Pronunciation in English as Lingua Franca

  • David DeterdingEmail author
  • Christine Lewis
Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


Taking into consideration the nature of English as a lingua franca (ELF), a native-speaker model for pronunciation is no longer crucial in international English classrooms. Therefore, it is essential to reevaluate which features of pronunciation English teachers should prioritize in order to ensure that their pupils develop a high level of intelligibility in international settings. We specifically consider the usage of reduced vowels, especially [ə], that occur in the weak forms of many function words and the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words. Through analysis of 40 1-min extracts from a corpus of interactions between speakers from Southeast Asia, we try to determine the frequency of reduced vowels, and we attempt to estimate what impact the relative absence of vowel reduction has on intelligibility. Using the same corpus, this chapter also explores some other variant pronunciations which led to misunderstandings. Finally, we conclude the chapter with a discussion about how teachers of English in ELF contexts should approach vowel reduction and how they should handle the absence of a fixed model of pronunciation in ELF-based teaching.


Pronunciation Reduced vowels Word stress Intelligibility Misunderstandings English as a lingua franca (ELF) 


Nowadays, speakers of English as a lingua franca (ELF) in places such as Africa, Asia, and Continental Europe far outnumber so-called “native” speakers of English (Seidlhofer 2011). Consequently, it is becoming increasingly accepted that it is unnecessary and even inappropriate for ELF users to be required to closely mimic the pronunciation of speakers from the traditional centers of English such as Britain and the USA (Deterding 2010). While it is vitally important for ELF speakers to ensure that they are easily intelligible to listeners in a wide range of contexts, close imitation of a traditional accent should not be their main objective. Speaking in accents such as RP (Received Pronunciation) British English or GA (General American) English is generally unnecessary in order to achieve highly competent speech with an excellent level of intelligibility, and in some cases mimicking native speakers is actually unhelpful. For example, Cruttenden (2014) notes that speakers in Britain often omit the [t] in phrases such as west region and just one (p. 314), insert a glottal stop before the final plosive in words such as stop and back (p. 184), and omit the weak vowel in the first syllable of words such as polite and solicitor (p. 334), but he questions whether learners of English should be imitating these patterns. Furthermore, there are some patterns of native-speaker vowel reductions in function words which may not be essential for international intelligibility. For example, native speakers generally pronounce the as [ðə] before a consonant but [ði] before a vowel, and they say to as [tə] before a consonant and [tu] before a vowel (Roach 2009, pp. 90–93). But how important is this distinction between [ðə]/[ði] and [tə]/[tu] for maintaining intelligibility in ELF contexts?

Even though English learners in ELF environments should no longer be required to master all the details of one specific native-speaker accent, this does not mean that an alternative single global ELF model of pronunciation is emerging. The ELF approach encourages a process of achieving mutual understanding rather than adherence to a fixed model of speech. Typically, expert ELF speakers are proficient in accommodating to the needs of their listeners to ensure that successful communication is achieved (Jenkins 2000, p. 168). Since they generally refrain from targeting a specific single model of pronunciation, there is also considerable flexibility in how individual words can be pronounced. Indeed, scholars who propose adhering to the ELF framework generally celebrate diversity in pronunciation, encouraging learners of English to maintain certain features of their own styles of speech as long as they are intelligible. It is a fundamental misconception to suggest that proposals for ELF-based teaching are promoting a new worldwide standard for the pronunciation of English (Jenkins 2007, p. 20). ELF-based teaching focuses on enabling learners of English to make themselves easily understood, not on requiring them to imitate a fixed style of speech.

However, even though a single model of pronunciation is not envisaged in ELF-based teaching, some nonstandard features of pronunciation seem to recur among a wide range of different ELF users, and maybe some of these features could be regarded as part of an emergent ELF style of pronunciation (Deterding and Kirkpatrick 2006). One of the most salient of these is the use of full vowels instead of reduced vowels, something that is found in many different new varieties of English (Mesthrie and Bhatt 2008, p. 129), particularly in function words such as and, as, at, from, of, and to and also in the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words such as the initial syllables of compare and advice. In fact, it seems that avoidance of vowel reduction may actually sometimes enhance intelligibility in ELF settings. For example, speakers who avoid vowel reduction in the unstressed first syllables of polysyllabic words would be unlikely to have their pronunciation of vacation misheard as vocation; and speakers who avoid the contraction of has to [z] would never produce an ambiguous utterance like “only one man’s left” that could have two opposite meanings: either one man departed (“has left”) or one man stayed (“is left”). It seems that avoiding vowel reduction and also using the strong forms of some function words can sometimes be beneficial in enhancing intelligibility.

