The Linguist

The Linguist 54,6

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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8 The Linguist Vol/54 No/6 2015 Andy Kirkpatrick looks at the impact of the rise of English in Asian primary schools – and proposes an alternative – in his Threlford Memorial Lecture I n East and Southeast Asia, a linguistic shift is taking place that is seeing fewer and fewer Asians who are multilingual in Asian languages, and more and more who are bilingual in English and their national language, especially among the educated. In my assessment, it is the combination of the increasing use of English as a lingua franca and a focus on the national language that is primarily responsible for this linguistic shift. English as an official language The ten nations of ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations: Brunei, Cambodia Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) are host to more than 1,000 languages. Indonesia alone has some 700. Yet the decision to make English the sole working language of ASEAN, as recorded in Article 34 of its charter, along with the desire of each country to promote its national language as it establishes itself as a nation state, means that English and the respective national language are taught as the languages of education in the school system. Rarely do government schools teach, in any systematic way, any local or other Asian languages. The same is true of the so-called 'ASEAN+3' nations of China, Japan and Korea. Therefore, language education policy across ASEAN has English as a compulsory subject in the primary curriculum (Indonesia is the sole exception), and it is being introduced earlier and earlier. Instruction now begins in grade 3 (ages 7-8) in China and will soon be introduced in grade 3 in Vietnam, where it is currently studied from grade 6. Some countries use English as a medium of instruction for other subjects – typically maths and science – in primary school. In Singapore, it is the medium of instruction for all subjects. Why are these countries promoting English so feverishly? In addition to the usual reasons (i.e. that English is seen as an essential tool for participating in modernisation/globalisation), the decision of ASEAN to make English its sole working language has provided further impetus for the study of English. Early introduction The introduction of English into the primary curriculum is not simply a matter of adding another subject, as English replaces another subject – most commonly a local language and usually the regional lingua franca. A local language familiar to the children is thus replaced by a foreign language few of them know. A very effective way of killing a language is to remove it as a language of education. In some cases there is evidence that the wealthy middle classes are not even learning their first language to any depth. As Wang Gungwu, a past Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, has pointed out: "To actually forsake the public school system that teaches in your own language for the private The threat of English © CHRIS CHRISTODOULOU

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