English as a lingua franca for Bulgarian participants in the EU Comenius programme

Penka Hristova

Abstract: Over the recent years, English has more and more steadily established its role as an international language and its status as a lingua franca has been increasingly discussed (Hülmbauer, Böhringer, and Seidlhofer 2008; Jenkins 2000, 2009; Seidlhofer 2004, 2005, 2011; Wright 2009). Its universal use can be explained with the economy principle and is a typical example of the pragmatic (instrumental) function of language use. This article is focused on the attitudes towards the use of English as a lingua franca among students who have participated in language exchanges under the EU Comenius Programme (in comparison to their classmates who haven’t participated in the exchanges). It will also show the preferred combinations of languages of the students and the leading place of English among the preferred languages.The research methodology uses both quantitative (survey) and qualitative (interviews) methods. The research itself has been carried out in schools in Bulgaria that participated in bilateral partnerships under the Comenius Programme in the period of 2010 – 2013.

Keywords: English, lingua franca, students, Comenius Programme, preferred combinations of languages.

Introduction

Over the recent years, English has more and more steadily established its role as an international language and its status as a lingua franca has been increasingly discussed (Firth 1996; Crystal 2003; Graddol 1997, 2006; Hülmbauer, Böhringer, and Seidlhofer 2008; Jenkins 2000, 2009; Wright 1999, 2009; Seidlhofer 2005, 2011; Van Parijs 2011). Its universal use can be explained with „the need for mutual intelligibility” (Crystal 2003) and is a typical example of the pragmatic (instrumental) function of language use. [1]

Definitions

In terms of definitions, we can use Firth’s definition describing English as a lingua franca as “a ‘contact language’ between persons who share neither a common native tongue nor a common (national) culture, and for whom English is the chosen foreign language of communication”. [2] This definition is also used by Seidlhofer (2005; 2011) [3] and a similar one is adopted by Jenkins (2009). [4] It can also include native speakers as well, as long as they participate in an intercultural communication. Other terms for the global use of English are used as well – „English as a global language” (Crystal 2003) [5], „English as an international language” (Jenkins 2000) [6], „world English” (Brutt-Griffler 2002) [7] and others.

Kachru (1985) develops a model representing the spread of English in the world consisting of three concentric circles – the inner circle including the countries where English is a native language (UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and which varieties are described as „norm-providing”, the outer circle comprised of former colonies, where English has become part of the countries’ institutions and has had influence as a second language (e.g. Singapore, India) and where the varieties of English are regarded as „norm-developing”, and the expanding circle where English is used as an international lanaguage and is regarded as „norm-dependent”.

This classification has been much debated and its critiscs argue for its reconsidering (Hülmbauer, Böhringer, and Seidlhofer 2008; Schmitz 2014). [8] One of the arguments can be that English as a lingua franca (ELF) is not owned by native speakers, as long as it serves for intercultural communication (Widdowson 1994). [9] It is defined funcionally, not formally by the norms, it can be adapted by non-native speakers as well (Hülmbauer, Böhringer, and Seidlhofer 2008). [10]

New trends in education related to ELF

The spread of English as a lingua franca can expectedly bring up some changes related to the teaching of English. According to David Graddol (1997; 2006) [11], a dramatic „qualitative change” is about to happen due to the role of English as a lingua franca and the consequences for the language and the way we conceive it.

Jenkins (2000; 2009) [12] has outlined some common features of EFL – for example, the pronunciation of difficult sounds in English, such as „th” /Ɵ/ and /Δ/ and the ‘dark l’ allophone [ł], that are not necessary for international understanding and sould be dropped. Seidlehoffer (2011) [13] differentiates between English as a foreign language and Enslish as a lingua franca in terms of linguacultural norms, objectives and processes, which implies that the use of a completely different approach towards English as a lingua franca is required. The main focus is put on the communication purposes, not on the norms. In relation to the new conditions Graddol (2006) [14] outlines a paradigm shift from English as a foreign language.

