Why Are Some Countries Languishing in Learning English?

English is the global language for trade, business, education and daily life across different cultures and countries. It is an essential language for any one human being to learn in order to excel in life. Many countries around the world have poured millions of dollars into investing in their people’s education of the language yet some countries are still languishing in their development and progress.

When we take a look at certain countries way down the list, their low ranking doesn’t correspond with their overall wealth compared to other countries which are far poorer but who possess better English skills. If we take a look at the English Proficiency Index whose last report came out in 2018 we can see some large disparities between a country’s overall wealth and their citizens English ability. This is particularly prominent in South East and Far East countries where the GDP of certain countries and it’s investment in English is high yet English skills are poor.

Notable obvious results include:

  • Philippines: English Proficiency: 14th – GDP: 39th ($108 Billion) (Star of the show)
  • Vietnam : English Proficiency: 41st – GDP: 46th ($264 Billion) (Star of the show)
  • Taiwan: English Proficiency: 47th – GDP: 24th ($620 Billion)
  • China: English Proficiency: 48th – GDP: 2nd ($15 Trillion)
  • Japan: English Proficiency: 49th – GDP: 3rd ($5 Trillion)
  • Thailand: English Proficiency: 64th – GDP: 26th ($520 Billion)

The Philippines is a shining example of a poorer country who excels at English. They are ranked 14th in the English tables even ahead of countries such as Switzerland, Portugal, Span, Italy and France yet their GDP is none existent compared to everyone else. Why are Filipino’s so good at English?

Some may tell you it’s purely due to the American occupations of the country between 1898 and 1946 but that’s too much of a simplistic argument. One key answer lies in the country’s attitude towards English once the Americans left. The Filipino’s decided to keep the American English education structure that was left behind and keep investing in English at school. Furthermore than that though a cultural attitude has been ever prevalent there. Signs everywhere throughout the Philippines are written in English as much as their own language plus American TV channels and programs are watched everywhere. In order to learn and keep English standards high Filipino’s decided English needs to be part of their daily lives rather than just another subject to learn in school.

This means beyond pure money spent their attitude to the adoption of the world’s number one language has been impressive. This article written at the Huffington Post describes in more detail about the Filipino’s success with English.

Vietnam is also another good example of a country making progress with their people’s English ability. While they are no way near the Philipines their English proficiency is atleast better than their GDP ranking and is measured at moderate. Having lived and worked in the field of English education there I have no doubt they will continue to move up the table and improve their English – there is definately an appetite to learn English there.

While countries like Thailand are experiencing alternative solutions to simple education reform with personalities such as Andrew Biggs offering alternative fun English learning solutions countries like Japan who are the worlds 3rd biggest economy for GDP clearly need a cultural and attitude transformation towards developing their English skills. For me the Philippines is a more open country to Western influence, in particular American. While Japan doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly like the Philippines it could open up a little more to English language influences. The same can be said for China and Thailand too.

For me the change needed in such countries cannot come from Governments but instead from private institutions and businesses who have a great opportunity to exploit a clear gap in the market for developing the English skills of customers.

Creating products and services that have a less formal approach to learning a new language like English is definitely the way to go. The previously mentioned Andrew Biggs in Thailand is a prime example of someone who is attempting to do exactly this by providing online cheap solutions for Thai’s with a fun slant. Having English native speakers and teachers setting up alternative schooling solutions in Japan and China online can help those respective countries get a far better grasp on their speaking and listening skills. Until new solutions are provided that help to change the culture and attitude to learning English in these countries they are going to remain embarrassed regarding their proficiency language rankings in the English Proficiency Index.