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Apr 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

(Business) English as a Lingua Franca and the CEFR Companion Volume - Implications for the classroom

After working in the export department of a beverage group, Katrin Lichterfeld did an MA (Science of teaching and learning languages) and a CertIBET. For nearly two decades, she has been working as a freelance in-company trainer in the Ruhr area in Germany and has learned about Business English as a Lingua Franca in practice from various clients. Email:







As we live in a so-called VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), developing a global competence and 21st century skills (critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity) can increase employability in a changing labour market to a high degree. Moreover, we want to empower the participants of our courses to become confident users of (Business) English as a Lingua Franca in a world of international communication (Lichterfeld 2019). After having a look at the new CEFR Companion Volume with New Descriptors (2018) with focus on phonological control, we will set priorities in the areas of raising learners’ awareness, pronunciation (intelligibility, credibility and adaptability), listening (decoding skills and familiarity with different accents) and communication strategies. Finally, we will deal with some general aspects of a kind of toolbox when adopting a (B)ELF-oriented approach.


The CEFR Companion Volume with New Descriptors

The Council of Europe (CoE), which has 47 member states, published the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR) in 2001. The CoE is an international organization often confused with the European Union (EU), which consists of 28 nations. The development of the CEFR, which took nearly 30 years and involved many well-known international experts, was firstly meant to encourage mobility and social cohesion in Europe:

A further intensification of language learning and teaching in member countries is necessary in the interests of greater mobility, more effective international communication combined with respect for identity and cultural diversity, better access to information, more intensive personal interaction, improved working relations and a deeper mutual understanding.

As a consequence, the CEFR has to be regarded as a language policy document. Some people think that the fact that it was published by a kind of ‘powerless’ institution (when compared with the EU) may be the reason for the CEFR’s wide acceptance and its importance in Europe. Camerer/Mader (2012) clarify that in spite of a lot scepticism and criticism of the CEFR, it can also be seen as “an extremely comprehensive and state-of-the-art piece of scholarly work” and “a summary of linguistics and language in communication”, which is characterized by a “wide consensus among experts”. Its current importance is also demonstrated by a total of 40 translations (e.g. Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Turkish or Russian). Any major development in the area of language and intercultural teaching, training and assessment will be related to the CEFR. The new CEFR/CV is intended as a complement to the version of 2001. As Goodier (May 2018) announced at the launch conference, it works as an update and also includes three new descriptor scales (online interaction, mediation and plurilingual/pluricultural competences), which are regarded as highly relevant “‘soft’ communication skills characterised as ‘21st century skills’ in mainstream education”. Apart from selected revisions of the original descriptors, you will no longer find “any references to native speakers”. A completely new set was developed for phonological control, our main area of interest. The CEFR/CV suggests a focus on intelligibility as primary construct of phonological control. A further paper, the so-called Phonological Scale Revision Process Report (2016 – CEFR/PR), describes the development in more detail and illustrates that successful communication also depends on a shift from a native speaker model to English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and listener factors like the ability of decoding “authentic, fast, and spontaneous speech” and “familiarity with foreign-accented speech”.


(Business) English as a Lingua Franca

Seidlhofer (2011) describes ELF as “any use of English among speakers of different L1(s)”, which is used as a “communicative medium of choice” and is “often the only option”. According to Cogo/House (2018) ELF is an “open-source phenomenon”, which ELF-users adapt by means of intelligibility and accommodation (Jenkins 2000). Moreover, they mention - together with Jenkins (2015) - multilingualism as third key feature. ELF and Business English as a Lingua Franca (BELF) are closely related. Kankaanranta/Louhiala-Salminen (2018), researchers of a Finnish School of Business, mention three characteristics of BELF. The “domain of use” is international business, where professionals (role of its users) have “getting the job done and creating rapport” as overall goals of their interactions. Additionally, they put emphasis on the importance of “communities of practice” (CofP - Wenger 1998). Members of a CofP mostly want to make profit by establishing rich and meaningful relationships. They achieve their goals by setting up their own means of communication. According to Ehrenreich (2010/2018), CofP are an ideal place for informal learning with competent and confident BELF-users and with BELF as a language for communication and identification. Nonetheless, BELF talk is not per se ‘cooperative’ in the sense of ‘conflict-free’. Everybody has the potential to be a cause for conflict. Members of a CofP use means of communication consisting of linguistic and non-linguistic elements (BELF, other languages, body language, drawings, contracts, etc.) and social and domain-specific parameters (cultural norms, power issues, face issues, shared knowledge, time constraints, etc.).


