Thailand's English skills lagging, says training company

According English First's latest English proficiency index, Thailand is far behind many of its neighbours and most of the world. The index, however, is not without critics.

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By far the most highly read story on the Bangkok Post website yesterday was about the release of the Education First’s annual English Proficiency Index.

The index shows that English language proficiency in Thailand is very low and dropping relative to other countries. The Kingdom is the third worst in Asia and ranks 62 out of 70 nations included in the index.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction there will be from government officials, but don't be surprised if some take aim at the test itself. Every year, the index takes the same criticism – it does not use a representative sample

This year, the fifth year the index has been released, the results were derived from test data collected from more than 910,000 adults who took the company's online English tests in 2014. In other words, the test-takers chose to take the test themselves and they had access to the internet. Thus, they may or may not be typical of English-language speakers throughout the country. We don't know.

Supporters of the test say, however, that it is useful because it has a very large sample and is one of the few tools we have for comparing English-language proficiency across countries. And few would argue with the conclusion that Thailand as a whole has an English-language problem.

With this in mind, here are excerpts from yesterday's story by Bob James.

Thai English proficiency drops, now 3rd worst in Asia – EF

Bob James

Thailand fell to 62nd out of 70 nations in English proficiency and is now the third-worst country in Asia on Education First’s annual English Proficiency Index.

Even as countries such as Vietnam and India posted marked gains in English skills, Thailand's ranking fell the most in the Asian region, with the country now boasting better skills than only Cambodia and Mongolia on the list.

Worldwide, Thailand beat out only those countries, plus Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Algeria, Saudia Arabia and Libya.

"Thailand's English proficiency remains low despite the country's large tourism industry," stated the report from EF, an international education company specialising in language training, educational travel, academic-degree programmes and cultural exchanges.

"Thailand's school system performs poorly on international assessments across all subject areas. The average years of schooling there are also lower than the regional average, meaning that Thai adults are less educated than many other Asians."

Education First noted that Thais still exhibit poor English skills even though the country spends a greater percentage of its budget – 31.3% – on education than any of the 70 countries it surveyed.

The company noted the current government now has mandated that schools align their English teaching to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in order to standardise teaching nationally.

The government also has set a "modest" goal of a B1 level in English for all high school graduates, EF said.

Source: Education First English Proficiency Index

As is the case globally, women in Thailand speak better English than men, 46.3% to 44.3%. Global proficiency averages for women and men, respectively, however, are 53.4% and 52.1%.

The country's decline in English proficiency can be seen in age breakdowns. Youths 18-20 years old and adults 21-25 exhibit poorer English skills than those in the 26-30 age bracket.

Globally both those age groups do better with English, EF found.

Average scores on the international TOEFL and IELTS in Thailand came in at 76 and 5.3, respectively. TOEFL scores among the surveyed countries ranged from a low of 61 to a high of 100.

About the author

Writer: Terry Fredrickson
Position: Online Editor of Learning & Education