My Priorities Teaching in an ELF World 

Michael Griffin

My Priorities Teaching in an ELF World 
by Michael Griffin.


“Well, personally I only teach correct English.” 

“I’m not gonna teach some sort of bastardized English.”

“Why would I dumb things down for my students?”

“My students expect me to teach them English and not some made-up and impoverished language.”

“It’s insulting to students to assume they can’t learn proper English!” 

Do these sound familiar? The above are some of the statements I’ve heard related to ELF (English as a lingua franca) from a variety of teachers. I’ve heard quotes like this from teachers chatting casually in pubs to teachers speaking at conferences. I’ve heard similar lines from inexperienced teachers just starting out in the field and from published experts alike.  

While it might be interesting, I won’t use my amateur psychology skills to analyze those who might utter the above quotes. Nor will I use my beginner sleuthing ability to create a passable theory about the origins of such thinking. I’ll also spare you my basic historical explanation of the term lingua franca.  I’ll even overlook sticky questions over what “correct” and “proper” mean in this context. In this brief post I’d just like to share how I view ELF and how this view tends to shape my English language teaching. 

I don’t think of ELF as a language, new or impoverished or otherwise. I think of it as a fact. To me it means these days English is the preferred language of communication around the globe. Even those who would not consider themselves proponents of ELF would have a hard time disagreeing with the notion that English language students are likely to use English with others who do not use English as a first languageI suspect and hope that’s a pretty uncontroversial statement. If we start here, perhaps some of the ideas and practices we’ve previously assumed to be self-evident can be re-evaluated. If we think the end goal for our students is not always to sound like or impress “native speakers”, it might change some of our teaching practices or at least our priorities.

Image credit  

For me ELF is not about overtly teaching sentences like “She go to the gym every Thursday” (as I have heard suggested), but rather considering this to be a minor mistake and choosing to focus on other things. I believe that a big part of teaching is about setting priorities. So, when I consider ELF in terms of correcting students it’s often about making a choice to look the other way on certain types of mistakes and errors. I think of ELF as a justification, and in fact impetus, to re-assess the importance of what I teach and what I correct. If we hear something in class that doesn’t sound quite right but is unlikely to prevent a listener from understanding, we can choose to ignore it.  I assume many teachers are already doing this anyway without considering ELF.  To my mind, the reality of ELF can just help us as we set our priorities. We might ask ourselves, “Does this really impede intelligibility?” We might consider the degree to which we are emphasizing or even over-emphasizing “native speaker norms.” We might step back and consider if our expectations for students are reasonable or practical or even helpful and needed.  

Another area where I feel that thinking about ELF helps me or causes me to re-prioritize is with the language of idioms and slang. If I step back and consider that my students are going to be speaking with interlocutors other than “native speakers”, it becomes easier for me to de-prioritize unnecessary and rare idioms and slang. I find that even asking myself “Are students likely to need or want this idiom for international communication?” and “Will those my students speak with be likely to know this idiom?” can help my decision-making process. When I  ask myself these questions I often choose to focus elsewhere.  

As we de-prioritize certain things, we will also probably want to prioritize others. The first thing that comes to mind in this regard is clarification strategies. This might mean helping students to be certain they have heard correctly (“B as in boy?”), as well as practice with things like paraphrasing and seeking clarification on more complicated points and opinions. In my mind, this shift calls for more collaborative work where there is not exactly one correct answer but students have to come to a joint understanding (and perhaps conclusion) on something.  

I believe considering some of the questions I’ve laid out above will enable us to be more attuned to our students’ needs and might help us prioritize what is most useful and helpful to our students. I think when we consider ELF a lens through which to view our teaching it can help us make better decisions.  

I’d like to state that the above is just my personal take on how ELF influences my own teaching. While I hope it’s helpful for you, your mileage may vary. Also, your students might have specific reasons for using English and might want to sound as close to “native speakers” as possible. They might be obsessed with idioms and slang and expect you to provide a bottomless supply of idioms. Your students might have work or personal reasons that cause them to desire sounding as native-like as possible. I am not suggesting as teachers we ignore these needs and wants. I’m just suggesting that English students in the future speaking with other L2 users of English is the reality for most.  

I’d also suggest that acknowledging ELF and using it as a lens for examining our teaching doesn’t necessarily mean we have to make a drastic change in our teaching. For me it’s just something else to think about as I plan lessons and courses and make decisions in the flow of class. It’s something that helps me to set priorities and evaluate my choices.  

