Drawing on observations and audio‐recordings of classroom language use in two postcolonial societies, the Republic of Botswana in Africa and the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam in south‐east Asia, this study seeks to explore how teachers and pupils face the challenge of accomplishing teaching and learning using a language which is not their own. In both Botswana and Brunei Darussalam, English is the official language of instruction for some subjects from mid‐primary school level. Unlike many comparative studies which concentrate on the macro or national level, the focus of this study is the micro‐level of classroom interaction. The study shows that there are both similarities and differences across the two contexts in the ways teachers and pupils engage with language(s) through a range of monolingual and bilingual strategies. In comparing the discourses of primary‐level classrooms in Botswana and Brunei Darussalam, the study demonstrates the tensions in the language policies and practices in the two postcolonial countries. The pressure of globalisation has resulted in the privileging of imported over indigenous languages and the study shows the pragmatic responses of the classroom participants in the two contexts.