Skip to main content


SOUTH-EAST ASIAN ENGLISH. English as used in South-East Asia falls into two broad types: second-language varieties in countries that were formerly colonies or protectorates of an English-speaking power (Britain in the case of BRUNEI, Malaysia, and Singapore; the US in the case of the Philippines); and foreign-language varieties in Cambodia/Kampuchea, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. In the first group, students in English-medium schools were not only taught English but learned other subjects through it; they were expected to use English in the playground, and there were often penalties for using anything else. Such education began with the establishment of the Penang Free School in 1816 and the Singapore Free School in 1823. English-medium education was the path to better-paid employment and in some cases to higher education leading to the professions. As a consequence, English became a prestige language among the élite. The greater the spread of English and the more functions for which it could be used, the more it became indigenized. This is most apparent in Singapore where, since 1987, English has been the sole medium of education, and there are now native speakers of SINGAPORE ENGLISH.

In formal situations, the English of educated Singaporeans is distinguishable mainly by ACCENT, but in more informal situations an innovative use of words is noticeable, such as loans from Chinese and Malay and modifications in the meaning of English words. Grammatical structure shows the influence of local languages, especially varieties of Chinese. In Malaysia, a similar type of English developed. In colonial times, most of the students at English-medium schools were Chinese, but since independence in the 1950s Malay-medium education has increased and Malay has become by far the main medium in primary schools and the only medium in secondary schools. English remains an important compulsory subject but its functions have greatly diminished. Brunei has a bilingual Malay and English education policy, earlier primary school classes beginning with Malay alone, then an increasing use of English until in the senior secondary school English is the medium for 80% of class time.

English-medium education began in the Philippines in 1901 after the arrival of some 540 American teachers, not long after the defeat by the US of the former colonial power, Spain. English was made the language of education and with wider use became indigenized by the inclusion of vocabulary from local languages, the adaptation of English words to suit local needs, and the modification of pronunciation and grammar to produce a distinctively PHILIPPINE ENGLISH. English was adopted for newspapers and magazines the media, and literary purposes. After independence in 1946, the national language Tagalog (later called Pilipino) was made an official language along with English and Spanish. With increasing nationalism, the role of English diminished and in 1974 a bilingual education policy was implemented, with English as a school subject at primary level but as the medium for science and mathematics at secondary level. At tertiary institutions it remains the main medium of instruction. In the foreign-language countries, English has great importance as an Asian and international lingua franca, in tourism, a reading language for technical subjects, and a token of modernity. See MALAYSIAN ENGLISH.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"SOUTH-EAST ASIAN ENGLISH." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . 23 Apr. 2018 <>.

"SOUTH-EAST ASIAN ENGLISH." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . (April 23, 2018).

"SOUTH-EAST ASIAN ENGLISH." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved April 23, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.