Rizvi & Lingard (2010) [15] notice a trend of lowering the age of English language instruction, together with an increase of the use of English as a means of instruction in other sciences. Also, they mention the development of a huge private industry in English teaching driven by the widespread desire to learn English.

Criticism to ELF

The spread of English globally is seen as a threat to the linguistic diversity by many scholars (Philippson 1992, 2003; Dalby 2003, Yuka 2006) [16]. It is considered as „a function of linguistic imperialism” and its use is seen as implying the exclusion of other languages (Philipson 1992). It is also considered „an instrument for global hegemony” (Rizvi & Lingard 2010) and its global spread poses a number of significant questions related to the meaning of English language development for other languages (Pennycook 2001). [17] However, other scholars (such as Wright 2009) [18] suggest that we escape from the hegemony paradigm and get rid of „the legacies from the nation-state era” [19], as „a lingua franca is of general benefit to Europeans” [20] and its use cannot oust the other languages from their domains of use. Crystal (2003) [21] also argues that the globally spread languages, such as English, used for mutual intelligibility and the local languages reinforcing the cultural identity can happily coexist, as they serve different functions.

Case study – Bulgarian students’ attitudes towards English as a lingua franca

Objectives

Multilingualism in the European Union is considered a constituting element of European identity and plurilingualism is considered a function of this configuration (Stoicheva 2006, Стойчева 2006) [22] in English. In the EU, there are 24 official languages, around 60 regional languages and hundreds of immigrant languages. However, the preservation of the European linguistic diversity faces one very serious challenge, namely the ubiquitous use of English as a lingua franca (Wright 1999, 2009; Jenkins 2009; van Parijs 2011). [23] However, English is also seen by some researchers (Risse 2010; Wright 1999) [24] as a necessity for developing a common public space for debates in the EU. On the one hand, there is the need for maintaining each language and preserving the linguistic diversity in the EU, which represents the symbolic function of language, and on the other hand – there is the need for easy communication between people of different linguistic backgrounds, which represents the pragmatic function of language.

That is why one of the main aspects of the research – namely, the links between plurilingualism and European identity, touches upon the attitudes of the participants towards English as a lingua franca, as part of their attitudes towards the European language policy (along with other factors, such as their preferences towards other foreign languages, attitudes towards the values enshrined in the EU language policy and their linguistic repertoire).

The focus of this article is on the role of and the attitudes towards English for the students participating in a Commenius bilateral exchange. The aim of the article is to examine whether or not the use of English threatens the linguistic diversity in the linguistic repertoires of the participants in the exchange. The data is taken from a research focusing on the effects of plurilingualism (related to the participation in bilateral exchange programmes under the EU Commenius Programme) on the formation of European identity.

Parameters of the research

The research has been carried out among Bulgarian secondary schools that have participated in bilateral language exchange partnerships under the Commenius Programme, part of Lifelong Learning Programme (2007-2013) of the European Commission. The methodology that has been used includes both quantitative methods (survey) and qualitative methods (interviews). Quantitative methods include ex-post facto experiment, consisting of a survey among two groups – students who had participated in the exchange projects and had travelled to another European country and their classmates who had not participated. Also, interviews were carried out with some of the participants and their teachers involved in the projects to check the results of the survey.

The methodology consists of an analysis of the EU foreign language policy (language management, language practices, language beliefs), an analysis of the Bulgarian foreign language policy (language management, language practices, language beliefs) and an empirical survey comprised of a quantitative research (a survey with 28 empirical and 5 conceptual indicators (foreign language repertoir; bilateral exchange; European identity; linguistic attitudes and other factors) carried out in 21 Bulgarian schools participating in bilateral projects in the period 2010 – 2013 and covering 279 participants in bilateral language exchanges under the Comenius Programme and 255 of their non-participating classmates who are a control group), a qualitative research (semi-strictures interviews with participants) and an expert evaluation (semi-structured interviews with teachers).