Raising (B)ELF-awareness

When moving from research to practice, we will have to set priorities as the teaching contexts in the (business) English world are quite different. Moreover, learners may not really be aware of their own needs, how English is used as an international means of communication and how likely it is to mostly communicate with so-called non-native speakers or people not having English as L1. Adopting a BELF-oriented approach will especially have an impact on areas like need analysis, course design, course material, activities, giving feedback and assessment.

Kiczkowiak/Lowe (2019) suggest different activities to raise the learners’ (B)ELF-awareness. According to Kachru’s “Three circles of English” (1983) there are not only the “inner circle countries” (Britain, America, Canada, etc.), which stand for only about 10% of the English users. English has a traditional and historical role as primary language in these countries, whereas so-called “outer circle countries” (e.g. Kenya, Nigeria, India and Singapore) using English as an official first or second language, and so-called “expanding circle countries (Japan, Poland, China and Russia) without any official status for English represent about 80% of all English users worldwide. Many learners assume that using incorrect grammar or choosing the wrong lexis are reasons for misunderstandings. Nonetheless Jenkins (2000) - based on her Lingua Franca Core (LFC) - and Deterding (2013) found out that phonological transfer from the learner’s L1(s) mostly causes communication breakdown.


Intelligibility, credibility and adaptability

The CEFR/PR highlights that pronunciation and listening are equally important, as Munro/Derwing (1999) define intelligibility as “the extent to which a speaker’s message is actually understood by a listener”. The LFC works as a kind of benchmark and shows that consonants, consonant clusters, vowel length and word grouping/nuclear stress are key elements for intelligibility and could also work as a guideline for efficient use of classroom time. Elements like schwa, weak forms or connected speech are not desirable for intelligibility, but extremely important for listening. Furthermore, the CEFR/PR also puts emphasis on a possible mismatch between the level of phonological competence and functional proficiency. Derwing/Munro (2015) clarify that “just because an L2 accent feature is noticeable, doesn’t mean it detracts from intelligibility”. Agudo (2018) demonstrates in his NYT article called “Everyone has an accent” that when noticing somebody’s accent, this could either mean that they speak with a so-called non-native accent or a non-standard accent. Nonetheless, both cases may have consequences for the speakers, as they may even experience social or professional disadvantages because of their accents. It is most likely that you hear speakers with a standard accent in the media, as it is considered to be neutral, and it is normally connected with privileges and socioeconomic power. Derwing/Munro (2015) point out that a person’s accent may also be evaluated in a negative way or considered as less credible. Lippi-Green (2012) caused a lot of debate because of illustrating discrimination based on attitudes towards accent in the United States. As a consequence, Derwing/Munro (2015) suggest focusing on pronunciation features, which may undermine intelligibility and credibility, although it is also crucial to remember the relationship between accent and identity: “It is through language that we express our own selves”. Hansen (2018) stresses the importance of not aiming at a perfect accent, but at adaptability in global communication, both as speaker and above all as listener. That means paying attention to what is said instead of how it is said and to establish a good relationship.


