Is English language proficiency the passport to business success?

Is English language proficiency the passport to business success?

English language, mathematics and science have been defined as the essential basis for modern education. But for Thailand, recent comparative testing has indicated that these "must have" skills are often "don't have" skills holding back economic progress.

We asked Vincent Pourre, Head of Corporate Training, himself ten years with Wall Street English in Thailand, to comment on this situation. Wall Street English has been a world leader in English language training since 1972, with over 4 million students in 32 countries, using certified ISO-9001 and Cambridge University training methods. In Thailand since 2003, Wall Street English now has 12 training centres nationwide, and has successfully trained over 100,000 students.

Why are Thai students reported to be so deficient in knowledge of the English language, compared even with other ASEAN countries?

It is true that Thailand ranks among the lowest (9th, just ahead of Cambodia) in English proficiency among ASEAN countries. I believe that the main reason is historical: Thailand has always been a sovereign country, and as such it has kept a strong cultural identity, of which the Thai language is a large part. While it is important for Thailand to maintain a strong culture, the globalised market we now live in requires the workforce to speak English, and Thailand will have to upgrade its education system to better prepare the next generations to communicate well in English, and remain competitive in the global marketplace.

In your experience, is knowledge of English improving nowadays, and if so, why?

Yes, English proficiency has improved in Thailand over the past decade, especially in the Bangkok metropolitan area where university students and professional workers realise the importance of speaking English, so they can find a good job or get promoted faster.

The low ranking of Thailand among ASEAN countries is mainly due to the level of English in the provinces, where little improvement has been made. Several initiatives have been conducted by international NGOs and the private sector to support local schools upcountry. The results from these pilot projects have been significant. However, these projects are isolated and it will require a much broader approach through public and private partnerships to make a difference.

How important is knowledge of English for students and workers?

Very important. Most companies in the SET50 encourage English communication in the workplace. All multi-national corporations (MNC) in Thailand require their staff to be proficient in English. Surveys recently taken by our students show they receive a 15% to 30% increase in salary after taking an English course with us. By improving their English proficiency, they become more confident and perform better in their jobs and, as a result, achieve greater results for their employers.

Are other languages than English important, and do Thais have such knowledge?

Yes, of course, speaking other languages is important and I am impressed when I come across Thais who can speak Japanese, Chinese, French or German fluently. They usually have done specific studies at university and have worked or studied in the country for several years. However, speaking these languages limits them to a very specific job market, while speaking English allows them to tackle any job in any market. I believe that speaking English is mandatory while speaking other foreign languages is a bonus for career advancement.

At what age should children start learning foreign languages?

The earlier the better but there is no age limit to learning English or any other foreign language. The only requirements are a commitment and willingness to learn and open your mind.

Should native English teachers be more generally employed?

What matters most is the qualification level of the teachers, whether they are Thai or native speakers. Students will benefit from learning with both as long as the teachers are qualified.

Thai Teachers are very helpful in guiding students in the early stages of acquiring the language as they have been through the learning curve themselves and know the challenges Thai students face learning English. Native teachers, on the other end, are very beneficial to students in building confidence and developing fluency in speaking and writing. They also provide useful insights on Western culture and encourage students to communicate in a natural way.

This is why students at Wall Street English have access to both native speaking teachers and Thai tutors who can help them when needed.

How important do companies in Thailand consider knowledge of English?

All companies and business owners realise the importance of English competency for their staff, but they don't necessarily allocate the resources required to train them.

We see three types of companies in the market:

1. Blue Chip Thai companies: these are our clients; they invest in training (functional, leadership, English communication) as their staff need to be ready for regional and global markets.

2. Thai SMEs: some invest, some don't, usually because they focus exclusively on the domestic market. SMEs that want to grow internationally tend to invest in training, but they often choose low-cost providers running large classes of students, which is not effective.

3. MNCs: They usually hire staff with a good level of English, and provide ongoing training to reinforce their business communication skills.

What are companies doing to improve their employees' knowledge of English?

Companies use a wide range of initiatives to support their employees and encourage them to learn English. From organising in-house training to allowing their staff to take a course in a school and claim reimbursement. Many companies have implemented reward systems for their staff, offering salary increases when they reach a defined level of proficiency. To get the best results, companies must carefully design their English training program with a provider that will help them implement a solid system to measure their employees' progress.

What might be the return on investment for a company investing in English training for their staff?

It is always important to consider ROI when designing an English training program. The best way to calculate your ROI is to look at competencies needed for each employee in your company depending on their role and responsibilities, the value they bring to the organisation with their current skill set, and the expected value they will bring after improving their English capabilities in their current position, or planning for career advancement in a new role.

The ROI includes gains in employees' productivity, their ability to manage international clients, working effectively with foreign management and regional headquarters. In addition, better English communication in the office can prevent miscommunication that can be very costly for an organisation.

It is also important to note that companies can claim a 200% deduction on their corporate income tax for training expenditures, if the training is provided by a certified centre such as Wall Street English.

Vincent Pourre, Head of Corporate Training, Wall Street English. Email:, Website:

Christopher F. Bruton is Executive Director of Dataconsult Ltd, Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to update business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.

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