Language Policy

, 7:143 | Cite as

The problem of ‘choice’ and the construction of the demand for English in Cambodia

Original Paper


This paper uses Cambodia as a case study to problematise the notion of choice in the spread of English. I explore specific historical contexts which were central to the construction of the demand for English and English language teaching (ELT) in Cambodia. The actions of a range of external agencies resulted in the close discursive articulation of English with Cambodia’s ‘reconstruction and development’ which was constructed along broadly neo-liberal lines. Alternative models of development were not considered, thus language alternatives were similarly ignored. One language alternative, a programme of mass literacy, was largely ignored, leaving the majority of Cambodians functionally illiterate. I conclude by arguing that the use of ‘choice’ in language choice theories as a form of agency often masks the fact that choice is a marker of socio-economic and political privilege.


Cambodia Development and reconstruction English ELT International aid Language choice Language policy Language spread theories 



Australian International Development Aid Bureau


Association of South East Asian Nations


Cambodian Secondary English Teaching project


Cambodian English Language Training project


Department for International Development (UK)


Khmer People’s National Liberation Front


Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport


Non-governmental organisation


Quaker Service Australia


United Nations Development Program


United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation


United Nations High Commission for Refugees


United Nations International Children’s Fund


United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia


  1. Ablin, D. A. (1991). Foreign language policy in the Cambodian government: Questions of sovereignty, manpower training and development assistance. Phnom Penh, UNICEF.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, B. (2002a). Time to put the brakes on the gravy train. Phnom Penh Post (11/18 ed.). Phnom Penh.Google Scholar
  3. Adams, B. (2002b). What ‘technical assistance means’. Phnom Penh Post (11/18 ed.). Phnom Penh.Google Scholar
  4. Ahrens, L., & Kemmerer, F. (2002). Higher education development. Cambodian Development Review, 6(1), 8–11.Google Scholar
  5. Ayres, D. (2000). Anatomy of a crisis: Education, development and the state in Cambodia 1953–1998. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.Google Scholar
  6. Becker, E. (1998). When the war was over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge revolution. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  7. Blom, H. C. J., & Nooijer, P. G. (1992). Focus on higher education and vocational training in Cambodia: Report on the Nuffic fact finding mission. The Hague: NUFFIC.Google Scholar
  8. Bray, M. (1999). The private costs of public schooling: Household and community financing of primary education in Cambodia. Paris, UNESCO.Google Scholar
  9. Chandler, D. (1996). A history of Cambodia (2nd ed., updated edition). Colorado: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  10. Clayton, S. (2004) English for Cambodia? Aid, depoliticisation and development. University of Essex, Unpublished PhD thesis.Google Scholar
  11. Clayton, S. (2007). Review: Language choice in a nation under transition, Thomas Clayton, Springer, 2006. Compare, 37(3), 401–403.Google Scholar
  12. Clayton, T. (1995). Restriction or resistance? French colonial educational development in Cambodia. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 3(19). Available at:
  13. Clayton, T. (2000). Education and the politics of language: Hegemony and pragmatism in Cambodia, 1979–1989. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  14. Clayton, T. (2002). Language choice in a nation under transition: The struggle between English and French in Cambodia. Language Policy, 1(1), 3–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clayton, T. (2006). Language choice in a nation under transition: English language spread in Cambodia. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  16. Coyne, G. (1997). Education and socio-political transitions in Asia: The case of Phnom Penh University. In P. A. Denham (Ed.), Higher education in Cambodia. Canberra: University of Canberra.Google Scholar
  17. Coyne, G. (1999). The bachelor of education (TEFL) programme: Issues of quality assurance. In D. Soper (Ed.), Higher education in Cambodia: The social and educational context for reconstruction. Bangkok: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  18. Curtis, G. (1993). Transition to what? Cambodia, UNTAC and the peace process. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.Google Scholar
  19. Curtis, G. (1998). Cambodia reborn? The transition to democracy and development. Washington: Brookings Institute and United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.Google Scholar
  20. Denham, P. A. (Ed.). (1997). Higher education in Cambodia: Perspectives of an Australian aid project. Canberra: University of Canberra.Google Scholar
  21. Doyle, M. W., Johnstone, I., & Orr, R. C. (Eds.). (1997). Keeping the peace: Multidimensional UN operations in Cambodia and El salvador. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Dufresne, J. R. (1993). Rebuilding Cambodia: Education, political warfare and the Khmer People’s national liberation front. University of St Thomas, Michigan.Google Scholar
  23. Edward, P. (2006). Examining inequality: Who really benefits from global growth? World Development, 34(10), 1667–1695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Findlay, T. (1995). Cambodia: The legacy and lesson of UNTAC. Oxford: OUP.Google Scholar
  25. Fishman, J. A. (Ed.). (1972). Advances in the sociology of language vol II: Selected studies and applications. The Hague: Mouton & Co.Google Scholar
