Malaysia has outpaced its neighbour Singapore in English language proficiency, emerging number one among Asian nations. However, despite being the top two in the region, Malaysia is only ranked 12th in the worldwide rankings while Singapore is ranked 13th.

A new report by English First finds steady improvement in English language proficiency across Asia, yet marked variations in proficiency levels across nations. Respondents comprised those people either wanting to learn English or curious about their English skills.

Malaysia and Singapore were the only Asian countries noted for their "high" English proficiency, while India and Hong Kong fell in the "moderate" range of proficiency.

"Asia’s adult English skills are improving steadily, although the rate of improvement varies widely from country to country," said the research.

In Asia, the countries pointed out for their rapid progress in proficiency levels were Indonesia (6th regionally and 28th globally), Thailand (11th regionally and 48th globally) and Vietnam (9th regionally and 33rd globally).

Vietnam was noted for its radical reform, where the government is planning to spend US$450 million between 2008 and 2020 to promote the learning of the language. A majority of this (85%) will be dedicated to teacher training.

Hong Kong, however, was called out for its slipping English proficiency since 2007. Compared to China, it was said to be trailing, with Shanghai having a higher level of English proficiency than Hong Kong for the first time this year. Hong Kong is currently ranked 8th in Asia and 31st globally.

"Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea have not improved over the past seven years despite large investments in English education. This performance gap raises questions about how English teaching differs from the teaching of other subjects."

An interesting finding from the report is the gender gap in overall English proficiency, with women (with a score of 53.53) speaking better English than men (with a score of 50.75).

The top 10 list of Asia rankings is as follows:

1. Malaysia

2. Singapore

3. South Korea

4. India

5. Japan

6. Indonesia

7. Taiwan

8. Hong Kong

9. Vietnam

10. China

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