Where is Thailand in English Proficiency?

July 25, 2012

With the upcoming economic integration in 2015 to form ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), there has been many movements towards preparing Thailand for open trade with our neighbors. One of the biggest concerns among Thais is the use of English as the common language. Since the beginning of ASEAN, English has been selected as the working language among ASEAN communities[1]. The big question is: How prepared are Thais at speaking English?

Where is Thailand in English Proficiency?

There are many ways to measure language proficiency, one of which is by using English Proficiency Index (EPI). It is a product of EF Education First, a global language training company, and draws its conclusions from data collected via online English tests available for free over the internet[2].

Among the countries in Asia, the study shows:

Rank Country Score Level
9 n Malaysia 55.54 High Proficiency
12 n Hong Kong 54.44 Moderate Proficiency
13 n South Korea 54.19 Moderate Proficiency
14 n Japan 54.17 Moderate Proficiency
25 n Taiwan 48.93 Low Proficiency
26 n Saudi Arabia 48.05 Low Proficiency
29 n China 47.62 Low Proficiency
30 n India 47.35 Low Proficiency
32 n Russia 45.79 Low Proficiency
34 n Indonesia 44.78 Very Low Proficiency
39 n Vietnam 44.32 Very Low Proficiency
42 n Thailand 39.41 Very Low Proficiency
44 n Kazakhstan 31.74 Very Low Proficiency

with Thailand ranking one of the lowest proficiency scores of the countries obtained in the study. Vietnam and Indonesia scores are also categorized under “very low proficiency”, but nonetheless scored slightly higher compared to Thailand. English speaking country like Malaysia scores unsurprisingly well. Interestingly, countries that are perceived to be poor English speakers such as Japan and Korea also score relatively higher than Thailand in this study. Note that the data regarding some of ASEAN members such as Laos, Myanmar, Phillipines, or Cambodia are unavailable.

Regardless of the ranking, it has become obvious that an average Thai is considered to have very low English proficiency. Recent online events and anecdotal evidences prove that Thais tend to be unwilling to converse in English and often revert back to use Thais among themselves. The readers probably also have experienced that Thais who are fluent in English are not common, and those that speak flawless English are considered very rare.

Open economic integration also comes with more competition. With the upcoming AEC economic integration, bilingual and multilingual individuals will be very advantageous at finding job positions and getting promotions. At corporate level, the companies that adapt well to foreign trade will only proliferate from the integration, while those that doesn’t will be ignored. This also holds true among research communities, service industries, government officials, etc. If we do not adapt to communicate better, foreign countries will simply choose to collaborators that are more ready to communicate.

Maybe it is time Thais stop gossiping in Thai among themselves and start paying more attention to the rest of the world.


[2] EF EPI English Proficiency Index

  • Peerawood Boonyanivas

    Great article, thank you for pointing this issue out. By the way, in the last paragraph:

    “At corporate level, the companies that adapt well to foreign trade will
    only proliferate from the integration, while those that doesn’t will be

    I suggest that “don’t” be used instead of “doesn’t”.
    Thank you.

    • dd

      Your reply deosn’t help but show that you try to be smarter than him.

  • dd

    The index might not be so accurate since different countries emphasize on this online English test differently. In my opinion, in Thailand, usually those who are not very fluent in English are encouraged to take this kind of test rather than those who are already fluent.

    • Yong Pairsuwan

      I agree with your assumption. However, if we look at the majority, I’m quite sure that most Thai people cannot use English fluently. Then if we ask all of them to do the test, the result might be the same or similar to the index shown above.

  • Win Winit-Watjana

    I am not sure if the data are reliable, but it does reflect that most Thais are still very weak in English communication. Language is a kind of skill and thus requires a lot of practice; practice certainly makes perfect! Thanks to our ancestors who initiated the Thai language with five tones and adaptable grammar, with some efforts and confidence we can easily master English in a short period of time. Don’t be too laid back or bone idle, man!

  • Prateep Amonruttanapun

    Good article! By pinpointing the comparison the level of English proficiency, how Japan could have higher score with their nationalism! From my opinion, it’s also rare to find Thai students (studying master and/or doctoral degree) with high English proficiency in some universities, esp. speaking skill. It includes me, by the way. lol

  • クー アンペア

    14 n Japan 54.17 Moderate Proficiency <– Not for their speaking skill and listening skill!

  • Ryan McGovern

    This is a great article and I found the information useful for a blog post that I have recently published here Also @facebook-699792994:disqus stop being a smartass, the comment doesn’t help or add to the debate but makes you look like somebody with nothing better to do…

    • Ryan McGovern

      I meant at Peerawood Boonyanivas, don’t know why that Facebook thing came up

  • Hadi

    That was so true with Malaysia. We tend to use English almost everyday in our life especially in working life. While we speak our mother tongue at home. Even I myself use 95% of English in the internet every single day. LOL!

  • Onklo ENG

    Saluton !

    Whether or not English is good or bad, the world scenario is that English is in the decline. Search BBC report, 75% of the people in the world do not speak English.

    English language is not an easy learning language, it needs 3200 hours to learn it but on the other hand, Esperanto, which is recommended by UNESCO, needs less than 200 hours.

    ASEAN Community should not use English language as none of the countries in ASEAN use English as the national language. Besides, English is only for the rich families.

    We should consider to use Esperanto, also recommended by United Nations World Tourism Organisation UNWTO as our Asean Community common language.

    Search Esperanto in Facebook to see almost all ASEAN countries have the Esperanto speakers and the textbooks are also available for all the ASEAN countries. More benefits, can read at Malaysia Esperanto Studies Group.

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