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The double danger of English as a global language

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 February 2010

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Why Australia still needs to learn Asian languages. Language learning in Australia has at times been a much debated and somewhat controversial topic. A new episode in this debate began recently with the publication of a report entitled Building an Asia-Literate Australia: An Australian Strategy for Asian Language Proficiency, which argues for a significant expansion and intensification of the learning of Asian languages and cultures at all levels of education. Much of the reaction to this report has focused on the role of English as the global language and its implications for language education. The main argument made against the report's proposals can be summarised as the ‘English is the global language’ view, a position which claims that because English is the global language, there is no need for Australia to implement a large-scale Asian languages and cultures education programme. This paper aims to refute this argument. Drawing on a range of theoretical and empirical work, it demonstrates that there is a double danger in the ‘English is the global language’ view as it both exaggerates the current number of speakers and extent of use of English in Asia, and misinterprets the likely outcomes of any further spread of English.

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