Methodological design

For the design of our survey, we have used several conceptual indicators that are operationalised in empirical indicators through the questions of the survey. We are going to pay attention to some of them for the purposes of this article. The conceptual indicator foreign language repertoire is operationalized into the following empirical indicators: combination of foreign languages, level of foreign language proficiency, additional language training, purpose of studying and use of foreign languages. The conceptual indicator linguistic attitudes is operationalized into the following empirical indicators: preferences to other foreign languages; preferred combination of languages in EU; attitude towards English as a lingua franca; attitudes towards the impact of foreign languages on some European values (toleance and inclination to dialogue with other cultures; attitudes towards the impact of foreign languages on the social cohesion in the EU).

Results

We are going to concentrate only on the results concerning the linguistic repertoire of the participants and their attitudes towards English as a lingua franca, as well as the use of foreign language during the exchange, as this is related to the main focus of this article.

Results from the quantitative research

First, the results of a frequency anaylsis of the indicators are going to be shown.

Lingusitic repertoire

The results from the survey show the following data in realtion to the first, second and third foreign language, respectively:

  • First foreign language

According to the results from the survey the most popular first foreign language for the participants in the bilateral exchanges is English as it was expected (68.2%), but still we have a comparative diversity in the first foreign languages (German – 13.4%, French – 7.5%, Russian – 6.1%, Italian – 3.2% and Japanese – 1.4%).

For the non-participants the diversity is a bit lower, and the share of English is greater (76.1%). The rest of the languages are distributed as follows: German (11.4%), Russian (5.5%), French (4.7%) and Italian (2.4%) – Table 1.

Table 1. First foreign language at school

Participants in Comenius Programme

Total

No

Yes

First foreign language at school

Japanese

1,4%

,8%

Italian

2,4%

3,2%

2,8%

French

4,7%

7,6%

6,2%

Russian

5,5%

6,1%

5,8%

German

11,4%

13,4%

12,4%

English

76,1%

68,2%

72,0%

Total

100,0%

100,0%

100,0%

  • Second foreign language

Data shows that not all of the participants in the bilateral exchanges have studied a second foreign language – only 83.5% of them. This can be explained with the fact that some of them are not in the secondary school yet where it is compulsory, or with the fact that in small towns and villages there aren’t enough teachers trained in foreign language teaching. There is diversity in the second foreign language, as most often the second foreign language is German (31.8% from the students studying a second foreign language), followed by English (29.2%), Russian (18.9%), French (10.3%), Italian (7.7%) and Spanish (2.1%).

Only 73.7% from the students who haven’t participated in the exchanges study a second foreign language, as the language diversity is the same as among the participants: German (38.8%), English (23.4%), French (13.8%), Russian (13.8%), Italian (7.4%) and Spanish (2.7%) – Table 2.

Table 2. Second foreign language at school

Participants in Comenius Programme

Total

No

Yes

Second foreign language at school ще

Spanish

2,7%

2,1%

2,4%

Italian

7,4%

7,7%

7,6%

French

13,8%

10,3%

11,9%

Russian

13,8%

18,9%

16,6%

German

38,8%

31,8%

34,9%

English

23,4%

29,2%

26,6%

Total

100,0%

100,0%

100,0%

  • Third foreign language

Only 8.2% of the participants in the bilateral exchanges speak a third foreign language. The most common languages as a third foreign language are: Russian (47.8%), English (26.1%), French (13.0%), Spanish (8.7%) and German (4.3%) – Table 3.

The percentage of the non-participating students studying a third foreign language is slightly higher than among the participants – 9.4%. The most widespread languages for them as a third foreign language are: Russian (41.7%), French (25.0%), Spanish (20.8%), English (8.3%) and German (4.2%) – Table 3.