This chapter reviews some of the proposals for teaching pronunciation in the ELF classroom, summarizing the features of pronunciation that various researchers regard as important. Then we analyze the usage of vowel reduction in 40 1-min extracts from recordings of speakers from various countries in Southeast Asia engaged in a find-the-difference activity. This analysis estimates the occurrence of full and reduced vowels in function words and the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words, and it seeks to determine how the pronunciation of potentially reduced vowels by these speakers might have affected the intelligibility of their speech. To this end, we consider some misunderstandings that occurred in these 40 interactions. Finally, we make some recommendations for teaching pronunciation in ELF contexts, considering what features of pronunciation teachers should be focusing on and briefly suggesting activities that might be valuable in the classroom.

Features of Pronunciation for ELF-Based Teaching

While strict adherence to native-speaker norms of pronunciation is often regarded as unnecessary, that does not mean that pronunciation is unimportant for international intelligibility. Indeed, Deterding (2013) has shown that pronunciation was implicated in about 86% of tokens of misunderstanding that occurred in a corpus of ELF interactions in Brunei Darussalam, so good pronunciation is clearly vital. However, not all aspects of pronunciation are equally important, and teachers of English in ELF contexts do not need to insist that their students closely imitate all the fine details of a native-speech accent. Teachers should focus on features that are important for clear speech, and they can be more relaxed about variation in areas of pronunciation that have little impact on intelligibility.

Even though this approach is commonsense and many English teachers might accept it, especially those teaching in ELF contexts, the problem remains that there is less agreement about exactly which areas of pronunciation should be the focus of attention. In addition to the features mentioned in the introduction of this chapter, Cruttenden (2014) suggests that there are some other details of native-speaker pronunciation that learners of English do not need to imitate. Under this category, he proposes that learners should not be required to learn the use of syllabic consonants in words such as bottle and button, as [əl] and [ən] at the end of these words are perfectly acceptable. He also states that there is no need to mimic the devoicing of final consonants in prepausal position in words such as leave, breathe, and peas (Cruttenden 2014, p. 193), as these words can be pronounced with the underlying [v, ð, z] with no detriment to intelligibility. In addition, he suggests that it may be acceptable for the consonants at the start of words such as thin and this to be pronounced as plosives. Furthermore, he notes that the functional load for the distinction between /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ is low, as few words of English are distinguished by means of a contrast between just these two sounds, so it may be acceptable to use [ʃ] in place of /ʒ/ (Cruttenden 2014, p. 342). Indeed, it seems unlikely that [juːʃəli] could be heard as anything other than usually, and pleasure could only be misheard as pressure if the /l/ in the initial cluster is pronounced as [r].

The proposals of Jenkins (2000) are rather more radical than those of Cruttenden. She has suggested a Lingua Franca Core (LFC) of just those features of pronunciation that she claims are essential for maintaining international intelligibility. She has argued that non-core features should be free for learners of English to realize as they choose, noting that variable pronunciation of the non-core features allows speakers the flexibility to maintain their own distinct accent while at the same time ensuring that they are highly intelligible (Jenkins 2007). The LFC proposed by Jenkins includes all consonant sounds (except the dental fricatives), aspiration on /p, t, k/, maintenance of initial and medial consonant clusters, a clear distinction between long and short vowels, and standard use of tonic (nuclear) stress. In contrast, non-core features that do not need to be taught include the dental fricatives, vowel quality, the weak forms of function words, stress-timed rhythm, and the exact pitch movement associated with intonation (Jenkins 2007, pp. 23–24). While she originally regarded word stress as “a gray area” (Jenkins 2000, p. 150), she subsequently included it as part of the non-core (e.g., Jenkins 2007, p. 24), and Cruttenden (2014, p. 352) notes that the importance of word stress represents one of the key differences between his proposals and those of Jenkins.

