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Is poor English proficiency holding Thailand back?

FILE PHOTO: Thai students are not learning English proficiently enough for the country to be competitive in attracting international investment.

The government of Thailand has been working hard to make it a world-class destination for not just tourists, but digital nomads and business and technology innovators. But do the people of Thailand speak English well enough to fully attract these business opportunities?

Thailand is ranked second to last among the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is ahead of only Laos, which is ranked dead last out of 111 countries in the EF English Proficiency Index. Singapore is the top-ranked ASEAN member and number two globally. Thailand, however, barely cracked the top 100, ranked 97th.

Experts attribute Thailand’s low level of English proficiency to a combination of factors including overall structural problems in the Thai education system and cultural barriers. The low language proficiency levels can have a domino effect on education and career opportunities down the line. Not only can language barriers directly impact job opportunities, but fluency in English can open up the opportunity for students to study abroad and get access to better education worldwide.

Education in Thailand, like in many other nations around the world, struggles with quality disparities for different socioeconomic levels and social classes. The quality of education available can vary greatly and this problem was only exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

During that time, schools were shuttered and the only option for learning was online classes. Poor families might not have the resources necessary for a student to do online home learning, such as a computer or tablet, or even inappropriate space to set up for school work. Plus, children from more affluent families can afford opportunities to get educated outside of the public school system.

Advocates for improving English language education in the kingdom say that now is the time and call on the government of Thailand to take action, as Thailand Business News reports. As tourism is suddenly recovering in leaps and bounds, travellers are looking at Thailand as the top travel destination. An improvement in the English spoken on the ground will only help tourism flourish and fuel revenue growth.

Tourism accounts for about 15% of the gross domestic product of the country, the Thai government has vigilantly pursued foreign investment in business and technology. The low level of English proficiency decreases Thailand’s attractiveness to international investment opportunities that now facing stiff competition from countries like Indonesia and Vietnam.

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Recent comments:
cowslip
2022-12-07 16:13
No - English eduction is not that bad - it isn't just schools - in fact REAL English language education is focused on Adults and tertiary education. people base their assessment of EL on the wrong criteria - i.e. schools…
SkyDogJack
2022-12-08 01:19
Yes. This goes back to 2016 as an important issue. Cited are the 2016 abstract and a December 2022 article and the last July 2022 article. https://ph01.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/easr/article/view/69658 https://www.thailand-business-news.com/business/94596-low-english-proficiency-in-thailand-could-hinder-the-countrys-development-prospects https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/thailand-education-services For a personal perspective, before my wife and I moved back…
cowslip
2022-12-08 02:30
1 hour ago, SkyDogJack said: Yes. This goes back to 2016 as an important issue. Cited are the 2016 abstract and a December 2022 article and the last July 2022 article. https://ph01.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/easr/article/view/69658 https://www.thailand-business-news.com/business/94596-low-english-proficiency-in-thailand-could-hinder-the-countrys-development-prospects https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/thailand-education-services For a personal perspective, before my…
kalyan
2022-12-09 18:50
yes, of course, thai in general are really scared of english. It is with every country in the world which promotes their own language has this particular deficiency. Given a priority Tourism for Thailand, adaptability comes to top priority. In…
palooka
2022-12-09 19:58
On 12/7/2022 at 9:03 AM, MrStretch said: Seriously doubtful that the Thai government would EVER turn to a farang to help or plan a curriculum. Most likely a Thai who studied American English or even went to the US for…

Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.