English Language Education Policy in Timor-Leste

  • John MacalisterEmail author
Part of the Language Policy book series (LAPO, volume 11)


In Timor-Leste four languages are recognised in the constitution and compete for space, both in education and in society generally. While the adoption of Portuguese as the co-official language (with Tetun) is understandable in light of the country’s recent troubled relations with Indonesia and with a wish to distinguish itself from English speaking Australia to the south, it also marks Timor-Leste as different in a region where an emphasis on English language learning is the norm. While education policy tends to favour the Portuguese language, arguably at the expense of Tetun, there is a feeling among students and parents that English and Bahasa Indonesia have more practical use. For this reason, and because many school teachers are not sufficiently fluent in Portuguese, English has remained the second language of choice and private English classes are common. In public spaces, too, English is the prevalent language. As a result, and also because of a feeling that current language policy is contributing to educational failure, there remain questions about the future of languages in education in Timor-Leste. A case can be made, for example, for moving to mother tongue based education leading to additive multilingualism. Consideration also needs to be given to the role of Portuguese in shaping a national identity for this relatively new state. Generational change may contribute to future changes in language policy, as a Portuguese-speaking elite retires from political life.


Portuguese Multilingualism Mother tongue based education Additive bilingualism ASEAN 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Victoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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