In this post I have barely scratched the surface on the implications of ELF for teachers of English.  If you are interested in learning more about ELF and these implications for your own classroom, I might recommend taking Katy Simpson’s upcoming course on this.  

English Without Borders: Communication in a Connected World

Katy Simpson

English Without Borders: Communication in a Connected World
by Katy Simpson.


In many ELT classrooms, learners have little intention of ever stepping foot in an English-speaking country. So why are they learning English? Whether they have heard of the term or not, an important motivation for many is that English is the world’s Lingua Franca – a common language between people who do not share the same first language. So, how can we prepare our learners to communicate successfully in this way? In the following four videos (all filmed in Japan), we hear ideas and inspiration from teachers who believe in equipping learners with the tools to communicate clearly.

Who are your learners using English with?


Before we can begin to help our learners communicate successfully, we need to find out who our learners use English with. There are many reasons they might be using ELF. English is not only used as a Lingua Franca in the commercial world; it’s used to share ideas in academia, to enable sports teams to travel, to build bridges in the world of NGOs, to facilitate the meeting of minds between artists, and many more. Just this week, I watched Danish musicians perform at a concert in Kobe, Japan. At the end, they stayed around to chat to (Japanese) members of the audience – all in English. What does this mean for us as teachers? In this video, Anna and Nicky give us a flavour of an ELF-aware classroom:

  • Anna mentions the importance of relevant role models. How do you think this is connected to ELF?
  • Nicky explains that his learners use English with people from a range of countries. In what ways might the learners’ interactions with North American speakers differ from their interactions with other Asian speakers of English?


What skills do our learners need to use ELF successfully?


Much of the ELT industry still operates as if people study English for the same reason I’m learning Japanese; in order to integrate within a specific community. Coursebooks still usually defer to so-called “native speaker” accents in their pronunciation sections, and audio materials are filled with “native speaker” accents. Examinations often use “native speaker” pronunciation as a benchmark in descriptors, and it is still common to see the phrase “native speaker teachers” slapped proudly across the marketing of some schools. But in this connected world, where English is a communication tool across borders, are “native speakers” really as relevant as some parts of the ELT industry would have us believe? To meet the needs of most of our students, I strongly believe there needs to be a shift in the industry; we need to move away from judging a learner’s success based on how acceptable their English is to a “native speaker.” Instead, we need to prioritise clear communication in international context. As individual teachers, we might not be able to change the world of publishing, examinations, and marketing! However, we all make decisions in the classroom – and even the smallest of changes can help to empower learners as international communicators. So, what are the key skills that learners need? In this second video, three teachers talk about their classroom priorities:

  • Nick talks about the difficulty of persuading learners that successful communication does not always have to be grammatically accurate. Why do you think some learners find this concept challenging?
  • Mike talks about the dangers of making assumptions. Have you ever experienced the kind of communication breakdown that Mike describes, either inside the classroom or outside it?
  • Parisa describes the importance of pronouncing /r/ and /l/ clearly. Why do you think consonant sounds are so important when using ELF?


What types of activities can develop our learners’ ability to use ELF?


Many of the skills described in the second video are easily achieved through many of the communicative activities we already use in class. That is to say, addressing the needs of ELF users does not require a dramatic change in classroom practice. Information gap activities, for example, are ideal for developing skills such as paraphrasing. In this third video, we look at some more specific examples of classroom activities aimed at promoting successful communication using ELF:

  • Chia describes a fun speaking activity. Could this work in your classroom?
  • Kevin and Anna talk about the importance of the Internet in developing learners’ ability to use ELF. How else can we use the Internet to develop learners’ skills to help them use ELF?


How can we develop learners’ confidence communicating in ELF contexts?


One of the key issues for learners in any context is a lack of confidence. This is often compounded in an ELF context because of the range of first language backgrounds involved. This particularly impacts pronunciation. In this last video, Barbara, Atsuko, and Chad all focus on the importance of accents:

  • Barbara talks about building learners’ confidence listening to a range of accents and encouraging learners to choose relevant pronunciation models depending on their own accent. Do you try to familiarise your learners with a range of accents in your listening lessons? If so, please share suggestions for audio resources in the comments box below!
  • Atsuko suggests that communication is a two-way process, i.e. it is not only the speaker who is responsible for successful communication, but also the listener. Hence, learners need to be familiar with a range of accents. She also talks about the issue of “native-speaker deference” among so-called “non-native speakers.” How do you think we can help learners to take pride in their accent, wherever they come from?
  • Lastly, Chad stresses the importance of awareness-raising. What types of activities might promote this?


