The concept of English as a lingua franca (ELF) has recently caused a great deal of controversy, much of it based on a misunderstanding of ELF. In this presentation, I shall first provide a brief history of lingua francas and then compare and contrast two major Asian lingua francas – Bahasa Indonesia and Putonghua – in order to show how different their developmental paths have been. The presentation will then consider the current role that English is playing as a lingua franca, with a particular focus on its role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia. Examples of linguistic features of English as a lingua franca in Asia will be provided. These will be contrasted with linguistic features of vernacular varieties of English, varieties of world English and European ELF. Finally, possible implications of ELF in English language teaching, and the ‘multilingual model’ will be proposed. Suggestions on ways in which English/regional lingua francas and local languages might work together as languages of education will conclude the presentation. Copyright © 2010 Cambridge University Press.