Table 3. Third foreign language at school

Participants in the Comenius Programme

Total

No

Yes

Third foreign language at school

Spanish

20,8%

8,7%

14,9%

French

25,0%

13,0%

19,1%

Russian

41,7%

47,8%

44,7%

German

4,2%

4,3%

4,3%

English

8,3%

26,1%

17,0%

Total

100,0%

100,0%

100,0%

From this data we can conclude that there is a relatively good diversity of foreign languages in the Bulgarian educational system, as there is no strict fixation on English in spite of its dominating role due to its international influence. In the respondents’ repertoire there is a stable presence of German and French (due to some economic, political and social factors), as well as of Russian – traditional for Bulgaria and ideologically conditioned. Although with a lower percentage, Italian and Spanish are also present in the respondents’ repertoire, the former – most probably because of the traditions of its teaching in Bulgaria in the early 20th century, whereas the latter one – probably due to its increasing popularity in the global scene.

Attitude towards English as a lingua franca

In terms of realizing the pressing necessity for European citizens to speak English, the majority of the respondents agree with the statement that English should be obligatorily spoken in the EU (73.2% of the participants and 67.6% of the non-participants respectively) – Table 4. This can be interpreted as a realized necessity for a “working” language, in which the communication in EU is carried out most easily.

Table 4. Necessity for the Europeans to speak English

Participants in the Comenius Programme

Total

No

Yes

English should be obligatorily spoken in the EU

Strongly disagree

8,1%

3,7%

5,8%

Rather disagree

9,7%

7,4%

8,5%

Neither agree, nor disagree

14,6%

15,8%

15,2%

Rather agree

36,8%

36,8%

36,8%

Strongly agree

30,8%

36,4%

33,7%

Total

100,0%

100,0%

100,0%

The data also shows the dominance of English in the respondents’ repertoir and its use as a de facto lingua franca. These conclusions have also been confirmed by the results of the qualitative interviews carried out with some of the participants in order to clarify the relations between the separate indicators in the qualitative research.

Language used in the Comenius exchange

Data shows that half of the participants have used only English for communication during their exchange (50.2%). The other stated combinations are English and Italian (6.5%), Turkish and English (5.4%), German (4.7%), German and English (4.3%), English and German (3.9%), English and Polish (2.9%) and English, French and Italian (2.9%). This clearly shows that English is de facto lingua franca for the participants, as they use it in situations in which they cannot express themselves in the language of the hosting country. It is also included in combinations with the language of the hosting country, but a great part of the participants communicate entirely in it during the exchange. There are also combinations with „big” European languages (German, French and Spanish). This means that the knowledge of the hosting country language is not enough if the language is „small” and further steps should be taken for its better mastering, which would promote the acknowledgement of language diversity as a value.

English as a lingua franca – a multifactor analysis

In order to answer the question of whether English is a de facto lingua franca for the respondents a multifactor quantitative analysis has been carried out. The characteristics included in the analysis are the following empirical indicators from the questionnaire:

  • Study of English at school;

  • Use of English for communication during the bilateral exchange;

  • Agreement with the statement that every European citizen should speak English;

  • Agreement with the statement that English should be spoken by every European;

  • Agreement with the statement that studying English should be promoted in the European Union.

We assume that English is a de facto lingua franca for all respondents for whom the above-mentioned characteristics are valid. The results show that this is so for 59.5% of the participants and 61.2% for the non-participants (Table 5 and Table 6). The similar percentage shows that this is now achieved through the exchange but is a result of other factors.