Indeed, it is fitting to end with Chad’s words because awareness-raising was a common thread throughout the videos. By helping our learners to understand the hurdles they might face when using English internationally, we can enable them to begin working on solutions. To find out more about these hurdles and solutions, check out our online course starting in February: Creating an ELF-aware classroom. Also, don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments below, and a big thank you to everyone who was interviewed for the videos.


The Power of Professional Development

Chris Mares

The Power of Professional Development
by Chris Mares.


In November 2017 I attended Colorado TESOL as a featured speaker and returned to Maine inspired, energized, and ready to hurl myself back into my teaching and writing with even more energy and enthusiasm than usual.

There is nothing quite like teacher energy, particularly at conferences and workshops. There we all were for two days sequestered in the Radisson South East, in Denver, surrounded by freeways and concrete, doing what we love – sharing our stories, listening for ideas, giving inspiration, pawing through texts, meeting new people, reconnecting with old friends, and realizing that what we have chosen to do is meaningful and worthwhile.

I was gripped by Andy Curtis’s pertinently brilliant talk on teaching as a political act and Dorothy Zemach’s artful commentary on music, metaphor, and teaching. Maggie Sokolik brought me down to earth with her pragmatic insights into writing, students, and classroom practice. Finally, the gifted and lyrical Thomas Healey, in the final session, had us all dancing The Chicken while revealing how it is possible for teachers to be in two places at one time.

I took frantic notes and my head span with ideas.

And I was in Denver, far from Maine, sitting at breakfast with a group of wonderful teachers attending their first conference. One was going to give her first ever presentation and our table hummed with supportive energy.

A month earlier I had been in Japan observing teachers in middle schools in Aomori Prefecture.  It was wonderful to see how far along public school teaching has come since I had lived in Japan, twenty years previously.

I even managed to inspire myself with my own talk on using teachers’ anecdotes and stories as material for classroom use.

What a giving lot teachers are. There is so much sharing of materials and ideas, so much time spent supporting and advocating for students.

I listened to teachers talk of the work they do with immigrants and refugees.  I was moved to my core by the lengths teachers go to on behalf of their students in various parts of Colorado.

Then, of course, there was the joshing and banter. Andy Curtis, who said to me, “Great presentation. So old school. No handouts, no power point, glasses up and down like a yoyo, get some gosh-darned bi-focals.” He had a point.

On the plane back to Maine, I looked down at the towns below thinking of all the teachers there are in the US and around the world. All of us trying to make a difference. And in these times of political despair, it struck me that we have a duty to do what we do as well as we can and to model acceptance and tolerance. We are in a position of power where we can inspire and motivate our students to become the best they can be, not only for themselves but for each other and for us. For the world.

And so I look forward to TESOL in Chicago in March of this year, and IATEFL in Brighton, in April. I know I will see familiar faces and meet new people, and return to Maine with that fresh feeling of wanting to make a difference.

In a good way.

My Journey in Professional Development

Aziz Soubai

My Journey in Professional Development
by Aziz Soubai.


What do you think happened in the summer of 2014? That summer is of huge significance for me. Why? I’m very sure the lives of so many teachers and educators around the world have changed a lot since that summer.

One of those teachers was me, a novice English teacher from Morocco. I was thrilled beyond description and this was the start of my professional journey as a language teacher and educator.The joy lasted for 10 weeks, but those weeks passed by like 10 minutes for me!

So, what happened exactly is that I was surfing the Internet one day and found the announcement of an online course called the iTDi Summer School MOOC for English Teachers. Something in this title made me so curious to know what this whole course was about. I decided to register and what followed that choice led to a tremendous achievement for me. Back then I didn’t have much experience in online learning and more particularly with WizIQ. It was summer time, a time when most people go to the beach, take a swim, wear sunglasses, and enjoy the freshness of water and the beauty of sunsets. I still remember the two voices in my head. One was saying, “What? Are you out of your mind? Do you want to imprison yourself in front of the computer for this whole time?!” The other voice, however, which was essentially supported by passion and curiosity, was a little stronger: “You have to see what’s going on in here. This looks like a huge learning opportunity – and it is free!”

The next day the voice of passion emerged victorious. However, that was not the end of the story and I had to face many challenges. The sessions were utterly amazing and were mainly about topics related to teachers’ interests and classroom practice. There were sessions about teaching using games, videos, stories, web tools, and more. It was true enjoyment for me and I could attend most of the live sessions. I resorted to the recorded ones only to prepare for the quizzes (that were part of the MOOC program) or when there were connection issues. The thing that really bothered me, though, was the deadlines and the multiple-choice questions which needed a lot of concentration and effort. I know that it was not meant to be a self-paced course. Consequently, I sometimes had to stay up a whole night to make sure I could submit the quiz in due time. I learnt to be more active and get rid of procrastination, which is a pretty devastating habit. All this made me reticent and I realized that I got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. And then I really made a huge one!