Of particular relevance here is the exclusion by Jenkins (2007) of the weak forms of function words from the LFC. Cruttenden (2014, p. 345) similarly suggests that it is unnecessary for learners of English to use the weak forms of English, and he argues that use of vowel reduction in the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words is not essential. While Roach (2009, p. 89) agrees that nonnative speakers of English can be understood perfectly well when they only use the strong forms of function words, he suggests (2009, p. 72) that the contrast between strong and weak syllables is essential for the intelligibility of polysyllabic words, so he disagrees with Jenkins and Cruttenden in this respect.

Here, we will consider the vowel reduction which may occur in two contexts: in the weak forms of function words such as and, at, for, and to and in the unstressed syllables of words such as balloon and calendar. But before considering some data that evaluates the frequency of occurrence of vowel reduction in some ELF data and its role in maintaining intelligibility in those interactions, we should elaborate on what is meant by vowel reduction.

Vowel Reduction

A reduced vowel is articulated in the center of the mouth, and it only occurs in unstressed syllables. The most frequent reduced vowel is the schwa, /ə/, which is a mid-central lax vowel that is produced without much energy (Roach 2009, p. 65); however, /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ can also function as reduced vowels (Cruttenden 2014, p. 273).

One crucial role for a reduced vowel is to ensure that the syllable in which it occurs is not prominent. This serves to enhance the salience of syllables that have full vowels and thereby allows the key words of an utterance to be identified (as most function words have reduced vowels). It also facilitates the perception of word stress which is crucial (at least for native speakers) in enabling words to be successfully identified. In this respect, we might note that word stress is signaled by a number of factors, including pitch movement, duration, and loudness in addition to vowel quality (Roach 2009, p. 74). However, Cutler (2015) notes that very few contrasts in English, such as that between INsight and inCITE, are signaled solely by means of the pitch, duration, and loudness of the syllables, as nearly all contrasts between words with initial and non-initial stress involve vowel quality contrasts. For example, the noun/verb pairs CONvert vs conVERT and also RECord vs reCORD differ over whether the first syllable has a reduced vowel or not. Indeed, Richards (2016, p. 2) notes that native speakers tend to focus primarily on the quality of the vowels in determining the stress pattern of words.

Though the incidence of reduced vowels seems to play a crucial role in perception for native speakers of English, it is not clear if their role is as important in many new varieties of English. For example, Deterding (2007, p. 28) has noted that the first syllables of words such as adventure and compare tend to have a full vowel in Singapore English, and Deterding and Salbrina (2013, p. 53) reported that every single one of the 53 speakers of Brunei English that they investigated had a full vowel in both that and had in the phrase “that had just escaped.”

The question then arises about the importance of vowel reduction in maintaining intelligibility in international settings. How frequent is the use of full vowels in function words and the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words in ELF conversations? And does this use of full vowels lead to any loss of intelligibility?

Vowel Reduction in a Corpus of ELF Speech Misunderstandings

Deterding (2013) collected a corpus of 183 misunderstandings in ELF conversations, and of these, only two seemed to occur because of the lack of vowel reduction. These two tokens are shown in Table 1, in which “??” shows that the listener was unable to make any guess about the words indicated and “(.)” indicates a short pause.
Table 1

Misunderstandings involving absence of vowel reduction





Heard as





you attend a


you attend a (.) Brunei school





agent now

the main agenda would be to

In Token 1, a male speaker from Nigeria had [ʌ] in the first syllable of attend, and a female listener from Brunei was unable to suggest what the word might be; and in Token 2, a female speaker from Malaysia had [æ] in the first syllable of agenda, and a listener from Taiwan heard agent.

One thing that these results do not tell us is how frequent lack of vowel reduction is in ELF conversations. We now consider a new corpus that has been collected particularly to focus on polysyllabic words, and we investigate how frequent lack of vowel reduction is in function words and the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words in 1-min extracts from the 40 recordings in this corpus.

The Incidence of Vowel Reduction in a Corpus of ELF Speech

The new corpus of ELF interactions is based on two find-the-difference exercises (Lewis 2017). There are 40 conversations between learners of English from nine different countries in Southeast Asia: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. In all cases, participants were paired with someone from a different country, and they compared their picture without seeing that of their partner, trying to identify the differences. Here an analysis of the first 1 min of each recording will be presented, to provide an estimate of the frequency of vowel reduction by these ELF speakers in function words such as and, of, and from and also the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words such as the first syllable of about and control and the second syllable of children and Japanese. The first minute was chosen for analysis because it represents the kind of interaction that often occurs in ELF settings, such as asking for directions, booking a hotel, or buying something from a shop, where there is little time for the interactants to get accustomed to the accent of their interlocutor (though, in this case, the participants had been studying together on a course for nearly a month, so they were not actually strangers). We first consider the pronunciation of articles, then other function words with a potential weak form, and finally polysyllabic words.

