The British Empire annexed modern-day Burma in three stages over a six-decade span (1824–1885). It administered Burma as a province of British India until 1937, and as a separate colony until 1948. During the British colonial period, English was the medium of instruction in higher education, although it did not replace Burmese as the vernacular. English was the medium of instruction in universities and two types of secondary schools: English schools and Anglo-Vernacular schools (where English was taught as a second language). Burmese English resembles Indian English to a degree because of historical ties to India during British colonization.
On 1 June 1950, a new education policy was implemented to replace Burmese as the medium of instruction at all state schools, although universities, which continued to use English as the medium of instruction, were unaffected. English became taught as a second language beginning in the Fifth Standard. Until 1965, English was the language of instruction at Burmese universities. In 1965, Burmese replaced English as the medium of instruction at the university level, with the passing of the New University Education Law the previous year. English language education was reintroduced in 1982. Currently, English is taught from Standard 0 (kindergarten), as a second language. Since 1991, in the 9th and 10th Standards, English and Burmese have both been used as the medium of instruction, particularly in science and math subjects, which use English language textbooks. Because of this, many Burmese are better able to communicate in written English than in spoken English, due to emphasis placed on writing and reading.
The preferred system of spelling is based on those of the British, although American English spellings have become increasingly popular. Because Adoniram Judson, an American, created the first Burmese-English dictionary, many American English spellings are common (e.g. color, check, encyclopedia). The ⟨-ize⟩ spelling is more commonly used than the ⟨-ise⟩ spelling.
Burmese English is often characterised by its unaspirated consonants, similar to Indian English. It also borrows words from standard English and uses them in a slightly different context. For instance, "pavement" (British English) or "sidewalk" (US English) is commonly called "platform" in Burmese English. "Stage show" is also preferred over "concert." In addition, many words retain British pronunciation, such as vitamin //. Burmese English is non-rhotic.
For units of measurement Burmese English use both those of the Imperial System and those of the International System of Units interchangeably, but the values correspond to the SI system. Burmese English continues to use Indian numerical units such as lakh and crore.
In Burmese English, the k, p, and t consonants are unaspirated (pronounced /p/, /t/, /k/), as a general rule, as in Indian English. The following are commonly seen pronunciation differences between Standard English and Burmese English:
|Standard English||Burmese English||Remarks|
|ur (e.g. further, Burma)||/á/||Pronounced with a high tone (drawn-out vowel), as in Burmese|
|ow (e.g. now, brow)||/áuɴ/||Pronounced with a nasal final instead of an open vowel|
|ie (e.g. pie, lie)||/aiɴ/||Pronounced with a nasal final instead of an open vowel|
|tu (e.g. tuba, tuba)||/tɕu/||e.g. "tuition," commonly pronounced [tɕùʃìɴ]|
|sk (e.g. ski)||/sək-/||Pronounced as 2 syllables|
|st (e.g. star)||/sət-/||Pronounced as 2 syllables|
|pl (e.g. plug)||/pəl/||Pronounced as 2 syllables|
|v (e.g. vine)||/b/|
|-nk (e.g. think)||/ḭɴ/||Pronounced with a short, creaky tone (short vowel)|
|-ng (e.g. thing)||/iɴ/||Pronounced as a nasal final|
|consonantal finals (.e.g. stop)||/-ʔ/||Pronounced as a glottal stop (as in written Burmese, where consonantal finals are pronounced as a stop)|
Burmese names represented in English often include various honorifics, most commonly "U", "Daw", and "Sayadaw". For older Burmese who only have one or two syllables in their names these honorifics may be an integral part of the name.
- Bolton, Kingsley. "English in Asia, Asian Englishes, and the issue of proficiency". English Today (Cambridge University Press) 24 (2): 3–12. ISSN 02660784. OCLC 10.1017/S026607840800014X.
- Thein Lwin (2000). Education in Burma (1945-2000) (Report). Migrant Learning Centre. http://thinkingclassroom.org/Education%20Papers/1.%20Education%20in%20Burma%20(1945-2000),%202000.pdf.
- Thein, Myat (2004). Economic development of Myanmar. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. pp. 115–118. ISBN 978-981-230-211-3.
- Judson, Adoniram; Stevenson, Robert Charles (1921). The Judson Burmese-English dictionary. Yangon: American Baptist Mission Press. OL 6459075M.
- Barron, Sandy; John Okell, Saw Myat Yin, Kenneth VanBik, Arthur Swain, Emma Larkin, Anna J. Allott, and Kirsten Ewers (2007). Refugees From Burma: Their Backgrounds and Refugee Experiences (Report). Center for Applied Linguistics. http://www.cal.org/co/pdffiles/refugeesfromburma.pdf. Retrieved 2010-08-20.