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Thailand English Proficiency Now 13th Worst in World

Kingdom's annual ranking falls 26 points in 2 years, now worst in SE Asia

English Foreign Farang Teachers Classroom Thailand Students School

English proficiency in Thailand is the worst in Southeast Asia, the third-worst in Asia and the country’s world ranking has fallen 26 places in the past two years.

The annual English Proficiency Index by global language-education company EF Education First ranked Thailand 100th out of 112 countries and territories in which English is not the native language.

The Netherlands, Austria and Denmark (636) ranked first globally with Singapore coming in fourth and first in Asia. The Philiipines ranked 18th while Malaysia came in 28th and were both deemed “high proficiency”.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, Thailand is nowhere close to proficient. The index based on assessments of English tests taken among more than 2 million adults in 112 countries and regions found “low proficiency” Vietnam (66) and Indonesia (80) did better than Thailand. So did Myanmar (93) and Cambodia (97).

Thailand was spared the embarrassment of being absolutely last in the class as Laos was not included.

Thailand’s score of 419 points (versus 643 for the Dutch) placed the kingdom the lowest in Southeast Asia and third-lowest among Asian countries.

Most troubling, however, was the severe and continued decline in Thailand’s proficiency ranking. In 2019 the country ranked 74th. In 2020 it was 89th.

How much the impact of online learning foisted upon an unprepared and underprivileged population during the 2020-21 pandemic isn’t known, but most countries also suspended classroom training for much of the coronavirus crisis.

In any case, the ranking points to a serious and worsening crisis in Thai English instruction.

In 2014, the Education Ministry put out new classroom guidelines based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) in hopes of reforming English teaching nationally.

In 2018, the ministry then set boot camps to improve the skills of English teachers in rural areas.

Both efforts appear to have been utter failures.

Some of the blame lies with Thais inflated, even delusional, sense of national superiority. Many parents show little enthusiasm for ensuring their children can read and write English, arguing that Thailand has its own language and culture and doesn’t need the farang tongue.

But the bigger problem is a poorly designed curriculum that hammers away on grammar, reading and writing and gives little time to listening and speaking. Rote memorization of English’s confounding grammar rules and exceptions remains a classroom staple that does little to help youths actually speak and understand.

As a result, kids see English learning as a chore rather than a fun activity that can open up the world to them.

Of course, students can hardly be expected to become proficient if their teachers aren’t. Many teachers listen poorly and speak worse, as they were trained the same way.

There once was a plan to hire 10,000 native English-speaking teachers and require English study five hours a week with bilingual programs introduced in 2,000 public schools.

The military coup and the emphasis on buying submarines and battling the coronavirus put an end to any hopes of those things happening.