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Jakarta Post

Your letters: English as ASEAN language

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Fri, January 22, 2016   /  08:50 am

Just because the goal of the ASEAN community is, One Vision, One Identity and One Community'€œ, it does not mean we need to have an official language for ASEAN. Some people think we need to follow the EU, which has the official language of English.

These people propose that Indonesian be the language of ASEAN because Indonesia has the biggest number of people in the network. In addition, Indonesian has similarities with Melayu and is used in Malaysia and the southern part of Thailand.

Language barriers are a big challenge for people migrating across ASEAN countries. Although English is taught from elementary school, not much of the population has good English proficiency. If we decide to have Indonesian as the official ASEAN language, it will be another burden for society. While people are still struggling to learn English, they will need to learn another language. As a consequence, the development of the community will be very slow.

At present, English is enough as a working language for the community, as it is spoken both in ASEAN and non-ASEAN countries. Thus it is, indeed, universal. We need to consider that we are not only expecting ASEAN people to be mobilized, but people all over the world. Currently, English stands as the official language of ASEAN used by foreign ministers in regional meetings, decision-making agendas and charter agreements. English was selected due to its widespread utility in several ASEAN countries like Singapore and the Philippines.

However, there is still a need for a second language depending on the country one wishes to settle in, especially for countries where English is not widely used.

In Thailand, for example, many local people have yet to learn English. In the field of health, the Thai Nursing Council requires foreign nurses to pass a national nursing exam in Thai, both oral and written, if they want to work in Thailand. It is the same case in Indonesia. The fact that Indonesia has a big population and Indonesian shares similarities with the languages of Malaysia and parts of Thailand is not enough to make Indonesian an additional official ASEAN language.

Joko Gunawan
Chulalongkorn University,

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