There is a total of 344 articles in the 40 min of analyzed speech: 88 tokens of a, 5 tokens of an, and 251 tokens of the. The occurrence of a reduced vowel in these tokens is shown in Table 2. (For the, occurrences of [ði] were treated as having a full vowel.)
Table 2

Incidence of reduced vowels in articles


Full vowel

Reduced vowel










Clearly, a reduced vowel is the norm in articles for these ELF speakers. The full form of a [eɪ] only occurs 8 times, while the full form of the [ði] occurs in just 16 out of 251 tokens, only one of which is followed by a word beginning with a vowel (“the eldest”), a context in which [ði] is expected in native-speaker pronunciation (Roach 2009, p. 90). The three other tokens of the preceding a vowel all have [ðə]: “the electric,” “the electronic,” and “the almost.”

In contrast with the pronunciation of articles, reduced vowels are rare in other monosyllabic function words in this ELF data. The pronunciation of a range of function words that have a weak form with [ə] in native-speaker pronunciation (Roach 2009, pp. 90–95) is shown in Table 3. For that, only its use as a subordinator was considered, as in native-speaker pronunciation there is no weak form for that when it occurs as a demonstrative (Wells 2008, p. 818).
Table 3

Incidence of reduced vowels in monosyllabic function words


Full vowel

Reduced vowel




























In native-speaker pronunciation, to is generally pronounced as [tu] before a vowel (Roach 2009, p. 93). In this data, only four of the tokens of to with a full vowel occur before a vowel (“to express,” “to attend,” “to attach,” “to a policeman”). All the remaining 37 tokens of the full vowel for to occur before a consonant (e.g., “to leave,” “to sell,” “to name,” “to buy”) or before a pause.

Clearly, reduced vowels are largely avoided in monosyllabic function words apart from a and the in this data, and only can exhibits a sizeable number (6 out of 38, i.e., 16%) with a schwa. We might note that use of a reduced vowel in can might be encouraged, especially for those with American usage, as it helps to differentiate can from can’t. However, there seems little advantage in using weak forms of the other function words listed in Table 3.

Now, let us consider polysyllabic words which would typically have a schwa in the first syllable in native-speaker pronunciation. Table 4 shows the pronunciation of the first syllable of a range of such words in the current data.
Table 4

Pronunciation of the first syllable of polysyllabic words which would generally have [ə] in native-speaker accents


Full vowel

Reduced vowel




























Most of these words have a schwa in the first syllable, especially about and above. However, a full vowel occurs more often in the first syllable of alarm, another (though all three tokens of another with a full vowel in the first syllable occur with the same speaker, a male from Thailand), control, and remote.

Finally, let us consider the second syllable of polysyllabic words that would typically have a reduced vowel in native-speaker accents. Table 5 shows a range of such words. The words father, mother, and daughter have been excluded from this list as they always end with a schwa (even if it can be quite long), for there is no other way to say them. In these data, difference and conference are both treated as bisyllabic words.
Table 5

Pronunciation of the second syllable of polysyllabic words which would generally have [ə] in native-speaker accents


Full vowel

Reduced vowel





































We can see that difference, person, and seven all tend to have a reduced vowel in their final syllable and Japanese also usually (but not always) has a reduced vowel in its second syllable. In contrast, the final syllable of children, sofa, and ticket tends to have a full vowel and so does the second syllable of calendar.

To summarize, in the 40 min of data analyzed here, there is usually a reduced vowel in the articles a and the, but a full vowel is far more common in other monosyllabic function words. In the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words, a reduced vowel sometimes occurs, especially in the first syllable of about and the final syllable of difference, but the use of full vowels in unstressed syllables occurs quite often in other words, particularly the first syllable of alarm, control, and remote and the second syllable of calendar, children, and sofa. We will now consider the impact of the relative absence of vowel reduction in ELF interactions for intelligibility.


