The Language Teacher
November 2001

New Englishes of Asia

David McMurray

The International University of Kagoshima

The development of new Englishes in Asia and elsewhere around the world has rekindled a vibrant debate about whether American and British English are global languages and the desired target languages for EFL learners. Our teaching profession may have grown too comfortable thinking that they are.

Goddard (2001, p. 22) surveyed how some teachers approach the teaching of multiple varieties of English in their classrooms and paraphrases the majority of his colleagues as stating "My students struggle with listening comprehension in American English, which they've been studying for 5 years now. Why would I confuse them with another variety?"

Burns and Candlin (2001, p. 4) challenge the idea that "people who have little contact with the host community will not learn the language successfully" and call "into question whether the traditional English-speaking countries -- the US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand -- can still be regarded as owning English and having the right to set standards . . . [and raised] the issue of whether the standards of the native speaker (usually interpreted as British or American) can ever be a realistic goal for language learning . . ."

New players in the tug-of-war over the ownership of English are coming to the fore -- the strength and creativity of whom we have not felt in Japan and Korea since team-teaching was introduced -- in classrooms, conferences, academic articles, and creative compositions among other places where language teachers discourse.

Honna et al. (2001, p. 80) found students today are comfortable with speaking English with a Japanese accent when they asked high school students "whether they wanted to sound like their assistant language teacher (an American) or whether they wanted to sound like their Japanese teacher. Iwas very surprised when they all quickly said that they wanted to sound like their Japanese teacher. I should add that there was nothing wrong with this ALT! But the Japanese teacher in this class spoke excellent English and with an unmistakably Japanese accent."

In my classroom a dramatic shift in demographics has occurred. Where once homogeneous EFL classes composed of Japanese students were the norm, now they are interspersed with students from Asia just like ESL classes in America and Britain have been for years. Borrowing ESL teaching models and textbooks is not an appropriate solution to meet my students needs however, because when EFL learners leave the classroom they do not come face-to-face with American or British English and culture; rather they are encountering Asian and English soundscapes (the wide variety of English that can be heard in a particular place or region). Students are more likely to communicate on campus, via email and telephones with other non-native speakers of English than to native speakers of English.

To bolster falling enrolments, new universities in Oita, Okinawa, and Tokyo have been approved based upon attracting up to 50% of their capacity with students and faculty from Asia. Other universities attract foreign students by offering one-year exchange programs at sister universities in Asia, and core courses at popular faculties in English. This means student needs have to be re-assessed and syllabi and textbooks redesigned to accommodate the use and learning of new Asian Englishes. Students of language are doing pair work, group work and other communication exercises with speakers of different English dialects with different cultural backgrounds.

At the main speaker podium of the Korea Association of Teachers of English international conference on Teaching English as a Global Language in the Asian Context, Kwon (2001) introduced research by Smith and Rafigzad who had taped the narratives of highly educated English speakers from the US, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. When these tapes were played back to over 1,300 educated listeners from these countries and also from Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, and Taiwan, the most internationally intelligible prounciations were those of Japan, India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia while the pronunciation of the American was close to being the least intelligible. Somewhat to the chagrin of the American main speakers and perhaps to the relief of the Japanese main speakers who followed Kwon, his statement highlighted the conference that was entirely conducted in English and was much appreciated by the predominately Korean audience.

I also tried to capture the sights and sounds of the way and bring them into my classroom. To obtain original spoken sources of language, recordings were made on site with the help of coordinators based in the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and China. At least six and often over ten people were interviewed in each country. Original sources of written English were collected through e-mail. Current articles about international news and local news events or activities that represent the characteristics of the country were collected from locally published newspapers, magazines, newsletters or other publications. After the interviews, each respondent was asked to read aloud at least six of the selected emails and articles from their country and their voices were recorded onto cassette tapes. The massive amounts of source data were then edited into the form of a textbook plus cassette-recordings for use in the classroom, whereupon the challenge lay in helping the students to understand and to use the various varieties of English that are currently being used in Asia. During the first semester of 2001 I introduced the materials to 200 (Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean) first-year university non-English majors. I then surveyed 150 of the students, asking them to rank which of the Englishes (including US, UK, Australian and Canadian) they felt were the easiest to understand. As a counter-check I also tested them on the written materials and recordings. Preliminary analysis showed 94 percent said English spoken by Japanese was the easiest, followed by Korean, and the students test results correlate well with their beliefs.

Languages take new directions through the coining of new words and EFL speakers today have introduced many new words and ways to use them. During a 6-year longitudinal project I collected more than 90,000 haiku poems that were forwarded to me in letters, faxes and emails by poets living in 30 countries. Each week, 10 of the best are selected and published in the International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun and at <>. During the first 3 years most of the published haiku were by native English speakers, but lately by my count on average 7 of the 10 selected haiku are by EFL poets. Japanese haiku was introduced to American and British poets in the mid-1900s. Translated 17 onji (Japanese sound syllables) poems, as well as those originally written in English are immensely popular. After 50 years of development in standard varieties of English however, remarkable changes are beginning to appear. Hisako Akamatsu, an EFL speaker, creatively customizes English words to fit a new 3-5-3-syllable count proposed as an optimum form for haiku. She takes control of English, and effectively demonstrated Kachru's (1996, p. 135) response to the question of language ownership that "If you can use it, you own it," when she composed:

Counting blooms

reveals day's fortune

morn' glory

She truncated the flower name for colleagues around the world because the full name "morning glory" is a four-syllable word that wouldn't fit on the last line; the preferred position for haiku season words. This is a simple example, but when multiplied by the million EFL haikuists in the world today it suggests that in future more creative forms of haiku could emerge. Poetry aficionados may soon feel a competitive tug for the ownership of English haiku toward Japanese composers.

Based on the haiku project and the more comprehensive research project to record and analyze the new Englishes that are currently spoken and written in Asia, more course and lesson plans are needed to teach reading and listening skills geared to the understanding of the new Englishes. Where five years ago I tried to determine how to emphasize the interconnectedness, the varieties, and the richness of several foreign languages being used to write haiku, the realities of the new century mean considering how to emphasize the interconnectedness, the varieties, the richness of Englishes.

Language teachers have led many innovations into the 21st century such as task-based learning, team-teaching, teaching of English at elementary levels, introduction of computer-based testing, and the partnering of professional language teaching associations. I now look forward to facilitating the introduction of the new Englishes of Asia.


Burns, A. & Candlin, C. (2001). Problematising Language Learning and Teaching: Asking the Right Questions in the 21st Century. The Language Teacher 25 (7), 3-8.

Goddard, J. (2001). Which Varieties of English Do You Teach at Your Jr./Sr. High School? The Language Teacher 25 (8), 21 - 24.

Honna, N., Kirkpatrick, A., Gilbert, S. (2001). English Across Cultures. Tokyo: Sansusha.

Kachru, B. (1996) World Englishes: Agony and Ecstasy. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 30 (2), 135 - 155.

Kwon, O. (2001) KATE International Conference Proceedings. Korea Association of Teachers of English, 1, 7 - 17.

David McMurray is Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies in the Humanities Department of The International University of Kagoshima, editor of Asahi Haikuist Network published each Friday in the International Herald Tribune, and founder of PAC, the Pan Asian series of Conferences. He can be contacted by e-mail at <>

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