The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford OUP, Jennifer Jenkins (2000) a review by Daniel Spichtinger



Admittedly, the title of this book may sound off-putting to some readers . However, as the subtitle ‘New Models, New Norms, New Goals’ indicates, Jenkins approach has the potential to revolutionise language and particularly pronunciation teaching. Progressive applied linguists (like Barbara Seidlhofer of the University of Vienna, for instance) have recently argued that, because of the international use of English, we need to move beyond native-speaker-centred ELT. For instance, when a Spanish and an Austrian doctor meet at a conference in Rome there is no need for them to us RP or GA. Rather, they need to speak with an accent that guarantees that both are able to understand each other in an optimum fashion so that miscommunication is prevented. But what would be the features of such an accent? In her book Jennifer Jenkins seeks to provide the answer to this question.


After an introductory chapter which reviews the main issues in the use of English as a lingua franca Jenkins deals with inter- and intra- speaker variation (chapters 2 and 3). This is a somewhat technical discussion which may not appeal to all readers. The subsequent treatment of the notion of intelligibility (chapter 4), a key concept in the field of English as an international language, leads to the discussion of the lingua franca core, that is those phonological features which have to be present if non-native speakers want to remain intelligible among each other (chapters 5 and 6). As Jenkins derives her findings by analysing non-native speaker conversations (and not from native-speaker intuition) her recommendations deviate considerably from current practice. She argues, for instance, that most substitutes for /q/ (like /t/) are permissible as they do not hinder communication. Jenkins explains: ‘there is really no justification for doggedly persisting in referring to an item as ‘an error’ if the vast majority of the world’s L2 English speakers produce and understand it’ (p.160, my emphasis).


The value of Jenkin’s book is greatly increased by a discussion of the implications of her findings for the classroom (chapter 7) and by her proposal for an overhaul of pronunciation teaching (chapter 8). In her opinion


the major obstacle to the modernising of English pronunciation teaching...has been the failure to educate teachers. That is, to provide teachers with the facts that will enable them to make informed decisions in their selection of pronunciation models, as opposed to training them to reproduce unquestioningly a restricted set of techniques... (p. 199, original emphasis).


Jenkins work is an important contribution to rectify the current situation; by taking an international perspective she offers a fresh, innovative and provocative perspective on pronunciation teaching and learning. This book will be of considerable value in a variety of non-native settings, including the Austrian context.


Further reading


Seidlhofer, Barbara (1999) "Double Standards: Teacher Education in the expanding Circle."

World Englishes 18/2 233-245.


Spichtinger, Daniel (2000) From Anglocentrism to TEIL: Reflections on our English Programme. VIEWS 9/1: 69-72.


Spichtinger, Daniel (2001) Appropriating English: a global, a European and an Austrian Perspective. ELT NEWS. 43, 83-87


Published in ELT NEWS