That summer online course with iTDi created a kind of insatiable thirst for knowledge inside me. I have become a great online learner and this in turn affected how I now prepare my lesson plans and deal with my students. The tips, ideas, and strategies I gained and am still gaining from iTDi courses are countless. For example, I now rely more on technology, especially English language applications that teach spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary. I also train my students to use learning management systems like Edmodo to do homework or participate in global projects with other schools. Additionally, I use students’ portfolios for teaching, assessment and reflection.

I feel I have become a global citizen, and a more reflective teacher and thinker. I now firmly believe that “anything I can do, we can do better, an important message and one of iTDi’s principles as described by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto. In fact, this is very true for language teachers. We face more or less the same learning and teaching challenges and we share the same concerns. Here I’m specifically talking about language areas like grammar, especially for EFL learners, which was mentioned in one the talks of Betty Azar, Keith Floss and Michael Swan.

I realize now that my journey in professional development never ends. Every single day I learn something new. I learn from students who are constantly changing themselves. I learn from interacting with my colleagues. I learn from iTDi bloggers. I learn from bad experiences and, most of all, from my own mistakes and blunders.

“I’m praying for the rain and I gotta deal with the mud too. That’s a part of it.” 


Professional Development Makes All the Difference

Roseli Serra

Professional Development Makes All the Difference
by Roseli Serra.


As I wrote in my previous post, 2012 was a very peculiar year in my life. It was then that I got to know teacher communities on Facebook, built my professional learning network (PLN), and first heard about online professional development (PD) and iTDi.

Before that I had always been concerned about both my personal and professional development and never waited for any institution to support me. It was good to have support when I could. If not, I managed to save money and time to do face-to-face courses and attend conferences which, I believed, would bring good results for me as an educator.

Online professional development was a great discovery. Webinars and online courses I attended, discussions in Facebook groups and communities, and Advanced Skills Courses promoted by iTDi made a crucial difference on how to see education, how to grow professionally, and how to help those who seek development.

I started as an attendee and afterwards I was invited to deliver webinars, moderate courses, be a keynote speaker and a plenary speaker for worldwide audiences.

The size of the audience doesn’t actually matter, but the difference you make might be compared to those tiny drops that will eventually fill a jug. Even if you think you are doing something of little importance or if  you consider yourself not to be that famous person, believe: you are reaching hearts and minds and influencing other educators in a positive way.

I have lots of amazing examples to list how PD has changed my life. Among those, I’d like to highlight some of the Advanced Skills Courses held by iTDi. For me, it was fantastic to interact online and study with the authors whose books I used to read. It was fantastic to get to know educators from all over the world and their opinions. The courses I took gave me a lot of food for thought, a lot to learn from different cultures, colleagues, tutors, and friends. But most of all, I was once again made sure that every teacher matters. Isn’t it great?

We know that teaching is a very hard job. Those who really want to make a difference will seek out new possibilities to include in their practice and new methodologies that will contribute to their work and the quality of teaching.

Professional development as an ongoing process is an important issue since teachers need to be aware that training should be continuous and related to their day-to-day life in the classroom. As Romanowsky (2009, p.138) states, “continuous education is a requirement for the current times. So teachers cannot stop studying.”

Finally, teacher development is not only built by accumulation (courses, knowledge, or techniques), but also through a work of critical reflexivity on the practices and continuous (re)construction of a permanent personal identity.

The number of strategies and suggestions for PD is huge. I’ll suggest some of the ideas I learnt from Jack Richards and that have helped me a lot along my career as a teacher and as an educator.

  1. Talk to people who have taken part in a PD activity. Sharing is caring.
  2. Decide on what kind of support you will need. Remember nobody is an island.
  3. Select a colleague to work with. Two is better than one.
  4. Set realistic goals and establish a time frame. Plan and be organized. This way your results will be a lot more effective.
  5. Evaluate what you have learned and share the results with others. Show your work and be humble to learn from your peers.
  6. You might find, as you progress, that there’s an area of knowledge you need to know more about. So never be afraid to ask for help or advice.

There’s nothing wrong with asking yourself, “Can I do it better?” Doing this is not a sign of being an underperforming teacher. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it shows you are brave and professional.

Wishing you all a year full of joy, hope, and achievements!