seemed to have been rather left out of the picture. We need to evolve the way we think about it.
And what we’re talking about now is English as a multilingua franca. When we move on to think about English as a multilingua franca, or what I’m calling ELF 3, the definition changes. And the current definition that we’re working with is multilingual communication, in which English is available as a contact language of choice, but it’s not necessarily chosen. And once the focus turns to the multilingualism of ELF, it’s clear that multilingualism is the norm in ELF use. Monolingualism, which means people who are monolingual in English, is the exception. This is abnormal. And this means that native English speakers are seen as disadvantaged in ELF communication once we start to think of English as a multilingua franca.
So a key difference for English as a multilingua franca is whether someone is monolingual or multilingual. Suddenly, the terms native English speaker and non-native English speaker become a completely irrelevant distinction in ELF. And instead, we’re talking about the multilingual ELF user and the monolingual ELF user. But if you want to read more about this or learn more of the details about the current thinking of English as a multilingua franca, there’s a link below to an article I’ve written about this on repositioning ELF within multilingualism.

In this video, Jennifer Jenkins outlines her recent research and thinking on the use of English around the world.

Jennifer talks about three phases of thinking about how English is used as a lingua franca in global communication: ELF 1, ELF 2 and ELF 3. She describes her latest ideas around English as a multilingua franca.

Do you agree with the idea of ‘3 phases of ELF?’
What do you think of the notion that English is used as a multilingua franca?
Does this idea reflect your own use of English?

Read Jennifer’s article below to learn more.


Jenkins, J. (2015) Repositioning English and multilingualism in English as a lingua franca, in Englishes in Practice, 2 (3): 49-85

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