According to a recent survey by the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), Malaysia has emerged as among the top two Asian countries in English proficiency. Singapore is ranked first, Malaysia second and India third.
The EF EPI survey also placed Malaysia at 14th spot out of 70 countries in English proficiency.
While the index report states that Malaysia’s average adult English proficiency remains in the High Proficiency band this year as it has for all editions of the EF EPI, does it really reflect English proficiency in the country?
When we are greeted at foot-food restaurants in Bahasa Malaysia, it could mean we are placing more emphasis on the national language. Staffers there are more at ease speaking in Bahasa Malaysia.
However, it is a different story if a banker refuses to converse in English when dealing with customers. Worse yet, when lecturers in local colleges or university request to teach an Economic subject in either Chinese or Bahasa Malaysia.
Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA) president, Associate Professor Dr Ganakumaran Subramanian, says it is not known if the methodology used to conduct the survey has yielded accurate survey findings.
“We don’t know how they did the survey, or who their samples were. Whether they were selected samples, voluntary samples or just random samples we don’t know.
“Until we can determine the credibility of the survey, we are unable to agree with the survey,” says Ganakumaran.
He, however, says based on his observations, the standard of English language in the country is deteriorating.
“There are no real efforts carried out to improve the language in schools. The government keeps introducing new syllabus, but is not really addressing the problem.
“On top of that the language element in school is caught in a political tug of war. As long as language is being tied to political agendas, we won’t see it moving anywhere,” he adds.
Guanakumaran also drew comparisons with neighbouring countries such as Vietnam where progress in improving the standard of English language is more noticeable than in Malaysia.
“Countries like these do not have good English proficiency. Although they are not at our level, they are putting in a lot of effort to improve.
“English language development in our country is nowhere near them. Their progression levels are much higher than ours. It is only a matter of time before they overtake us,” he says.
The EF EPI report is an annual ranking of countries based on the average level of English language skills among adults.
Soo Wern Jun