Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has directed the Education Ministry to enhance English proficiency among Thais, particularly students, following Thailand’s relatively low rating on the global Education First (EF) English Proficiency Index 2023.
The directive was issued during a weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, according to government spokesperson Chai Wacharonke.
Based on the results of 2.2 million Education First Standardised English Tests administered in 2022, EF ranks 113 nations where English is not the first language. The Netherlands is at the top of the list, with an average score of 647 out of 800, followed by Singapore (631), and Denmark (615) and Norway (614), which switched places at fourth and fifth.
Thailand is placed 101st, trailing seven other ASEAN countries: Singapore, the Philippines (578 – 20th), Malaysia (568 – 25th), Vietnam (505 – 58th), Indonesia (473 – 79th), Myanmar (450 – 90th), and Cambodia (421st). Laos and Brunei were both left off the list. The overall average is 502.
Thailand’s score places it in the “very low English proficiency” category. Thailand’s average score has also not risen since the index’s inception in 2011, with the exception of 2017, when it grew slightly.
Only three provinces in Thailand stand out, with Chiang Mai scoring 464, Bangkok (457) and Phuket (456). They are, however, still below the global average.
Meanwhile, Member of Parliament Mr. Parit Wacharasindhu has proposed measures to improve English proficiency among Thais, including a redesign of the English curriculum, new English teaching methods that emphasize English communication rather than grammar.
Thus raising the standard of English among teachers, redistribution of funding to provincial schools, promoting English language learning after school hours, and more exchange programs for teachers to learn English.
English Speaking Tourists in Thailand
Thailand is becoming an increasingly popular travel destination, not just for tourists, but also for long-term residents due to its affordable and relaxing lifestyle and pleasant temperature. Is English generally spoken enough there to get by without needing to use Thai?
In general, English is not commonly spoken in Thailand, with just about 27% of the population speaking it, and many of them only at a basic level. Fluent English speakers are actually extremely rare in Thailand’s general population, thus relying on English alone in daily life is not a good idea.
Although English is taught in Thai schools, many Thais do not use it frequently enough to become truly fluent or proficient. As a result, while you can get by with the standard tourist “pointing and gestures,” if you want to have a more in-depth discussion about something you want to buy in a store, for example, most Thais will struggle to talk with you in English. You will frequently receive very broken English, if not no English at all.
Having said that, despite the language barrier, many tourists who visit Thailand comment on the general pleasant and friendly demeanor of Thai people, and rarely report feeling uncomfortable conversing with Thai people in shops or elsewhere.
Thai people are usually always happy to assist you in any way they can, and despite the low prevalence of English, an increasing number of British and American expatriates continue to migrate there and enjoy a really lovely lifestyle.
This general figure of roughly 27% English speakers requires clarification in a couple of ways. For starters, it is an average figure for the entire country, but the frequency of English in Thailand varies greatly by location.
Second, this figure merely represents the percentage of Thais who can speak some English; fluency levels vary, and others may just know a few fundamental words. Fluent English speakers can be difficult to find.
English is taught in several middle-class schools, although competency is typically rudimentary, and as previously said, many Thais simply do not get enough practice in their life to become truly proficient. It is not taught in poorer or more rural places, so shopkeepers, for example, would often simply point to prices or type them into a calculator to show you.
According to official statistics, the percentage of Thais who speak English is roughly 27%, or slightly more than a quarter. Expats who live there place this proportion a little lower based on their own personal experiences – the figure of roughly 10-15% of the population comes up frequently.
Many road signs, as well as some hotel name signs, will be in both English and Thai in the built-up regions, making it easier to navigate.
Thai hotel workers will nearly always have basic English skills, as will those at many higher-end restaurants. If you must communicate in English, talk clearly and slowly so that they can understand you.