Despite massive efforts to improve the English language skills of its people, Cambodia still lags behind much of the world.
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The annual English Proficiency Index, released this week, ranked the Kingdom 94th out of 100 countries included in the study.
Cambodia was in the ‘very low’ proficiency category together with 29 other countries, mostly from Africa and Central Asia. These include Libya, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Ivory Coast, which comprise the bottom five in the rankings.
The study was funded and carried out by Education First Ltd (EF), an international education company that focuses on language, academics, and cultural experience. To come up with the ranking, it tested 2.3 million adults in 100 countries and 400 cities.
Cambodia’s latest ranking is almost the same as in the past years where it placed close to the bottom globally.
Last year, Cambodia was ranked 85th out of 88 countries surveyed. In 2017, the Kingdom was 77th out of 80.
Factors such as low internet penetration, which the survey pegged at 34 percent; low income (Cambodia is a lower-middle-income country); and average years of schooling (4.80), appear to have contributed to the Kingdom’s dismal ranking.
In Cambodia, most of the fluent English speakers can be found in major cities like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville.
In many remote provinces like Pailin, Steung Treng, and Kratie is hard to find fluent English speakers, making it difficult for foreigners to do simple things like shopping in the market or hailing a ride.
Cambodia is supposed to have improved its ranking over time with the Kingdom being flooded by English language schools and other educational institutions offering English language classes. In Phnom Penh alone there are several hundred international schools.
These schools are often staffed by teachers from the United States and other English-speaking countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
English is also being taught in most public schools around the Kingdom.
Many Cambodians, especially wealthy parents, send their children to expensive international schools to learn English, which is seen as a way to open up better employment opportunities for these kids.
Globally, the Dutch were found to be the best non-native English speakers, followed by Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Singapore, South Africa, Finland, Austria, Luxembourg, and Germany.
In Southeast Asia, Singapore is followed by the Philippines, which ranked 20th globally. The Philippines’ high ranking is not surprising considering that English is one of the two official languages in the former American colony.
Malaysia comes next after the Philippines, followed by Vietnam, and Indonesia. Myanmar is in the 86th spot, which is a surprising finding considering that it is a former British colony. Laos was not included in the study.