6. Pronunciation

According to Patsko/Simpson (2018) pronunciation will have to become an integral part of our classroom activities by firstly, combining it with other language items/skills and secondly, by identifying the learner’s L1(s) in order to notice possible areas of interference with aspects of English phonology. Whenever choosing activities, we should consider that a high level of motivation is essential for any form of learning. Three main components could trigger fun, and thus boost motivation: A game-based approach, social and emotional involvement and personalized material. Moreover, our brain is remarkably plastic, which means that even in middle or old age we are able to adapt very actively to our environment (Growth engineering 2018). Additionally, the learners should become aware of the different articulation organs (videos: BBC or University of IOWA). Underhill (2012) even proposes a more holistic approach by “making pronunciation physical”. Moreover, adopting an athlete’s mindset could be helpful too. Learners, who are used to doing sports, know that learning a new motor skill requires constant repetition and dedication. They are familiar with setting smart goals and that the process may take up to 6 months.

Concerning the second approach, Swan/Smith (2001) and Walker (2010) offer a lot of support for identifying the learner’s L1(s). Apart from a clear ELF-approach, Walker’s book also contains a wide range of audio files, very useful pronunciation notes, and many activities. A so-called “elicitation paragraph“, which is a rather short text covering a wide range of sounds and sound combinations, could also be used as a kind of diagnostic test. Furthermore, ten speakers with different L1s read this text and relevant pronunciation features are explained. The audio files consist of unscripted conversations among 20 speakers with different accents from the “expanding circle” based on Kachru‘s model too. These recordings could as well be used to increase familiarity with different accents.



When moving to the area of listening, the CEFR/PR stresses that listening skills have to include the decoding of “authentic, fast, and spontaneous speech” and “familiarity with foreign-accented speech”. There are several websites offering access to different dialects or accents and additional activities (see bibliography). Furthermore, Brown (2006) describes two listening processes. While top-down listening makes use of prior knowledge, bottom-up listening stands for a decoding process, which enables the recognition of sounds and chunks. The CEFR/PR stresses that far more classroom time should be spent on bottom-up listening skills. According to Cauldwell (2018) a kind of framework has to be integrated in the classroom, which consists of three metaphors, the “Greenhouse, Garden and Jungle”. While each word is pronounced separately and the sounds are carefully and fully articulated based on the citation form in the “Greenhouse”, learners may be confronted with less tidy, but still rule-driven sound shapes of connected speech in the “Garden”. Depending on the context and on the speakers, learners may no longer be able to recognise the messy sound shapes of words in the “Jungle”. Thus, individual words are no longer suitable for the learners’ analysis, and instead they are supposed to focus on the decoding of word clusters or lexical chunks in order to be able to improve their effectiveness as communicators.



When prioritizing in the area of communication, we have to be aware of the characteristics of a successful (BELF) communicator. For some learners, it may again be helpful to adopt an athlete‘s mindset as a first step. As Marshall/Paterson (2018) illustrate that for a “brave athlete” in critical situations, it is sometimes useful to just calm down and rise to the occasion. Being brave should as well mean to become aware of your personal limits and to accept them.

Ollinger (2012) examined the strategies of the good ELF user and found a total of nine groups of strategies:

  1. Comprehension checks (verbal + non-verbal)
  2. Code-switching
  3. Flow-keeping
  4. Clarity + explicitness
  5. “Make-it-normal” (no correction)
  6. Collaborative turn-sharing
  7. Intonation
  8. Back-channelling (verbal + non-verbal)
  9. Retroactive clarification

She came to the conclusion that they are very similar to the concept of the “good language learner”, which was originally developed by Rubin in 1975. In an ideal world, successful communication can be regarded as co-creating understanding and negotiating meaning. According to our learners’ real-world experience though, they often have to deal with non-understanding, misunderstanding or even communication breakdown. As a consequence, we will have to redefine the concept of ‘mistake’ and its possible (cultural) ‘appropriateness’. Chong (2018) presents the “ADAPT Model” (awareness, don’t judge, analyse, persuade yourself and try) and shows in both a theoretical and practical way, how to use ELF, intercultural and interpersonal skills as well as non-verbal communication as international communicator. Camerer/Mader (2012) clarify that “[y]ou never deal with cultures, always with individuals”. Our learners have to develop intercultural communicative competence in order to combine knowledge, skills and behaviour to meet demands in a specific context. Schein (2009) suggests setting up “cultural islands” for successful communication. He is supposed to be the “father of the corporate culture field and a pioneer in organizational psychology”. In any cross-cultural communication, the group members will have to establish rich and meaningful relationships by “creating dialogue processes”, which will only be possible in a secure and trustful setting. Schein (2013) is also of the opinion that connecting with other people is a complex and challenging process. “Curiosity and willingness to ask questions to which we do not already know the answer” or, as he calls it, “humble inquiry” often seem to be missing.


