Singaporeans and Malaysians are among the most proficient English speakers in the region, a global study has found.
On its eight edition, this year’s EF English Proficiency Index (EPI) took into account 1.3 million adults who are non-native English speakers, across 88 countries and regions.
Singapore was ranked third internationally, making it the first Asian nation to break into the top three spots, behind Sweden and Netherlands. Last year, it was ranked fifth out of 80 countries.
Malaysia ranked 22nd internationally. It was ranked 13th out of 80 countries in last year’s index.
Among Asian countries, Singapore topped the chart while Malaysia was placed third, behind the Philippines.
The study attributed Singapore and Malaysia’s high scores to their “English learning initiatives” – namely Singapore’s Speak Good English Movement launched by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2000, and Malaysia’s Professional Up-skilling of English Language Teachers (Pro-ELT), funded by the Malaysian Ministry of Education.
Through workshops, seminars, contests and programs throughout the year, Singapore’s Speak Good English Movement encourages citizens to speak and write using Standard English, rather than the local Singlish dialect.
Since 2012, Malaysia’s Pro-ELT project has also developed the English and teaching skills of over 15,000 Malaysian primary and secondary school teachers across all 13 states.
The EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test, the world’s first free standardised English test.
The study also found that globally, adults in their 20s speak the best English.
For the first time, adults aged 26 to 30 outperformed those aged 21 to 25 worldwide, the organisation said.
However, when it came to school students, the youngest cohort outstripped the other age groups in countries where English has been introduced or prioritised.
But where economic incentives to learn English are strong, professionals invest time and money in improving their English and eventually become more proficient than students.
In countries where everyone speaks English equally well or equally poorly, with little difference between age groups, there have often been no major changes in the English learning landscape for decades, the study said.