Author of the Month: Jennifer Jenkins

Jennifer Jenkins, Professor of Global Englishes and founding director of the Centre for Global Englishes at the University of Southampton, is December's Author of the Month! This leading proponent of English as a Lingua Franca gave us a new interview about how she ended up in this field, her motivation behind writing Global Englishes (previously published as World Englishes), one of her favories aspects of English as a Lingua Franca in the International University, and a common misconception about the English language.

Discuss your career path and what led you to specialize in the English language.

In essence, I 'fell into' English. Although I'd done a degree in English language and literature, I'd then switched to researching Old Icelandic. But I took a break from this and began working (temporarily as I thought) as an EFL teacher in the 1980s while taking care of my then very young children. I taught English to groups of students from all around the world.They (mostly) had no trouble learning the forms I was teaching them, e.g. uncountable nouns, present perfect vs simple past, pronunciation of 'th'. However, I started to realise that as soon as they were engaging in casual conversation with each other inside or outside the classroom, they seemed to prefer other forms (often the ones I'd told them were errors!), and that their interactions were nevertheless very effective. In other words, their use of non-standard non-native forms rarely impeded successful intercultural communication among them, and even when it did, they were quick to resolve any problems by means of accommodation strategies (essentially, adjusting the way they spoke so as to make it comprehensible for their interlocutors). This insight fascinated me and was the start of a long research career exploring English as a lingua franca communication. Needless to say, I didn't resume my research into Old Icelandic!

What is it about the global nature of English that fascinates you?

I'm fascinated by the diversity of Englishes around the world. Only a small minority of English users are mother tongue speakers, but for too long it's been their English that has been the focus of English language research and teaching. The English language is so much richer than its mother tongue varieties, and although I'm fascinated by all Englishes around the globe, I'm particularly fascinated by its use as a lingua franca, transcending first language boundaries, and the innovative ways people adapt it in their own, often very small, transcultural communities of practice, such as university seminar groups and business meetings.

Why did you decide to write Global Englishes?

I actually wrote this book as World Englishes originally, and again for the second edition. But this time, for the third edition, I felt I had to change the title as World Englishes doesn't obviously embrace uses of English that can't be captured by the term 'varieties', ie the uses of all for whom English is an international intercultural lingua franca rather than a national variety. I wrote the 1st edition for the very simple reason that no such book existed. I wanted to teach a course to undergraduate students where I then worked (King's College London). But there were no books suitable to use as course books. So I wrote my own course from scratch. At exactly this time, Louisa Semlyen and Ron Carter were launching their Routledge English Language Introductions, and asked if I'd write a book for the series. So the obvious choice was to turn my World Englishes course into a course book. It proved so popular that Routledge were soon asking for a 2nd and then a 3rd edition.

English as a Lingua Franca in the International University is praised for its brilliant use of examples from data sources. What are some of the examples that stand out to you?

The book has three data sources, a survey of 60 university websites around the world, an open-ended questionnaire to staff in 166 universities around the world, and an unstructured interview (conversation) study with 34 international postgraduate students in a UK university. I'm please with all three datasets, but most of all with the third one. The students engaged in conversation for an hour or more, and gave me some really helpful and important insights into the lived language experience of international students studying in the UK. Issues that are rarely discussed by the 'natives' figured prominently in the students' discourses, such as the inequitable and inconsiderate ways they're treated by universities which describe themselves as 'international', but which expect their multilingal international student populations to produce a national version of English in their work – and in the same time that home students, using their first language, do so. In other words, language-wise, universities in the UK (and also, I'm pretty sure, in other mother tongue English countries, particularly the US), haven't changed their approach to English, and to language in general, from the days when all students were home students. Most of these universities also haven't woken up to the fact that home students need training in intercultural communication skills if they're to have a hope later on of an international career in which most English users will be non-native ELF (English as a lingua franca) users, not native users of ENL (English as a native language).

What’s the one thing you hope readers take away from your books?

That the English speaking world has changed dramatically: native English is no longer 'top dog' and the way English develops can't be controlled by its native speakers, including bodies such as English Only and the British Council, and multilingualism is the norm and along with non-native ways of using English, the use of other languages (translanguaging) needs to be accepted as legitimate in any communication where English is the common language.

What’s a common misconception about this topic that you’d like to clear up?

There are so many common misconceptions about English as a lingua franca research in particular, that it's difficult to know where to start. But just to pick on a couple: native English speakers are NOT excluded from definitions of English as a lingua franca. They simply aren't in charge of it. If they want to use ELF effectively, they have to fit in and accommodate like everyone else. Secondly, ELF researchers have never said that all English users should learn ELF rather than ENL. They simply argue that learners should be educated about Global Englishes and allowed to make a choice – in other words, a rather wider choice than is typically offered (if any choice is offered at all) between British and North American English. Thirdly, this would be impossible in any case as, despite what some misconceivers claim, there is no such THING as ELF. It depends entirely on who is talking with who(m) so is created and recreated anew in each interaction depending on who is taking part. Finally, related to the previous point, ELF transcends first language boundaries, so there can be no such 'thing' as an ELF 'variety' or even 'varieties'. We can talk about native English varieties, and postcolonial varieties, but NOT ELF varieties.

About Global Englishes: Previously published as World Englishes, this book offers coverage of the major historical, linguistic, and sociopolitical developments in the English language from the start of the seventeenth century to the present day. It also contains readings from key scholars including Alastair Pennycook, Henry G. Widdowson and Lesley Milroy.

About English as a Lingua Franca in the International University: In this book, Jennifer Jenkins explores current academic English language policy in higher education around the world. Throughout the book Jenkins considers the policies of English language universities in terms of the language attitudes and ideologies of university management and staff globally, and of international students in a UK setting.

  • Global Englishes

    A Resource Book for Students, 3rd Edition

    By Jennifer Jenkins

    Routledge English Language Introductions cover core areas of language study and are one-stop resources for students. Assuming no prior knowledge, books in the series offer an accessible overview of the subject, with activities, study questions, sample analyses, commentaries, and key readings – all…

    Paperback – 2014-08-14
    Routledge English Language Introductions

  • English as a Lingua Franca in the International University

    The Politics of Academic English Language Policy, 1st Edition

    By Jennifer Jenkins

    In this book, Jennifer Jenkins, one of the leading proponents of English as a Lingua Franca, explores current academic English language policy in higher education around the world. Universities around the world are increasingly presenting themselves as "international" but their English language…

    Paperback – 2013-08-06