Table 5. English as a lingua franca (participants)

Number

%

Valid

Valid

No

107

38,4

39,2

Yes

166

59,5

60,8

Total

273

97,8

100,0

Missing

6

2,2

Total

279

100,0

Table 6. English as a lingua franca (non-participants)

Number

%

Valid

Valid

No

88

34,5

36,1

Yes

156

61,2

63,9

Total

244

95,7

100,0

Missing

11

4,3

Total

255

100,0

Qualitative interviews (foreign language repertoire)

According to the results of the qualitative interviews with participants in the bilateral exchanges, English has a dominating role (used by all the respondents), as in most of the cases it is used together with another EU language (German), or with a language that is official in Europe, but not in the European Union (Russian). The Russian language is present in the repertoire of around one third of the respondents, which coincides with the trend in the quantitative data analysis in relation to the traditional teaching of Russian in Bulgarian secondary schools. In some cases, as a result of the exchange the repertoire has been expanded with a new European language (Italian) which the respondents speak at a very low level, and in some rare cases languages of the neighbouring countries are present (Greek and Turkish).

In terms of the preferences for studying a new foreign language, almost all the interviewees have declared their wish to study new foreign languages, as only in one case the participant has stated that he wants to improve „the international English because now every nation already speaks Enlgish”. Among the preferred new foreign languages are German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Finnish and Japanese. The respondents present various integrative and instrumental motives for their choice, such as „I like the way it sounds”, „the culture attracts me”, as well as motives such as „I would like to continue my education abroad”, „one day I will need it, if I find a job in my area”. However, there is no language which meets both the integrative and instrumental needs of the respondents, in many cases they declare several new foreign languages which they would like to study. In this way we can conclude that the interviewed participants in the Commenius Programme bilateral exchanges demonstrate positive attitudes towards developing plurilingualism, which they relate to a great extent to social cohesion.

Conclusions

On the basis of the data presented above, we can conclude that there is a comparative diversity in the foreign language repertoire of the students who have participated in the bilateral exchanges. There is no fixation on the English-only pattern, although the role of English is dominant and it is used as a de facto lingua franca by the students. Data shows that the attitudes towards using English as a lingua franca are positive. The results of the survey prove that the use of English doesn’t threaten linguistic diversity for the participants. Thus, on the basis of the research results, we can agree with the statement of Crystal (2003) that the use of English as a lingua franca can co-exist with the language diversity, as they serve different functions for language users.

* The article presents results from the activities under Project “Developing Competences and Improving Skills for New Research Methods and Methodologies by Junior Researchers”. Contract № ДМ10/2 from 14th December 2016 under National Science Fund of Bulgaria, with Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” being the base organization.

References

[1] We assume that linguistic attitudes can be integrative (deriving from social or interpersonal motives) and instrumental (deriving from utilitarian, pragmatic motives) (Gardner & Lambert 1959; Baker 1992; Oakes 2001).

[2] Firth, A. (1996). The discursive accomplishment of normality. On “lingua franca” English and conversation analysis, Journal of Pragmatics 26, p. 240, original emphasis.

[3] Seidlhofer, B. (2005). Key concepts in ELT: English as a lingua franca, ELT Journal. Volume 59/4.

Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

[4] Jenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: interpretations and attitudes, World Englishes, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 200-207.

[5] Crystal (2003). English as a global language. Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language: New Models, New Norms, New Goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[7] Brutt-Griffler, J. (2002). World English: A Study of Its Development. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

[8] Hülmbauer, Böhringer, and Seidlhofer (2008). „Introducing English as a lingua franca (ELF): Precursor and partner in international communication”. Synergies Europe, 3, pp. 25-36.

Schmitz, J. R. (2014). Looking under Kachru’s (1982, 1985) three circles model of World Englishes: the hidden reality and current challenges, Revista Brasiliera de Linguistica Aplicada. Vol. 14, No 2. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1984-63982014000200008, Retrieved on 10.03.2018.

[9] Widdowson, H. (1994). The ownership of English, TESOL Quarterly 28, Issue 2, pp. 377-389.

[10] Hülmbauer, Böhringer, and Seidlhofer (2008). „Introducing English as a lingua franca (ELF): Precursor and partner in international communication”. Synergies Europe, 3, pp. 25-36.