Adopting a (B)ELF-oriented approach

After setting priorities in the areas of pronunciation, listening and communication, we will have to focus on more general aspects of the ‘(B)ELF toolbox’. In spite of a huge interest in the theory of ELF, it has hardly been put into practice in areas like teacher education, material development and language policy. The CEFR/PR suggests balancing accuracy and effectiveness depending on the learners’ needs. When looking at the latest publications in the area of business English, we can definitely find an ELF-informed syllabus, but they only represent a very small part of the available material. Additionally, the CEFR/CV recommends an action-oriented approach consisting of both authentic and relevant material, which is above all essential in the area of business English with a high level of specificity. Apart from this, purposeful and collaborative tasks will enable learners to make use of their plurilingual and pluricultural repertoires. That means switching from one language (or dialect or variety) to another and exploiting paralinguistics (body language, voice quality, etc.).

Cogo (2018) emphasizes that you cannot teach (B)ELF, but only adopt a (B)ELF-oriented approach, which is characterized by three principles: The multilingual principle (English and learner’s other language(s)), the negotiation principle (effective communication combined with accommodation and intelligibility) and the intercultural principle (intercultural awareness and competence). A (B)ELF-oriented approach will be a big change in mindset for all the stakeholders. Thus, we will have to deal with several challenges: Integrating the learner’s L1(s) as a valuable resource, using metalanguage (e.g. IPA, phonetic charts) depending on our learners’ needs, implementing a non-judgemental classroom language, giving clear and constructive feedback and integrating metalearning (digital portfolios or learner diaries). Moreover, we will have to raise the learner’s self-awareness (accent and identity), and we will have to increase the learner’s confidence by developing an athlete’s or a flexible (B)ELF-mindset. Concerning the area of assessment, the big test providers will have to include the CEFR/CV’s shift from a native-speaker model to intelligibility too. Oxford University Press (2019) announced a “new vision for language assessment”, which is supposed to happen “as an interactive process” by using “less intrusive methods” “earlier and more often”.  Camerer/Mader (2012) suggest three criteria for deciding whether ELF or as they call it “International English” is used in an effective way. “Comprehensibility in writing and speaking”, which is achieved by language use without causing “misunderstanding, offence or ridicule”, “appropriateness of register” (reflecting the context, e.g. status or relationship) and “politeness in the context of relationship building”, which means that “culture-bound communication conventions” play a bigger role than linguistic correctness. As a consequence, some areas of traditional English training courses like specific grammar topics, British or American standard pronunciation and idioms will lose importance, unless the learners are only going to be in contact with native speakers from one country. Our learners will have to make use of “all the resources they already possess, rather than waiting until they reach a higher level of English” to communicate internationally.


10. Conclusion

To sum up, the following things have become obvious: The new CEFR/CV and the CEFR/PR fully support an ELF-oriented approach and stress a shift from a native-speaker model to intelligibility. Furthermore, pronunciation has constantly to be integrated in a holistic and non-judgmental way. Good listening skills are essential for (B)ELF. They highly depend on decoding fast spontaneous speech and familiarity with different accents. The concept of communities of practice and cultural islands shows the importance of rich and meaningful relationships set up by dialogues and asking the right questions. (B)ELF is not culturally neutral or ‘conflict-free’. Our learners have to become aware of the importance of intelligibility, credibility, adaptability, accent and identity. This includes accepting their personal limits too. A combination of the ‘good ELF-users’ strategies and the flexible (B)ELF mindset will empower our learners to activate all the resources they already have to become successful (business) English communicators.



