The 2018 English Proficiency Index (EPI), an online survey conducted by Education First (EF) Ltd., was released on November 7. The result indicated that Tainan made an impressive progress leaping from the bottom to 3rd in the ranking among Taiwan’s six special municipalities, behind only Taipei and New Taipei City. According to the survey, Tainan had a score higher than that of Taiwan and was categorized as Moderate in the proficiency band. In light of its outstanding performance, the Tainan City Government was awarded “The Most Improved Prize” by EF. The 2018 EF EPI included 80 non-native English countries around the world, surveying the English proficiency levels of those aged 18 or older.
As far as Taiwan’s overall performance for 2018 is concerned, the nation’s ranking is eight notches lower than 2017, falling from 40th to 48th with a decrease of 0.16 point, said EF. This year Taiwan ranks 10th in the Asia region, while Singapore ranks 3rd worldwide, which is the first Asian country that enters the top-three bracket of EF EPI. The top two countries in the ranking are Sweden and the Netherlands.
In this year’s survey, Taiwan had an EF EPI score of 51.88, lagging behind both the region average of 53.49 and the world average of 53.34, and was evaluated as “Low Proficiency”. Despite the country’s less than satisfactory performance, however, Tainan, where English is being promoted as the second official language, has progressed significantly by nearly 2 points. Its score is 2.28 points higher than Taiwan’s region average. What’s more, in the City Scores parts of the index, Tainan has also made into the Moderate band along with Taipei and New Taipei City.
The Tainan City Government was pleased about the result but still held reservations about it. It believes that promoting the general public’s English proficiency requires consistent efforts and investment of time, and that “the greatest achievement lies in arousing enthusiasm in every citizen about learning English.” The survey matches the result of the TOEIC Bridge Test that English proficiency of Tainan’s citizens is above the national average, implying that most citizens are equipped with fundamental international communication skills. The city government has achieved initial success in promoting English as the second official language.
As the Office of English as the Second Language (OEASOL) pointed out, the EPI ranking was based on the test data drawn from the EF online listening and reading test, which was taken spontaneously by the subjects. It is suggested that Tainan’s outstanding performance is partly due to the citizens’ growing recognition of the EASOL policy, or was made possible by their self-motivation to improve English proficiency, which drove them to take the test spontaneously.
OEASOL further pointed out that the English proficiency gap between urban and rural areas is obvious in Taiwan. Take Taipei and New Taipei City, where the adult residents demonstrate a higher level of English proficiency than other cities. The fact that both areas have a younger employee population with a better command of English, abundance of learning resources, and a large population of foreigners, which creates demand and motivation for citizens to learn and use English, is the major factor that contributes to this phenomenon. Yet Tainan’s experience shows that with proper guidance and incentives, the government can effectively inspire citizens to learn English spontaneously. This is particularly crucial for rural areas, where easy access to learning resources and methods are needed in order to close the gap between city and countryside. The ultimate objective of the EASOL policy is “to make every citizen able to speak a little English,” said OEASOL.