Can Thailand Keep Pace with Business English Targets in SE Asia?

Thailand Business English Targets

Thailand, along with nine other countries in the Asian Economic Community, recently made a commitment to adopt English as its common, day-to-day language as part of a larger initiative to improve competitiveness in business. According to a story in the Bangkok Post, Thailand is struggling to keep pace with its neighbors but is taking steps to close the gap.

The AEC is pursuing the English language initiative to lay the basis for greater political and economic unity throughout the region, including free movement of skilled labor in the fields of accounting, engineering, surveying, architecture, nursing, medical and dental services and tourism – all areas that contribute directly to development goals.

Thailand, a country of nearly 70 million, has seen its per-capita GDP triple since 2000, a rate of growth that compares favorably to its neighbors Malaysia and Vietnam. However English language proficiency hasn’t kept pace: Thailand ranks 14th out of 16 countries in Asia and 62nd out of 70 countries worldwide according to recent data. The government is concerned that Thailand may begin to lose out on high-value information work and professional jobs where English fluency is a core skill.

The writer of the story in the Post argues that “everything depends on individuals being willing to learn. The goal for every educator and public official should be to get individuals, whether students or workers, to embrace the challenge of improving their competence in English, and to support them in their efforts to improve.”

This is especially important in a business context. “Businesses should ensure that English proficiency is included in job responsibilities, noted in yearly performance reviews and factored into salary increases and bonus payments,” according to the article. “Businesses should include at least one English-only agenda item at all meetings, and facilitate improvement activities such as talks and presentations in English. Where English competence in the workforce is high, then at least one English-only meeting each day should be considered.”

Currently, the Thai government is putting its emphasis on childhood education and English instruction as part of the standard secondary school curriculum. But that does not address the issue of skills in the professional workforce, where the needs are more specific and different instructional techniques are required for adult learners.

Fortunately, resources are available for organizations in Thailand and elsewhere in the world looking to rapidly upskill their workforce in English. And because business-oriented solutions offer benefits to commercial companies as well as overall benefits to the host countries, these approaches can help government close performance gaps without incurring significant public costs.

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