THAILAND - Thailand ranks near the bottom in an English proficiency survey, showing the persistence of one of the key competitive weaknesses of the Thai economy.
Out of 60 countries and territories where English is not their mother tongue, Thailand manages only 55th place - outdoing only Panama, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, according to the EF English Proficiency Index.
The survey on adults was conducted by the global leader in international education, EF Education First, which is based in Zurich, Switzerland.
Poor English skills indicate the small base of competent adult English speakers necessary for a globalised workforce.
"Comparison of countries with their neighbours, trading partners and rivals provides a fascinating study in divergent national priorities and educational policies worldwide," Christopher McCormick, head of EF's Academic Affairs and Research Network, said yesterday.
"We found that by engaging in a national dialogue about English, stakeholders can help align goals, improve incentives and focus on teaching English for communication. The economic impact of such a coordinated programme is clear."
All over Asia, Thailand's ranking is only above Kazakhstan. Leading the regional league is Malaysia with a score of 58.99 score, followed by Singapore. The others - India, Hong Kong, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and China - are all over 50 points, while Thailand gained only 44.44.
The survey was conducted in the realisation that English is now a communication tool in the globalised era, when work becomes more delocalised and information more decentralised.
Educational institutions, driven by the demands of society, are increasingly embracing English language learning. Many school systems now require English study starting in primary school, much as they do math or science. University professors are delivering lectures in English to prepare their students better for life after graduation.
Companies both large and small, international and domestic, are mandating English as their corporate language. And individuals, whether jobseekers or ambitious parents, are pouring money into private English training.
"Some Asian countries, in particular Indonesia and Vietnam, have transformed their English proficiency over the six-year period. China has also improved, although less dramatically. Japan and South Korea, despite enormous private investment, have declined slightly," the report said.
In another report on "Doing Business in English", EF Education First noted that an increasing number of companies have recognised the long-term advantages to productivity and growth that adopting English as a common company language can have. Nokia, SAP, Samsung, Aventis and Renault have already mandated English as the corporate language.
Joining its peers in 2010 was Rakuten, Japan's first and largest online marketplace. The primary challenges were to make sure the new policy was implemented uniformly, to motivate employees to raise their level of English quickly without undermining their self-confidence and to minimise productivity losses during the period when many employees' English was still limited.
"It is clear to many business leaders that English is increasingly a key component of their competitiveness. Many companies, both large and small, are taking the logical next step by asking their employees to use and improve their English every day in the workplace."
This year's EF EPI Index country rankings are based on tests taken by 750,000 adults from 60 countries last year. The analysis of evolving English proficiency over a six-year period (2007-12 inclusive) uses test data from nearly five million adults.
Other key findings include the fact that seven European countries, excluding France, that show the strongest English are all small European nations, whose size compels them to adopt an international outlook. The Middle East and North Africa are the weakest regions in English.