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Asia

EF EPI Average: 55,94 Average Population: 3623364939 GNI per capita: $ 11036

Proficiency:

  • Very High
  • High
  • Moderate
  • Low
  • Very Low
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Asia EF EPI Average: 55,94

Proficiency:

  • Very High
  • High
  • Moderate
  • Low
  • Very Low
Learn More

ECONOMIC FORCES DRIVE ENGLISH LEARNING IN ASIA

There is a clear divide in Asia between countries previously under the influence of the British Empire, where English has long played an important role in daily communication, and countries where English is used primarily as a foreign language for communication with outsiders.

In the first group of countries, English is both a class marker and an institutional standard. In the second group of countries, policies and attitudes towards English are in flux as the language’s role evolves.

HISTORICAL TIES TO ENGLISH

Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Singapore all have historical relationships with English. Due to this history, English is often used as one of the languages of government, as a language of instruction in schools, and as a means of daily communication in some social spheres. As is the case everywhere else in Asia, these countries also use English for business and tourism. All of these countries have complicated relationships with English, however, as accent and dialect often play a central role in personal, social, and national identity.

As one might expect, English proficiency tends to be higher in countries with historical ties to the language than in other parts of Asia. Singapore has the strongest English proficiency in Asia, with an increase of nearly two and a half points since last year. This puts the country squarely in the Very High Proficiency band, up six places in the rankings.

ENGLISH FOR INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS

In Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, English is used extensively for trade, international business, manufacturing, and it is increasingly used in the academic world. Though some of these countries start teaching English in primary school, English is not commonly used in everyday life. Private English classes are common in these countries, as it is widely believed that public schools do not teach English well enough for formal usage in academic and professional settings.

In many Asian countries, scores on English exams play a role in university entrance, graduation, and employment. For example, China’s university English exams have a disproportionate impact on the job market, with companies setting cutoff scores to filter applicants even when English proficiency is not essential for the position. The role of these exams is subject to heated debate, with some concerned about the growing prominence of English in relation to the local language.

CHINA AS A GLOBAL LEADER

Expanding China’s participation in global trade, President Xi Jinping recently pledged 40 billion USD to fund infrastructure projects in 65 countries. The One Belt, One Road initiative aims to promote economic integration across Africa, Asia, and Europe.

As China positions itself as a global economic power, English proficiency will be key to its international development. An English-speaking workforce attracts foreign business at home and enables local companies to expand globally. In 2015, foreign direct investment in China reached a record high, and Chinese firms spent a record amount on foreign acquisitions – an amount that is on track to more than double in 2016. A number of Chinese companies have also established major global presences. For instance, Alibaba is now the world's largest retailer, and Huawei provides services in more than 140 countries.

China

Proficiency: Low
EF EPI Score: 50,94
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ENGLISH AND GLOBAL TOURISM

In Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, tourism and hospitality have helped define the role of English. In these countries, international tourism is a significant portion of the economy, and it requires a workforce with English proficiency to remain competitive. New forms of specialized and high-end tourism also require local English-speaking professionals, such as doctors and nurses. These economic incentives are driving Southeast Asian initiatives to reform English instruction in schools, better train English teachers, and open access to continuing education for adults.

ASIAN STUDENTS STUDY ABROAD

The lure of studying abroad also increases the importance of English in East Asia. The number of mainland Chinese university students abroad, primarily in English-speaking countries, has risen each year for the past decade. In 2015, more than 520,000 Chinese students left China to study abroad, and 97% are self-funded. This trend is leading to an influx of foreign-educated students to the local workforce, raising the standard for English proficiency among job seekers.

The number of Japanese students abroad has declined over the past few years. In response, the Tobitate! Ryugaku Japan program aims to double the number of Japanese students enrolled in overseas university degree programs by 2020.

Japan has dropped from Moderate Proficiency to Low Proficiency in this year’s index, which highlights the country’s struggle to implement sustainable English education programs.

GENDER GAP

The average scores of Asian women and men are slightly above global averages, with Asian women outscoring Asian men by nearly two points.

GENERATION GAP

Scores for all age groups in Asia align closely with global averages. The youngest cohort has the best English proficiency in Asia, and skill levels decline with each older age group. This trend, in line with global results, suggests that instructional methods are improving, and we can expect to see better adult English proficiency in the years to come.

  • Average

CONCLUSION

With the addition of Laos, Macau, and the Philippines to the index for the first time this year, a clearer picture is emerging of the wide-ranging role that English plays in Asia. Every country in Asia, no matter how skilled, would benefit economically from higher English proficiency across a broader swath of the workforce. In order to achieve that goal, however, these countries must learn from one another, measure their efforts, and adjust their strategies according to what has been proven to work.

READ ABOUT OTHER REGIONS

Europe

Europe’s English proficiency remains far higher than that of other regions, with Northern and Central Europe leading the world.

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Latin America

Overall, English proficiency in Latin America is low, and there is substantial room for improvement.

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Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East and North Africa has the lowest level of English proficiency in the world, and the overall level of proficiency is improving in only a few countries.

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