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. The big question is: How prepared are Thais at speaking English?
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.
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.