Agudo, R. R. (2018). Everyone has an accent. New York Times. Accessed:

Badger, I. (2011). English for Business: Listening. Collins.

Brown, S. (2006). Teaching listening. Cambridge University Press.

Cogo, A. (2018). Introducing a BELF-oriented approach to language teaching. Malta Conference Selections 2017. IATEFL BESIG Editorial team. pp. 20-22.

Cauldwell, R.T. (2018). A Syllabus for Listening - Decoding. Birmingham: Speech in Action.

Camerer, R. and Mader, J. (2012). Intercultural Competence in Business English.
Cornelsen.  []

Chong, C.S. (2018) Successful International Communication. Pavilion Publishing.

Deterding, D. (2013). Misunderstandings in English as a Lingua Franca: An Analysis of ELF Interactions in South-East Asia. De Gruyter Mouton.

Derwing, T.M. and Munro, M.J. (2015). Pronunciation Fundamentals. Evidence-based perspectives for L2 Teaching and Research. John Benjamins.

Ehrenreich, S. (2010). English as a business lingua franca in a German MNC: meeting the
challenge. Journal of Business Communication. 47(4), pp. 408–431.

Ehrenreich, S. (2018). Communities of practice and ELF. Jenkins, J., W. Baker and
M. Dewey (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of English as a Lingua Franca. Routledge. pp. 37-50.

Hansen, H. (2018). 2 billion voices: How to speak bad English perfectly. Tedx Odense 2018. Accessed:

Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. OUP.

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

Kankaanranta, A. and Louhiala-Salminen, L. (2018). ELF in the domain of business—BELF:
what does the B stand for?. In Jenkins, J., W. Baker and M. Dewey (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of English as a Lingua Franca. Routledge, pp. 309–320.

Kiczkowiak, M. and Lowe, R. J. (2019). Teaching English as a Lingua Franca. The journey from EFL to ELF. Delta Publishing.

Lichterfeld, K. (2019). Going beyond intelligibility in BELF. Iaşi Conference Selections 2018. IATEFL BESIG Editorial team. Submitted for publication.

Lippi-Green, R. (2012). English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States. 2nd edition. Routledge.

Marshall, S. and Paterson, L. (2017). The brave athlete. Velopress.

Munro, M. J., & Derwing, T. M. (1999). Foreign Accent, Comprehensibility, and Intelligibility in the Speech of Second Language Learners. Language Learning 49 (1), 285-310.

Ollinger, A. (2012).The good ELF user: A qualitative meta- analysis of strategic language use behaviours in English as a lingua franca. MA thesis, University of Vienna. Accessed:

Patsko, L. and Simpson, K. (2018). How to write pronunciation activities. ELT TEACHER 2 WRITER. []

Schein, E. H. (2009). The Corporate Culture Survival Guide. 2nd edition. Jossey-Bass.

Schein, E. H. (2013). Humble Inquiry. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Seidlhofer, B. (2011). Understanding English as a Lingua Franca. OUP.

Swan, M. and Smith, B. (eds.) (2001). Learner English: A Teacher‘s Guide to Interference and other Problems. 2nd edtion. CUP

Underhill, A. (2012). Making pronunciation physical: Finding the ‘muscle buttons‘. Accessed:

Walker, R. (2010). Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. OUP.

[] [Speech accent archive – reading the same text] [IDEA International dialects of English] [English Listening Lessons Library Online + vocab + quiz - 100 countries] [Olya Sergeeva: Decoding activities] [Podcast Search Engine]  and [pronunciation activities] [Katy Simpson – YouTube video + worksheet + answer key] ( [YouTube videos + quiz + exercises – Olya Sergeeva] [TED Corpus Search Engine]  [YouTube videos - English spoken in contexts]


Please check the Teaching Advanced Students course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creative Methodology for Using ICT in the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

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