Language assessment

The challenge of ELF

Authored by: Luke Harding , Tim McNamara

The Routledge Handbook of English as a Lingua Franca

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138855328
eBook ISBN: 9781315717173
Adobe ISBN:


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The sociolinguistic reality of English as a lingua franca (ELF) communication represents one of the most significant challenges to language testing and assessment since the advent of the communicative revolution. ELF research not only destabilises the central place of the native speaker in determining acceptable and appropriate language use, but also forces us to reconsider the nature of language proficiency itself, and to recognise the important role played by accommodation and interactional communicative strategies. The implications for language assessment are radical: they involve at the very least a reconsideration of the criteria for judging successful performance, as well as a fundamental redefinition of the test construct to include more of what Hymes (1972) called “ability for use”, general cognitive and non-cognitive abilities not specific to language. The shifting of focus towards accommodation and interactional strategies also calls into question the policy of exempting participants in ELF communication who have native-language proficiency from being tested at all, given what studies have revealed of the role of native-speaker behaviour in communicative failure in ELF, particularly in high-stakes contexts such as aviation and medicine.

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