  26. Fishman, J. A. (1972). National languages of wider communication in the developing nations (1969). In A. S. Dil (Ed.), Language in sociocultural change: Essays by Joshua A. Fishman. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Fishman, J. A., Conrad, A. W., & Rubal-Lopez, A. (Eds.). (1996). Post-imperial English: Status change in former British and American colonies, 1940–1990. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.Google Scholar
  28. Fishman, J. A., Ferguson, C. A., & Das Gupta, J. (Eds.). (1968). Language problems of developing nations. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  29. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  30. Godfrey, M., Chan, S., Kato, T., Long Vou, P., Dorina, P., Tep, S., Tia, S., & Chea, V. (2000). Technical assistance and capacity development in an aid-dependent economy: The experience of Cambodia CDRI working paper 15. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Research Institute.Google Scholar
  31. Grant, M. (2000). Bamboo and barbed wire: Eight years as a volunteer in a refugee camp. Mandrake, WA: DP Publishing.Google Scholar
  32. Hansard (2000). Written answers to questions. 9 Nov 2000: Column: 373W, Hansard,
  33. Heininger, J. E. (1994). Peacekeeping in transition: The United Nations in Cambodia. New York: Twentieth Century Fund.Google Scholar
  34. Holborow, M. (1999). The politics of English: A Marxist view of language. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  35. Institute of Policy Studies of Singapore & The United Nations Institute for Training, Research (IPSS/UNITR) (1995). The United Nations transitional authority in Cambodia (UNTAC): Debriefing and lessons report of the 1994 Singapore conference. London: Kluwer Law.Google Scholar
  36. Klugman, J. (Ed.). (2002). A sourcebook for poverty reduction strategies. Washington: World Bank.Google Scholar
  37. Livingston, C. (1996). Gecko tails: Journey through Cambodia. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.Google Scholar
  38. Lon, N. (2001). Cambodia’s students flock to learn English. Phnom Penh Post (10/19 ed.). Phnom Penh.Google Scholar
  39. Lynch, J. F. (1989). Border Khmer: A demographic study of the residents of Site 2, Site B, and Site 8. Joint Voluntary Agency/Ford Foundation.Google Scholar
  40. McAndrew, J. P. (1996). Aid infusions, aid illusions: Bilateral and multilateral emergency and development assistance in Cambodia, 1992–1995. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute.Google Scholar
  41. MoEYS (1996). Survey of English language teaching in secondary schools. Phnom Penh, MoEYS.Google Scholar
  42. MoEYS (2000a). Report on the assessments of the functional literacy levels of the adult population in Cambodia. Phnom Penh, MOEYS/UNDP/UNESCO.Google Scholar
  43. MoEYS (2000b). Strategic analysis chapter 10: Non-formal education and literacy situation analysis (Vol. 2003). MoEYS.Google Scholar
  44. MoEYS (2005). Education statistics and indicators 2004/2005. Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.Google Scholar
  45. MoEYS (2007). Education Statistics and Indicators 2004/2005. Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport.Google Scholar
  46. Mysliwiec, E. (1988). Punishing the poor: The international isolation of Kampuchea. Oxford: OXFAM.Google Scholar
  47. Oats, W. (1994). I could cry for these people: An Australian Quaker response to the plight of the people of Cambodia, 1979–1993. Hobart: Quaker Service Australia.Google Scholar
  48. Pennycook, A. (1994). The cultural politics of English as an international language. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  49. Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Phillipson, R. (1994). English language spread policy. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 107, 7–24.Google Scholar
  51. Phillipson, R. (1997). Realities and myths of linguistic imperialism. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 18(3), 238–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Phillipson, R. (2001). English for globalisation or for the world’s people? International Review of Education, 47(3–4), 185–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Reay, D., & Lucey, H. (2003). The limits of choice: Children and inner city schooling. Sociology, 37(1), 121–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rosenbloom, J. (2004). Adult literacy in Cambodia: Research report. Phnom Penh, Pact Cambodia,
  55. Shawcross, W. (1984). The quality of mercy: Cambodia, holocaust and modern conscience. Bangkok: DD Books.Google Scholar
  56. Suenobu, Y. (1995). Management of education systems in zones of conflict-relief operations: A case-study in Thailand. Bangkok, UNESCO.Google Scholar
  57. Taylor, G. (1995). Management plan for English language teaching in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Cambodian Secondary English Language Project.Google Scholar
  58. United Nations (1995). The United Nations and Cambodia 1991–1995. New York: United Nations.Google Scholar
  59. United Nations (1996). The blue helmets: A review of United Nations peace-keeping (3rd ed.). New York: United Nations.Google Scholar
  60. Weisbrot, M., Baker, D., Kraev, E., & Chen, J. (2002) The scorecard on globalization 1980–2000: Its consequences for economic and social well-being. International Journal of Health Services, 32(2), 229–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Williams, B. (1997). Returning home: The repatriation of Cambodian refugees. In M. W. Doyle, I.␣Johnstone, & R. C. Orr (Eds.), Keeping the peace: Multidimensional UN operations in Cambodia and El salvador. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Public Health, School of Population, Community and Behavioural SciencesThe University of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK

Personalised recommendations