The teaching of English in south-east Asia needs a radical new approach according to Griffith University languages expert Professor Andy Kirkpatrick.

Professor Kirkpatrick, who will present a public lecture on Thursday, says there are now more non-native speakers of English than native.

“In Asia alone, there are more than 800 million multilinguals who use English as a common form of communication, or as a lingua franca,” he said.

He said the language’s perceived importance had resulted in the current and increasing regional trend to include English as early as possible in the primary school curriculum.

“Even with this increase in English in the government school system, parents will often make substantial financial and emotional sacrifices and choose to send their children to private schools where they can be taught through English.

“While accepting that English needs to be taught, it is essential the current role of English as an international lingua franca means the way it is taught is needs to be radically revised.

“This involves recognising the emergence of Asian varieties of English and understanding that English is a multilingual language, used in multilingual and multicultural settings in a post Anglo-cultural world.”

Professor Kirkpatrick is Head of the School of Languages and Linguistics at Griffith University. Prior to this role he was the Director of the Research Centre for Language Education and Acquisition in Multilingual Societies at the Hong Kong Institute for Education.

He is editor-in-chief of new linguistics journal Multilingual Education, and edits the Routledge Handbook of World Englishes. He has co-authored the book Chinese Rhetoric and Writing: An introduction for Language Teachers, due for publication in early 2012.