In general, the interactions proceeded reasonably smoothly: the participants successfully managed to discuss their pictures, and they all effectively identified a range of differences between them, despite pronunciation that sometimes deviated from a native-speaker model, and there were limited clear breakdowns in communication. Nevertheless, a few misunderstandings did occur, and we will attempt to evaluate what might have caused some of them, taking examples from the full recordings, not just the first minute of each that was analyzed above.

In extract (1), a male participant from Thailand and a female from Indonesia were discussing the weather in their pictures, and the Indonesian failed to understand cloud uttered by the Thai, hearing cow instead. (In this extract, numbers in brackets indicate the duration of pauses in seconds, and “?” shows rising intonation.)


MThai: There’s some cloud [kaʊ] (1.4)

FIndo: Sorry?

MThai: There’s some cloud [kaʊ]

FIndo: Cow? (1.1) w- what do you mean with cow

MThai: Er::

FIndo: Cloud? you mean?

MThai: Yes yes

FIndo: Oh the cloud no I don’t see any cloud

The problem here is clearly that the male participant omitted both the [l] and the [d] from cloud, and even though they were discussing the weather, the female participant heard cow. Simplification of initial clusters, especially the omission of [l] from clusters such as /kl/, /pl/, and /fl/, is a major source of misunderstandings in ELF interactions (Gardiner and Deterding 2017), and omission of a final plosive can also cause problems when it is a single consonant in the coda of a syllable. We might note that the Thai male had difficulty fixing the problem and simply repeated [kaʊ], though the female Indonesian eventually managed to guess what he meant from the context. It seems the male participant did not know why the misunderstanding had occurred or how to resolve it, as he was not aware of his own patterns of speech.

Extract (2) shows a misunderstanding between female speakers from Vietnam and Laos that also involves the pronunciation of a consonant, this time the sound at the end of the first syllable of toothbrush. (In this extract “:” in “s:ome” indicates a lengthening of the [s].)


FViet: Next to her? There are s:ome toothbrush [tʊʔbrʌʃ] (0.4) there are toothbrush [tʊʔbrʌʃ] (1.4)

FLaos: Next to her there are

FViet: A toothbrush [tʊʔbrʌʃ]

FLaos: Toop? [tʊp]

FViet: A soop [sʊp] toothbrush [tʊfbrʌʃ]

FLaos: Toothbrush [tuːθbrʌʃ]

FViet: Yeah

Just as in example (1), the speaker had difficulty resolving the problem, at one point even changing the initial /t/ to [s], though at the fourth attempt she used [f] for the consonant at the end of tooth, and this seemed to work. We might note that Jenkins (2000) has proposed that realization of the TH sounds may be variable in ELF interactions without impacting on intelligibility, but the evidence from example (2) suggests that only some replacements work: while [f] can be understood as a realization of voiceless TH, a glottal stop [ʔ] is more problematic.

Both examples (1) and (2) involve the unexpected pronunciation of consonants. Now let us consider vowels. An example in which a distinction between long and short vowels caused the problem is extract (3), as the female participant from Indonesia pronounced the vowel in peaks as [ɪ] rather than the expected /iː/ and the male from Thailand heard “pics” (something he confirmed in subsequent feedback). In this case, the Indonesian successfully resolved the problem by paraphrasing “peak” as “top of the mountain,” illustrating the importance of skills at paraphrasing in international interactions. (<1> and </1> in this extract show the start and end of overlapping speech.)


FIndo: I think I can see three peaks [pɪks] of mountains (0.9) <1> three peaks of mountains </1>

MThai : <1> er: </1> in the

FIndo: Yup

MThai: <2> the </2>

FIndo: <2> the top </2> of the mountain i can see three tops of mountains

MThai: Okay okay

In the examples so far analyzed, there have been no instances in which the use of a full vowel in a monosyllabic function word gave rise to a problem. Pronouncing at as [æt] or of as [ɒv] does not seem to have any impact on intelligibility in these ELF interactions, and it might even make the speech more intelligible for speakers from Southeast Asia compared to use of a reduced vowel in these function words.

However, in some instances the unexpected use of a full vowel in a polysyllabic word may have contributed to a misunderstanding, especially when it resulted in a perception of shifted stress. Consider, for example, extract (4), an instance of misunderstanding that has been discussed in Lewis and Deterding (2018). (In this extract, “(.)” indicates a short pause lasting less than half a second.)


