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Reconsidering Compulsory English in Developing Countries in Asia: English in a Community of Northeast Thailand



This article reviews the issue of compulsory English in the Asia-Pacific region and examines the English component of a single-site exploratory study of multilingualism in a disadvantaged ethnic minority (DEM) community of Northeast Thailand. The concept of ethnolinguistic vitality was used as a framework for an analysis of community language experience, attitudes, and ability, and the study presents a picture of perceptions and usage of English, that is, the end results of the English as a foreign language (EFL) paradigm. The study found very low levels of self-reported English ability and little experience or positive opinion of English generally in the community, but increased self-reported ability and experience in the younger generation. Satisfactory levels of English literacy were self-reported in the younger generation, but this literacy did not appear to be used for much outside academia. Although this may call into question the compulsory English paradigm, a desire was expressed for continued access to English in schools. The study presents factors that may improve the quality of English language teaching in such DEM settings in light of the increased competition in the workforce that regionalism will bring.