Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and Its Role in Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education. A Longitudinal Study of Question-Initiated Exchanges

Academic journal article Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication

English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and Its Role in Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education. A Longitudinal Study of Question-Initiated Exchanges

Article excerpt

Given the increasing popularity amongst mainland European higher educational institutions to offer some of their classes and courses in English, this paper addresses the roles English plays in such classroom discourse. By focussing on one specific English-medium hotel management programme, it is argued that English functions, on the one hand, as language of the learners' future expertise and, on the other, as their only shared medium of communication, i.e., their lingua franca. A detailed analysis of question-initiated exchanges taken from critical phases throughout the programme accompanied over its whole duration illustrates the realities of this multifunctionality of English as revealed in teachers and students raising, and responding to, different kinds of question at different points in time. On the basis of these discourse-pragmatic findings it is suggested that (language) learning processes depend in their complexity and dynamics on English in its roles as lingua franca and as professional language, but also on how these roles are conceptuald within a generally content-focussed teaching programme.

1 Introduction

Especially in the European context, 'Bologna' has become almost synonymous with 'internationalising tertiary educational institutions'. The structurally clearest consequence is most likely the three-level architecture of study programmes into bachelor/master/doctorate, but an arguably equally obvious result is the burgeoning use of English as medium of instruction at universities in mainland Europe, which have had a tradition in lecturing in the respective national language. This popularity of university teaching in English is fuelled by internationalisation on two levels: as regards the exchange of information, i.e. academic knowledge and thought, and of lecturers and students as relevant social agents.

Understandably, this recent development of offering study programmes or, at least, individual classes in English, has attracted a considerable amount of applied linguistic research interest (e.g. Wächter and Maiworm, 2008; Wilkinson, 2004; Wilkinson and Zegers, 2007). As regards the micro-level of the classroom language itself, the conceptual frame tends to be the one of English for specific purposes (ESP). Put somewhat crudely, it pictures and describes classroom discourse in relation to language norms established either in works of language codification or by the expert community of the specialisation in question (e.g. Fortanet-Gómez & Räisänen, 2008). This underlying prescriptive orientation seems compatible with the educational setting at stake and its central focus on formal learning. Inspired by the modelling of primary and secondary education in an additional language as 'CLIL' (content and language integrated learning), the learning process is argued to include the respective knowledge content area as well as the additional language used (Coyle, Hood and Marsh, 2010), giving it the label 'integrating content and language in higher education' (ICLHE) (Wilkinson and Zegers, 2007). In other words, English as classroom language is modelled as object of learning itself.

While such a conceptualisation has its clear merits - the range and variety of publications and their insights provide ample proof of that - the emphasis placed on ESP arguably sidelines the fact that English has yet another function, and at that a very crucial one. In view of the internationalisation of academia in research and teaching it is used as the multilingual social actors' common medium of communication, which permits direct exchange of information and construction of knowledge across language borders. In other words, English is the lecturers' and students' lingua franca (e.g. Björkman, 2009; Smit, 2010a). Recently, research into ELF has been booming, resulting in an impressive array of findings and insights with the underlying endeavour to describe English as it is used in communication, rather than in contrast with what ought to be the case in comparison with norms and expectations, reflecting language learning outcomes. …

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