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Economic Merging of ASEAN: Will language be a problem?

ASEAN Nations Flags
Economic Merging of ASEAN: Will language be a problem?
on June, 12 2014
ASEAN Nations Flags

Image credit: ASEAN Nations Flags in Jakarta taken by Gunawan Kartapranata under Public Domain.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) 2015 is already underway. In less than a year, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nationa) countries will already merge their economies, in more or less the same way as the European Union (EU). Though there is no plan for a unified currency, in several aspects, the merging will have a huge effect to the member countries (Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Viet Nam). This includes the labor force, trade, business, engineering, agriculture and other industries. In short, now that the region solidifies its economy, it will require the citizens to interact more with their neighbors.

This goes without saying that there will be more student exchanges, cultural interactions, enhanced regional tourism and many more. Though in many levels, this economic merging creates a positive impact, it has one loophole – language. The ASEAN region is culturally rich and languages are totally diverse. Though there are some countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei that have a common language, the rest don’t. Given this situation, will language be a hindrance in this economic merging? Will the plan totally fail due to language barrier?

Bridging the Language Differences

Just like the EU where member countries speak different languages, but have jumped through that hurdle, ASEAN countries will most likely be able to do the same. Here are some ways in which the region can get past the language barrier issue:

  • Strengthen the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools and universities. Since English is the international language, it is the best way to communicate with each other. There is no need to look for a native language in the region to be used as the language for all ASEAN countries as it might just cause further division. When students learn English at an early age, then it won’t be a problem as they grow up. In fact, several ASEAN member countries like Thailand and Vietnam have made serious efforts in English language learning.
  • On the first few years of the economic merging, English won’t be easily used by all citizens. In fact, even country leaders might not be able to converse fluently in English. This is where the need for translators and interpreters come in. They will see to it that documents are understood well before signing. They will also ensure that everyone who joins a meeting or conference will be able to discuss the issues well. Rest assured, there are lots of translators available who can speak more than one ASEAN language.
  • Textbooks and other literary pieces must be available in various languages. There must be an effort on the part of the publisher and writer to make sure that these documents are available in different languages. By then, it will be easier for the member countries to understand them.
  • Make language competency as a criterion for job hiring. This is crucial since there will be more workforces to be sent in and out of the country. Thus, whoever will be deployed outside must be confident in speaking English or the native language of the country where the person is supposed to work.

In short, even if language is an issue at first with this economic merging, there are proven ways to overcome the obstacle. As long as the member countries cooperate, and put more efforts into this merging, things will be better in the future.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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