Sometime in the past several decades, English has become the de-facto language of business, law, medicine and science. While there are still more people in the world who are able to speak Chinese, English seems to have emerged as the more diverse language as it is spoken by more than 10% of the population in well over 60 different countries.
Because of this, a nation’s level of fluency in the English language is one of the key factors in judging their global competitiveness and future performance. Foreign capital goes to places where it is easy to do business, and it is easiest to do business on an international level in English.
Some countries have much more of an advantage than others. For example, if you strike up a conversation with the average person walking the streets of Kuala Lumpur, you will be able to easily converse with them. In a city such as Shanghai, it is far more difficult.
Most governments in Asia realize the important role that the English language plays in global communication and are stuck in the position of having to catch-up with their neighbors.
English courses in Thailand, for example, are mandatory for all schoolchildren and companies throughout the region are training their employees. But major changes will take at least a generation, and those in a good place now will probably stay there in the foreseeable future.
The Philippines is arguably the most successful country in Asia when it comes to teaching English to their citizens. Aside from countries such as Singapore, which has English as an official language, the Philippines has the highest percentage of speakers in Asia at around 56%. This is despite the fact that the it is one of the least developed countries in the region.
Many experts would say that immersion has played a role in the Philippine’s success. Driving down the street in Cebu, one would see “For Sale” advertisements and road signs in only English.
Immersion is, in fact, crucial. Rather than simply treating English as a subject to learn in school and forget shortly after, it is actually used to communicate in countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia. Others may wish to take the examples of these two countries if they want to compete.