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LTRC 2018: Symposia (6)
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Transition, mobility, validity: English as a (multi)lingua franca perspectives on language assessment

Luke Harding (Chair); Niina Hynninen, Andrew Sewell, Elana Shohamy, Constant Leung, Jennifer Jenkins, Joseph Lo Bianco


English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) communication represents one of the most significant challenges to language testing and assessment since the communicative revolution. Within a time of increasing mobility and transition across borders, ELF provides a means of theorising and describing language use among interactants who do not share the same linguacultural background. Having begun as an attempt to codify an international variety, ELF research has since given way to a view of language which places the dynamic and fluid nature of communicative interaction to the fore, seeking to understand how successful communication takes place in such environments. For language testing, an ELF perspective destabilises the place of the native speaker and the notion of assessing against a “stable variety” (Harding & McNamara, 2018; Jenkins & Leung, 2014; McNamara & Shohamy, 2017), while at the same time posing opportunities for reconceptualising and expanding language constructs, particularly in language for specific purposes contexts.

There has been little uptake in the language testing community of the principles of ELF in the design of instruments despite compelling arguments that target language use domains are increasingly rich sites of ELF communication. One reason for this resistance is that there is little consensus on how ELF might be defined and operationalised for assessment purposes. A related reason is that implementing ELF might weaken the validity of instruments. However, while the language testing community has been resisting ELF, research on ELF communication has expanded to provide a body of empirical work which sheds light on domains of interest to many language assessment developers.

This symposium draws on ELF research to pose four critiques of current language assessment practices, while also proposing innovative directions for exploring the interface between ELF and language assessment:

The first paper draws on the concept of “language regulation” in ELF encounters, which takes into account interactants’ perspectives of whose norms hold authority in a given communicative setting. Language regulation will be discussed in relation to questions of language norms and ELF competence in language assessment contexts.

The second paper focuses on the context of business English, drawing data from a corpus of online newspaper comments to illustrate stances towards ELF communication in the business world. These views will be juxtaposed with the comments of speaking examiners on an international English language exam to contrast different priorities.

The third paper considers ELF as a phenomenon within the broader scope of multilingualism. This paper will critique different approaches to assessing ELF from a validity perspective, and outline directions for the development of future ELF/multilingual assessments.

The final paper argues that the sociolinguistic reality of English as a (multi)lingua franca in higher education contexts renders current practices of assessing language for academic “readiness” unfit for purpose. The paper will critique test preparation practices for those same tests, and propose a new conceptualisation of what “readiness” entails in academic contexts.


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