English has become a very important language in Asia. It is a working language for intranational and international communication in many parts of the region. According to a report, 750 million people speak English for various purposes in Asia, a number that is tremendously higher than the combined populations of the United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia where English is a native tongue for many citizens. In much of Asia, English is no longer a colonial import. Throughout the region, English is the language of education, culture, business and, above all, regional cooperation. English-speaking Asians claim English as their own language. Thus, students are becoming more and more aware that English is an indispensable Asian language. The likelihood of using English with other Asians motivates an increasing number of students to learn the language better.
Asian varieties of English are diverse, however, with different social roles attached to the adopted language. Each country has used the language in its traditional cultural and linguistic contexts, thereby producing a distinct variety characterized by unique structural and functional features. Proficiency levels also differ with "English as a second language" (ESL) countries producing more skillful speakers than "English as an international language"( EIL) counterparts.
As most Asian countries recognize English as a useful language for intranational or international communication, they are increasingly committed to strengthening and improving English language teaching. In parts of Asia where English serves as an official language, and where ELT expands and succeeds, people start speaking English among themselves. Wherever this happens, a set of indigenous patterns develop, the kind of patterns people find easier to handle. As languages come into contact, they get mingled in many interesting ways. The notion of one language as an independent system is only an imaginary creation. This has become increasingly obvious in Asian English studies, where cross-linguistic analysis is a key to a better understanding of a wide range of new patterns.
The Japanese Association for Asian Englishes was established in 1997 in an attempt to explore a variety of issues involved in English as a multinational and multicultural language in Asia. Some of the topics we have identified for our collaborative research include:
Administered by a board of elected officers, the Association holds national meetings twice a year and publishes Asian English Studies journal annually and newsletters biannually. Those who are interested in any aspect of English in Asia are cordially invited to join us and work together for better understanding and use of English as an intranational and international language in Asian countries.