[11] Graddol, D. (1997). The future of English? A guide to forecasting the popularity of the English language in the 21st century. London: British Council. https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/learning-elt-future.pdf, Retrieved on 08.01.2018.

Graddol, D. (2006).  English Next. London: British Council. https://web.archive.org/web/20080411060041/http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-research-english-next.pdf, Retrieved on 08.01.2018.

[12] Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language: New Models, New Norms, New Goals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: interpretations and attitudes, World Englishes, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 200-207.

[13] Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

[14] Graddol, D. (2006). English Next. London: British Council. https://web.archive.org/web/20080411060041/http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-research-english-next.pdf, Retrieved on 08.01.2018.

[15] Rizvi, F. & Lingard, B. (2010). Globalizing Education Policy. London & New York: Routledge.

[16] Phillipson, R. (1992). Lignusitic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Phillipson, R. (2003). English-Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy. London & New York: Routledge.

Dalby, A. (2003). Language in Danger: The Loss of Linguistic Diversity and the Threat to our Future. New York: Columbia University Press.

Yuka, L.C. (2006). The Impact of Global English on Language Diversity, An Encyclopedia of the Arts. Vol. 4 (4), pp. 374382.

[17] Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.

[18] Wright, S. (2009). The Elephant in the Room: Language Issues in the European Union, European Journal of Language Policy, Vol. 1, No 2, pp. 93 – 119.

[19] Wright, S. (2009). The Elephant in the Room: Language Issues in the European Union, European Journal of Language Policy, Vol. 1, No 2, p. 114.

[20] Wright, S. (2009). The Elephant in the Room: Language Issues in the European Union, European Journal of Language Policy, Vol. 1, No 2, p. 114.

[21] Crystal (2003). English as a global language. Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[22] Stoicheva, M. / Стойчева, М. (2006). Многоезичие и европейска идентичност, сп. Чуждоезиково обучение. кн. 4/2006.

[23] Wright, S. (1999). A community that can communicate? The linguistic factor in European integration, In: Whose Europe? The Turn Towards Democracy. (Eds. Smith, D. & Wright, S.). Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publishers.

Wright, S. (2009). The Elephant in the Room: Language Issues in the European Union, European Journal of Language Policy, Vol. 1, No 2, pp. 93 – 119.

Jenkins, J. (2009). English as a lingua franca: interpretations and attitudes, World Englishes, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 200-207.

van Parijs, P. (2011). Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[24] Risse, T. (2010). A Community of Europeans? Transnational Identitiies and Public Sheres. Ithaka & London: Cornell University Press.

Wright, S. (1999). A community that can communicate? The linguistic factor in European integration, In Whose Europe? The Turn Towards Democracy. (Eds. Smith, D. & Wright, S.). Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publishers.

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van Parijs, P. (2011). Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Widdowson, H. (1994). The ownership of English, TESOL Quarterly 28, Issue 2, pp. 377-389.

Wright, S. (1999). A community that can communicate? The linguistic factor in European integration, In: Whose Europe? The Turn Towards Democracy. (Eds. Smith, D. & Wright, S.). Oxford and Malden: Blackwell Publishers.

Wright, S. (2009). The Elephant in the Room: Language Issues in the European Union. European Journal of Language Policy, Vol. 1, No 2, pp. 93-119.

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Сп. „Реторика и комуникации“, брой 34, май 2018 г., http://rhetoric.bg/

Rhetoric and Communications E-journal, Issue 34, May 2018, http://journal.rhetoric.bg/

Special Issue“Dialogues without borders: strategies of interpersonal and inter-group communication”, 29 – 30 September 2017, Faculty of Philosophy, Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Sofia, Bulgaria

  • Научното електронното списание „Реторика и комуникации” започва да се издава като част от дейностите по проект № 167 от 2011 г., НИС, СУ „Св. Климент Охридски” „Особености на академичната комуникация в интернет (Уеб 2.0): писане и публикуване в научни електронни списания”.
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