MViet: How about the BALloon? [bʌlʊn]

FIndo: <1> the? </1>

MViet : <1> that </1> i have the (.) er two BALloon (.) s (1.2) two BALloons

FIndo : BalLOONS? <2> no </2>

MViet: <2> yeah </2> (.) you don’t have it?

FIndo: No

In this extract it sounds like the first syllable of balloon said by the male from Vietnam was stressed, and then his interlocutor, a female from Indonesia, could not understand this word. We might note that the male participant was able to fix the grammar, by adding a final -s onto balloons; but he did not know how to change the pronunciation in order to make himself understood. He just kept repeating the word with [ʌ] in the first syllable, though after the third instance, his interlocutor managed to figure it out.

In (4), the stress shift is leftward, to an earlier syllable in the word than that expected in standard pronunciation. Extract (5) shows an example in which a misunderstanding occurred because of the use of a full vowel instead of a reduced vowel and the consequent rightward stress shift. The female participant from Laos subsequently stated that she heard orchestra bands spoken by the male from Cambodia as “a crossta man.” We note here lexical issues might also have contributed to the problem: orchestra bands is a somewhat unusual collocation. Furthermore, the picture just shows three people playing music, and describing three people as an orchestra is a little unexpected. Nevertheless, the main problem seems to be the use of a full vowel and the resulting perception of stress on the second syllable of orchestra, though we should note that not only is it a full vowel but it is also an unexpected full vowel, [ʌ] instead of the [e] that might be expected and is actually accepted in one possible realization of orchestra (Wells 2008, p. 568).


MCamb: Er they are (.) orCHEStra [ɒˈkʌstrə] bands (.) they are s- (.) er performing in front of er holiday hotel (0.9) do you have (.) er that picture?

FLaos: I have er the picture? of a man? (.) climbing up the stairs? of the holiday hotel?

However, we should emphasize that a misunderstanding did not occur in all instances of a full vowel occurring instead of the reduced vowel expected in native-speaker pronunciation and the consequent perception of shifted stress. In extract (6), the male from Laos pronounced calendar with a full vowel and most prominence on the final syllable, but there is no indication that any misunderstanding occurred in this instance.


MLaos: A:nd (1) i <1> also have </1>

FCamb: <1> maybe </1>

MLaos: A cali- calenDAR [kælɪnˈdɑː] (0.5) hm (0.5)

FCamb: <2> is it also thing july? right? </2>

MLaos: <2> and uh the mother </2>

The ongoing investigation will try to determine how often the unexpected use of full vowels in polysyllabic words caused a misunderstanding to occur in these ELF interactions. We now consider the implications of these preliminary findings for ELT.


It seems clear that there is no need for English teachers to insist on close adherence to a native-speaker model of pronunciation in ELF-based teaching. There are many minor allophonic variations in native-speaker accents, and it is not necessary for learners of English to mimic them all. Indeed, there is little point on spending valuable classroom time encouraging learners of English to develop these patterns when they do not enhance intelligibility in international settings. For example, native speakers tend to vary their pronunciation of the and to depending on whether the next word begins with a consonant or a vowel, but most ELF speakers in Southeast Asia appear not to have this alternation; and it seems to offer little benefit in enhancing intelligibility, so there is no need for teachers to focus on it.

The speakers in the current study avoid vowel reduction in the overwhelming majority of their tokens of monosyllabic function words such as and, at, from, of, that, and to, and there is no evidence that this resulted in any detriment to the intelligibility of their speech. If use of full vowels in function words does not have any impact on intelligibility, there seems to be no need for teachers to encourage their use; and in some cases, full vowels in most function words (though perhaps not in can) may actually enhance intelligibility in ELF contexts. Moreover, learners of English who pronounce both of and have with full vowels are unlikely to write “could of” instead of “could have,” a mistake that is nowadays rather common among many native speakers of English.

