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.