Thailand’s English language proficiency drops to “very low”

Thailand’s English Language Proficiency Drops To “very Low”
Sign in a grocery store in Bangkok

As every expat knows and foreign visitors are soon to realise, Thais are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier when it comes to speaking English. And is has become worse over the past three years, the EF English Proficiency Index, a ranking of 100 countries and regions by English skills compiled by Switzerland-based education company EF Education First, shows.

This year, Thailand dropped to a “very low” English proficiency to 74th out of the 100 nations, from 64th out of 88 countries in 2018 and 53rd out of 80 countries in 2017, both times with a ”low proficiency” score.

With that result, Thailand has the third-lowest score of Southeast Asian countries, ahead only of Myanmar and Cambodia, and ranks 17th out of 25 surveyed Asian countries. Singapore ranked first in Southeast Asia, followed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The report notes that in countries such as Thailand which are highly reliant on tourism, a lack of English skills is hampering access to jobs in the industry, which – in Thailand’s case – contributes by around 18 per cent to the country’s GDP. With English as the de-facto international language, tourists may choose a competing destination where it is easier to get by with English. Therefore, schools need to do a better job teaching English to all students, the study recommends.

It also found a correlation between English capabilities and labour productivity. Where English proficiency is low, so is productivity in which Thailand also ranks “very low.” Analysts warn that without a higher level of English language skills, most Thai employees will not be able to compete with the same employees in Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, and this would continue to hold the country back.

The low level of English proficiency in Thailand has been related to a lack of qualified teachers and learning material in schools and even universities and the focus on rote learning and grammar instead of conversations and discussions. More generally, there is also a mindset in Thailand passed on over generations that the outside world is of secondary importance and thus many don’t have an interest or incentive to learn a foreign language at all. Low salaries for qualified education personnel are another reason, as well as the absence of a strategy by the education ministry to adequately address the issue.

The English Proficiency Index is based on an analysis of 2.3 million people in 100 countries who took English tests administered by EF Education First. The report found English proficiency to be improving worldwide, however, in Asia it has remained stagnant the past five years.

Thailand’s English Language Proficiency Drops To “very Low”
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Sign in a grocery store in Bangkok As every expat knows and foreign visitors are soon to realise, Thais are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier when it comes to speaking English. And is has become worse over the past three years, the EF English Proficiency Index, a ranking of 100 countries and regions by English skills compiled by Switzerland-based education company EF Education First, shows. This year, Thailand dropped to a “very low” English proficiency to 74th out of the 100 nations, from 64th out of 88 countries in 2018 and 53rd out of 80 countries in 2017,...

Thailand’s English Language Proficiency Drops To “very Low”
Sign in a grocery store in Bangkok

As every expat knows and foreign visitors are soon to realise, Thais are not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier when it comes to speaking English. And is has become worse over the past three years, the EF English Proficiency Index, a ranking of 100 countries and regions by English skills compiled by Switzerland-based education company EF Education First, shows.

This year, Thailand dropped to a “very low” English proficiency to 74th out of the 100 nations, from 64th out of 88 countries in 2018 and 53rd out of 80 countries in 2017, both times with a ”low proficiency” score.

With that result, Thailand has the third-lowest score of Southeast Asian countries, ahead only of Myanmar and Cambodia, and ranks 17th out of 25 surveyed Asian countries. Singapore ranked first in Southeast Asia, followed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The report notes that in countries such as Thailand which are highly reliant on tourism, a lack of English skills is hampering access to jobs in the industry, which – in Thailand’s case – contributes by around 18 per cent to the country’s GDP. With English as the de-facto international language, tourists may choose a competing destination where it is easier to get by with English. Therefore, schools need to do a better job teaching English to all students, the study recommends.

It also found a correlation between English capabilities and labour productivity. Where English proficiency is low, so is productivity in which Thailand also ranks “very low.” Analysts warn that without a higher level of English language skills, most Thai employees will not be able to compete with the same employees in Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, and this would continue to hold the country back.

The low level of English proficiency in Thailand has been related to a lack of qualified teachers and learning material in schools and even universities and the focus on rote learning and grammar instead of conversations and discussions. More generally, there is also a mindset in Thailand passed on over generations that the outside world is of secondary importance and thus many don’t have an interest or incentive to learn a foreign language at all. Low salaries for qualified education personnel are another reason, as well as the absence of a strategy by the education ministry to adequately address the issue.

The English Proficiency Index is based on an analysis of 2.3 million people in 100 countries who took English tests administered by EF Education First. The report found English proficiency to be improving worldwide, however, in Asia it has remained stagnant the past five years.

Thailand’s English Language Proficiency Drops To “very Low”
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