The annual EF English Proficiency Index has ranked 113 countries and regions for English Skills in their latest report, and Cambodia was ranked #98, regarded as having a low proficiency. As a global business language, English is highly valuable but other languages such as French and Chinese are also used in the country.
The English proficiency assessments from the EF English Proficiency Index and the TOEFL test have ranked Cambodia relatively low compared to other countries in the Asian region, with the country coming in at 20 of 23 in Asia at the start of 2024.
The index report does suggest the Kingdom of Cambodia has improved its overall English proficiency over the past decade but it has also dropped 13 places since 2022, and unsurprisingly, Phnom Penh is ranked as having the best level within the Southeast Asian nation.
Cambodian Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Hang Chuon Naron, has previously stated that learning and mastering English is important to the development of excellence in Cambodia and achieving its educational goals.
The ranking over the previous five years for Cambodia on the index is indicated below:
- 2019 – #94
- 2020 – #84
- 2021 – #97
- 2022 – #95
- 2023 – #98
English is available as a subject in Cambodian public schools, and the most popular language used at international schools, and there has been an increasing emphasis on English language education in recent years.
The Royal Cambodian Government has also implemented various initiatives to promote English language learning, and there are numerous language schools and institutes that offer English courses throughout the country.
In urban areas and among younger generations, English proficiency tends to be higher in Cambodia and many have informally learned through online platforms such as YouTube and from watching and listening to Western movies and music.
Cambodians with access to better education and those who have more regular exposure to English in sectors such as media, technology, and tourism generally will also have better English language skills.
Some Interesting Global Takeaways – English Language Proficiency Trends
Although the report covers global proficiency, if we turn the focus to this region and SEA, the report adds; “South and Southeast Asia have seen a slight drop in their level of English on average, although many countries in the region have stable or modestly rising scores.”
- The youngest age group assessed (18-20) has declining English proficiency – this is partly blamed on the disruption caused by the pandemic on education.
- English proficiency is rising in the workforce.
- The gender divide is increasing – While men’s English proficiency has improved in the region, for women, the levels have declined slightly.
Highest Levels Of English Proficiency
To compile the 2023 edition of the Swiss-based EF English Proficiency Index, the results of 2.2 million adults were assessed with a particular emphasis on proficiency trends around the world. Most were between the ages of 18-60, and 55 per cent were female, with 45 per cent being male.
The top ten nations globally are:
- South Africa
In Asia, Singapore ranked the highest (and ranked second globally), while the Philippines, Malaysia, and Hong Kong were categorised as having a “high proficiency”.
Asian cities with a high proficiency are:
- Kuala Lumpur
For more information on Cambodia, you can see the Index scorecard.
What Are The Challenges To Improving Cambodian English Language Skills?
Some of the core challenges lie in the education sector and the means to afford English private language lessons and the perception of the language in state-offered education. These challenges include:
- Many English teachers are not properly trained or sufficiently qualified, according to some reports.
- There is still demand for properly qualified English teachers throughout the education system in the Kingdom.
- Cambodian students typically do not begin English language studies until 4th grade.
- The language has also been viewed as non-essential to senior high school students passing the national exam, known as Bac II. At the start of 2023, the Bac II scoring system awarded English a maximum of 25 points to the total grade, while Practical Science (75) and Mathematics (125) were much higher.
From January 2024, Cambodia is set to make a widespread transfer of educational functions to local administrations as per a new sub-decree announced in 2023, which will impact “early childhood learning, primary schooling and informal academic programmes.”
Benefits Of The English Language To Cambodian Students
According to the EF Index, more efficient workforces generally exhibit better English proficiency and English has emerged as a global business language. Speaking English allows individuals the potential to study abroad, work for global companies, and engage with people outside their usual social bubble.
Between 2011 and 2021, the number of English speakers rose from 1.05 billion to 1.3 billion, and by the start of 2024, there are an estimated 1.4 billion native and non-native English speakers globally.
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