Dispatch from Bangkok – English as an Asian Lingua Franca

Published on 14th December, 2010 in Author Blog by Lindsay Clandfield

This past week I was at an international conference on Perspectives of EIL (English as an International Language). I was giving talks on culture and content and about Global, but I also had the chance to see one or two other seminars. I’d like to share here what I learned in one of them by Hong Kong-based Professor Andy Kirpatrick, author of World Englishes. His talk was entitled English as an Asean lingua franca.

Kirpatrick and his colleagues are collecting a corpus of data on non native English. This is fascinating work, and I was familiar with a similar project underway in Vienna called VOICE (the Vienna Oxford International Corpus of English). Now it seems there will be an Asian equivalent of VOICE, called ACE, the Asean Corpus of English. They are using data from high level Asean meetings, between ministers of countries such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia among others. It is still early to draw any conclusions about this variety of English, but some of the points that were made were interesting. Particularly the area of pragmatics and specifically English for requests and offers. According to Kirpatrick, the direct way of teaching this in standard English (Can I… Could you please…May I…etc) doesn’t work for cultural reasons as direct requests like that occur much more rarely. Information from the ACE corpus might provide new directions on how to teach this. I found this fascinating.

The other recommendations Kirpatrick made were in the area of multilingualism and although some readers may be shocked, it made sense to me.

– English is a “hybrid mongrel” of a language. Like all languages, English is dynamic – it changes over time.
– All things being equal, it’s fine to start English language instruction early to young learners. However, all things are not equal. English instruction should begin later, and priority should be given to acquiring literacy in local languages.
– Use the child’s L1 as a medium of instruction.
– Adopt multilingual benchmarks to measure linguistic proficiency and adopt a multilingual model for Asia, not an idealized native-like proficiency.

For those of you interested more in this area, Andy Kirpatrick has a new book out on it, called English as a Lingua Franca in ASEAN: A multilingual model.


  • Hi Lindsay,
    I welcome the idea of a multilingual model and benchmarks for Asian speakers, myself being Malaysian, therefore non-native EN speaker. At the same time, I live in Swiss where I struggle with French/German each day but will never be as good as other European speakers if current benchmarks are used to measure.

    Diverging from the subject, I thoroughly enjoyed your workshop and plenary at our ETAS AGM in Lucerne recently. You said that we could email you for the link to all the video clips you showed. I would appreciate getting it.

    I think I forgot to write down your email address or did you give it? Will try to contact you via Macmillan.

    I understand that there are also downloadable video clips associated with your coursebook Global which I’ve got a copy of. Are they freely accessible from the website? I’m probably going to download a free unit soon to try out in a class.

    Many thanx for coming back to me.
    best regards,
    christina kwok

    Christina Kwok on 13 February, 2011
  • Wish I could start a similar project for indian variety of english

    Mohmmadismail on 22 February, 2011
  • I have been a big advocate of going local to teach English and respecting and accepting the variants to English. My published paper last year talked about just that.I was delighted to see the publication of Global. Cheers to the English Language teaching community. I’m keen on reading Kirkpatrick’s book too. It’s good to know we are enlightened community.

    Vannessa on 6 October, 2011