English Proficiency in Asia

Written By: Cudy

20th January 2021

The following are the national English proficiency scores (based on TOEFL scores) in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India and Sri Lanka:

Singapore: 63.8% of Singaporeans can speak English well or very well.

Malaysia: 72.2% of Malaysians can speak English well or very well.

Indonesia: 30.8% of Indonesians can speak English well or very well.

Philippines: 49.8% of Filipinos can speak English well or very well.

India: 30.9% of Indians can speak English well or very well.

Sri Lanka: 40% of Sri Lankans can speak English well or very well.

The following are the national English proficiency scores (based on TOEFL scores) in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India and Sri Lanka:

Singapore

Singapore is a small island city-state located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The population is over 5.3 million people. It is also one of the most expensive cities in Asia and has one of the highest GDP per capita rates in the world. Singapore is a fully bilingual country where English is spoken by over 93% of its residents.

In Singapore, there are four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. Singapore is home to a very diverse population. Chinese being the largest ethnic group at 76.7%, Malays and Indians are 14.3% and 8.9% respectively.

Chinese, Malay, Tamil, and English are all official languages in this country except for the latter which is one of the three working languages along with Malay and Mandarin.

Singapore was formerly known as a “melting pot” of cultures. Hence, it is no surprise that English is widely spoken here. Singaporeans are known for their high standards in education. Thus, it is natural that the majority of them speak English well or very well.

Malaysia

Malaysia is located on the Malay Peninsula with a population of over 30 million people. Making it the third most populated country in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Thailand.

Malaysia has three official languages: Bahasa Malaysia (the national language), English (the official language), and Chinese (the link language). Bahasa Malaysia is the primary language. Also, they frequently speak English among themselves as many of them consider it to be an important part of their identity.

However, people from different ethnicities speak different languages at home including Chinese, Tamil, Malay and other Southeast Asian languages.

The English proficiency of Malaysians is quite high. This is due to the fact that English has been widely used in schools and at work for many years. As a result, many Malaysians are fluent speakers of English.

Many Malaysian companies use English in their business communications as well as their websites and social media accounts.

Indonesia

Indonesia is located in Southeast Asia with a population of over 250 million people. Making it the fourth most populous country in Asia after China, India and Pakistan. Indonesian is the official language in Indonesia. Indonesian also recognizes Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language), English, Dutch (the former colonial language) and French as its four official languages.

The Indonesian constitution declares Bahasa Indonesia as the national language. Similarly, Indonesian recognizes its local dialects such as Javanese, Sundanese, Minangkabau, Balinese etc., from Indonesia’s archipelago.

Many Indonesians are able to speak at least two or even three languages, including their local dialects and Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Melayu (Malay language).

However it is not a surprise that English proficiency among Indonesians is quite low. After all only 0.3% of Indonesians speak English as their first language.

Philippines

The Philippines is an archipelago in Southeast Asia with a population of over 100 million people. Making it the eighth most populous country in Asia after Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, Japan and Vietnam.

Although Filipino is the national language of the Philippines, English is also one of its official languages along with Spanish and Arabic. In the Philippines, they are speaking “Taglish” which refers to a mix of both Filipino and English language words.

The use of Taglish has been increasing steadily for many years. Nowadays Filipino are using to more English-speaking media from abroad or from visits abroad by family members or friends.

In fact, many Filipinos can understand and speak some simple phrases or words while foreign tourists can communicate with them using basic phrases such as “Hello” or “Thank you” etc.

Moreover many Filipinos in tourism-related jobs can understand enough English. The talk English with customers better (e.g. tour guides, hotel receptionists, taxi drivers etc.)

In the Philippines, English is mandatory in all schools from elementary level to high school and in most colleges and universities.

Many Filipinos learn English through a combination of formal education and informal training from their location. They’re also interacting with foreigners through their work or other life circumstances (e.g. by living with or working for a foreigner).

India

India is located in South Asia with a population of over 1.3 billion people making it the second most populous country in the world after China. The Indian Constitution declares Hindi as the national language. While, their regional languages are Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri etc. They use local languages throughout India’s 28 states and 7 union territories.

In addition to its official national languages India also has official state-level languages like Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu etc., More than 10 million people each in different parts of India are speaking these national languages.

Moreover India has many other minority languages coming from local by small communities; however these do not have any legal status at all. Some of these minority languages include Kashmiri, Urdu and English among others.

English is widely used in India in the education system, at work and during interactions with foreigners. Most people in India learn English since they are young as it is a mandatory subject for all schools and colleges. English proficiency among Indians is quite high.

After all it is one of the official languages of India and it is spoken by most Indians at work or during interactions with foreigners. Moreover Indians use English in their business communications, websites and social media accounts.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is located in South Asia with a population of over 20 million people making it the tenth most populous country in Asia after Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar etc.

The Sinhalese are the majority ethnic group while Tamils and Moors are minorities representing around 18% and 5% respectively of Sri Lanka’s population – making them the largest minority groups in this country.

In addition to these three main ethnic groups there are also smaller minority groups like Burghers (Dutch-origin people), Malays etc., living throughout Sri Lanka today.

While Sinhalese, Tamil and Moors are considered as official languages by law other languages spoken by these groups such as Burghers (a Dutch-origin ethnic group), Singhalese, Tamil and Moors are not recognized as official languages.

English is one of the three official languages of Sri Lanka along with Sinhalese and Tamil. Sri Lankans are exposed to English from their childhood through their formal education system and informal interactions with foreigners.

As a result most Sri Lankans can speak English to some extent but not fluently. However they can understand simple phrases or words while foreign tourists can communicate with them using basic phrases such as “Hello” or “Thank you” etc.

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