Although close imitation of native-speaker patterns is claimed to be unnecessary, pronunciation remains vitally important for learners of English, and some features of pronunciation, including simplification of initial clusters or omission of a final [d] in a word such as cloud, can be problematic, so teachers of English should try to ensure that their pupils do not exhibit patterns such as these. Furthermore, Cutler (2015) notes that perceived stress is important for identifying words in English, so if the absence of vowel reduction leads to a perception of shifted stress, this can result in misunderstandings occurring. Field (2005) suggests that rightward stress shift is more problematic than leftward stress shift, though we might note that two of the examples given here are counter-examples, as BALloon in extract (4) involves a leftward shift and it was misunderstood, while calenDAR in extract (6) exhibits a rightward stress but it was not problematic. While the effects of different patterns of stress shift need to be investigated further in data from ELF conversations, it does seem that shifted stress can sometimes be an issue. Furthermore, if use of reduced vowels in the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words following native-speaker norms can help avoid misunderstandings arising from the perception of shifted stress, then such use of vowel reduction might be encouraged in the ELF classroom.

Jenkins (2000) has suggested that one advantage of avoiding close mimicking of all native-speaker pronunciation habits is that it can free up classroom time for other more valuable activities, and we can consider what kind of things this might involve. One exceptionally useful activity is to have students record themselves reading a text or having a conversation. In general, learners of English are often not aware of problems in their pronunciation, and when a misunderstanding occurs, while they can sometimes fix the grammar, they frequently do not know what to do to enhance their pronunciation. If they knew more about their own patterns of pronunciation, this might enable them to resolve issues when they find that they are not understood. Though this awareness can develop from students revisiting their recordings after direct feedback from teachers, it is also beneficial for speakers to have the opportunity to evaluate themselves. Students can become more mindful of their pronunciation as they listen for specific pronunciation features in their recorded speech or attempt to transcribe their conversations.

Using classroom time for activities that require students to understand one another can also be of great benefit. Information gap exercises, find-the-difference tasks, dictations, and communicative pronunciation games that use minimal pairs or near minimal pairs require students to understand one another in order to accomplish the tasks. Some examples of engaging tasks that focus on consonant cluster minimal pairs might include dictations in which students have to hear whether their partner said “the boy is on the sand” or “the boy is on the stand,” an information gap in which learners have to find out if students are “paying with money”, or “playing with money,” a find-the-difference in which one person has an image of someone wearing a T-shirt with a cow on it while the other person has a T-shirt with cloud on it, or a BINGO or matching game in which students have to call out words such as pan, plan, planned, and, sand, stand. Even in monolingual settings, speakers will have to differentiate between these words in their pronunciation when they participate in such activities. When breakdowns in intelligibility occur, students can try to work it out or ask the teacher for feedback to determine the cause. When activities focused on minimal pairs become routine in the classroom, students can see that variant pronunciation can give rise to misunderstandings and they can then work on improving their communication skills to ensure that they are understood in international contexts.

In addition, students should be given tools to help adapt their language to their audience. Changing one’s pronunciation to the needs of one’s listener is one kind of accommodation, and development of skills in accommodation can be promoted in the English classroom. Students should not just learn how to fix their pronunciation when they find that they are misunderstood, but they might also be encouraged to develop skills in paraphrasing what they say, maybe adopting simpler vocabulary or else finding other ways to express themselves. These are valuable skills that can be encouraged in the ELF-based classroom as we move away from closely imitating increasingly irrelevant native-speaker norms of pronunciation (Walker 2010).

We also need to acknowledge that pronunciation is not the only source of difficulties, as poor listening skills can often be the cause of misunderstandings, and an essential skill for learners of English in ELF settings is to be able to handle a wide range of different accents. Teachers should not just make their students familiar with a single target accent, as they should expose them to a wide variety of materials produced by speakers from different countries around the world. This will enable learners of English to develop the listening skills that will help them function successfully in the kind of ELF interactions in which they are likely to be involved in their future lives. Language learning websites, such as English Listening Lesson Library Online (, which present speakers from a variety of countries, can provide invaluable ELF-based pronunciation materials; and an increase in resources that celebrate diverse varieties of English will encourage teachers and students to develop listening skills appropriate for ELF contexts.

Finally, these suggestions are more difficult if teachers themselves do not feel that they are empowered to speak in their own variety of pronunciation (Kirkpatrick 2007). With current pronunciation materials which generally focus on native-speaker norms, teachers who elect ELF-based instruction face the problem of sounding different from the model speakers they present in the class. Consequently, there is a need for teacher training, support, and substantially more ELF-based resources. Walker (2010) explores materials and strategies for ELF-based pronunciation teaching that could be a starting place for teacher development, but there is an urgent need for further research and resource development.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universiti Brunei DarussalamGadongBrunei Darussalam

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