Originally published at AsianCorrespondent.com on 6th November 2015

The 2015 English First (EF) English Proficiency Index indicates wide-ranging English language proficiency levels across Asia and while some countries have made continued progress over recent years, others have experienced year-on-year decline.

The latest English Proficiency Index (EPI) includes 18 countries from Asia. The nations found to have the highest levels of English language proficiency were Singapore, Malaysia and India, which were all rated as having ‘very high proficiency’. At the bottom of the index were Thailand, Mongolia and Cambodia, with ‘very low proficiency’. Across Asia, the countries that made the most significant progress since last year were Kazakhstan and Vietnam.

The nations found to have the highest levels of English language proficiency were Singapore, Malaysia and India

The EPI report acknowledges that since the first sets of data were collected in 2007, Asia has experienced greater improvements in English proficiency than any other region. However, it also makes the point that while much of Asia excels in Mathematics and Science, English language teaching across the region is generally poor and greater commitment to improve English language instruction is needed to increase the region’s global competitiveness.

Malaysia, which ranks second in Asia and 14th globally, is praised for its recent commitment to English language instruction. In 2011, Malaysia implemented a national teacher training program to raise the English language proficiency of all English language teachers to an advanced level, C1 on the Common European Framework.

In contrast, Thailand’s decline in the EPI is a genuine cause for concern. This year Thailand dropped to 14th place in Asia and 62nd place globally. The results are all the more worrying because the Thai tourism industry accounts for as much as 20 percent of Thailand’s GDP. Furthermore, Thailand spends 31.3 percent of total government expenditure on education, well above the Asian average of 14 percent and the highest in the region.

The importance of developing English language proficiency will become more apparent in December this year when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) officially opens with English as its official language.

The importance of developing English language proficiency will become more apparent in December this year when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) officially opens with English as its official language. Another reason for countries in Asia to prioritize English language proficiency was made by Christopher McCormick, head of the EF Research Network, who explained data from the English Proficiency Index suggests a strong relationship between English language proficiency and economic performance with increases in English proficiency linked to increases in per capita income. For the individual, strong English language proficiency also provides financial benefits which can result in salary increases of between 30-50 percent.

The EF English Proficiency Index is based on English language assessments taken by 910,000 adults from 70 countries and as such is considered the world’s most comprehensive ranking of countries by English languages proficiency. However, it is important to be aware of the EPI’s limitations. The EPI is collated from the results of individuals who choose to take the free online EF language assessments and the number of individuals in each country varies considerably. For these reasons the EPI has been criticized for its lack of representative sampling.

The EF assessments are usually taken by adults who are engaged in developing their learning English abilities, as such the EPI tends to miss adults who have already developed advanced English language proficiency. This may account for Hong Kong’s relatively poor mid-table raking which is a number of places below South Korea and Vietnam.

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Daniel is an English Literature graduate from the University of London who has spent the past 20 years living and working in Southeast Asia. Passionate about education, health care, sustainable development, equality and human rights, Daniel is a regular contributor to Asian Correspondent, Ajarn, The Educator and Bangkok Post.

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