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English as an Asian Lingua Franca: the ‘Lingua Franca Approach’ and implications for language education policy
Citation Information: . Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 121–139, ISSN (Online) 2191-933X, ISSN (Print) 2191-9216, DOI: 10.1515/jelf-2012-0006, March 2012
- Published Online:
The major issues confronting language policy makers in East and Southeast Asia typically include balancing the need for English as the international lingua franca and language of modernization, a local lingua franca as the national language for national unity, and local languages as languages of identity and community. Choices faced by policy makers include which languages to use as media of instruction and when, and how to ensure that the languages complement each other rather than compete with each other.
In this paper, particular focus will be placed on the countries which make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially in light of the recently ratified ASEAN charter which enshrines the position of English as the sole working language of the organisation. The perceived need for the importance of English has resulted in the current and increasing regional trend to include English as early as possible in the primary school curriculum, often as a medium of instruction. Even with this increase in English in the government school system, parents will often make substantial financial and emotional sacrifices and choose to send their children to private schools (including those overseas), where they can be taught through English. “To actually forsake the public school system that teaches in your own language for the private one that teaches in English is an increasingly common phenomenon” (Wang Gungwu 2007: xiv).
A major consequence of these moves towards the learning of English in both public and private education systems is that local Asian languages are overlooked in the school curricula. Indeed it is hard to find a single government education system in ASEAN which requires the teaching of any of the languages of its fellow member states. The exception is Mandarin, which is increasing in demand through its rising instrumental value.
While accepting that English needs to be taught, it will be argued that it is essential that the perceptions that are leading to the trends outlined above be challenged. A proposal for ways of combining English and local languages in more equitable and effective ways will be presented and a ‘Lingua Franca Approach’ to teaching English will be proposed.