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Malaysians beat Singaporeans at English proficiency tests, but will it last?

Are Malaysians getting better at their English compared to Singaporeans?

Well, one thing’s for sure – Between our two countries, we have the best English in Asia.

According to the English Proficiency Index (EPI) released by Education First in 2013, Malaysia ranked higher than Singapore (albeit only by a miniscule score of 0.07) and was the highest proficiency Asian country on the list. This was an improvement from last year, where Malaysia ranked behind Singapore with a score difference of 0.6.

Currently into its 3rd edition, the 2013 EPI has Malaysia as 11th on a list of 60 countries, with Singapore close behind at 12th place.

EPIRanking
EF English Proficiency Index 2013 – Copyright© EF Education First Limited. All rights reserved

Education First (EF), a global language training company, takes its data from two online tests, which are basically a marketing tool for their online English training courses.

While the company does admit that its report is hardly representative of the general population in each country due to certain biases (participants are self selected and must have access to the internet), the results aren’t trivial either. Over a period of the past 7 years, close to 5 million people have taken the test, and it is currently the largest study assessing English proficiency in the world.

Another interesting note was that Malaysia’s score grew by an impressive 3.45 points compared to EF EPI first edition scores. Comparatively, the scores from countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea either deteriorated or increased only slightly.

EPIMap
EF English Proficiency Index 2013 – Copyright© EF Education First Limited. All rights reserved

Why are Malaysians improving at such a significant rate? Yes, Malaysians have always had one of the best English proficiencies in the region, which the study attributes to the importance of English in our multicultural society. But, so does Singapore, and they don’t seem to be improving as fast as Malaysians are.

One of the conclusions the study made was that not all investments paid off. South Korea was a particular highlight, with tens of millions USD poured into improving English proficiency over the past few years, but with very little return seen so far. South Korea’s EPI score actually decreased by 0.73 despite their efforts. What actually does work, according to the authors in the study, is making English a core communication skill and policies that make English the medium of instruction for other subjects.

It so happens that this increase in Malaysia’s EPI score was at the exact same time that a hotly debated government policy in Malaysian schools, where the medium of instruction for science and math was changed to English (PPSMI), came into full effect. Implemented in 2003 by the previous prime minister Tun Mahathir, every primary and secondary school student was learning these two subjects in English by 2008.

However, in 2009, the policy came under fire by Malay nationalists. In that year, it was deemed to have been a ‘failure’ and abandoned. Starting from 2012, the language of instruction for these subjects will gradually revert to Malay.

So, is there a significant link between this policy and the improvement in proficiency of English in Malaysia? Will Malaysia be able to keep its slight edge? Well I guess we’ll find out in a few years time, when the teaching in Malay policy comes back into full effect.

Who knows, we might have lost to Singapore by then.

Or maybe if Singaporean stops using Singlish that much, they might just overtake Malaysia in the English Proficiency Index.

Also read:  Oxford Dictionaries named ‘Selfie’ 2013 word of the year; even politicians love them!

 

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