Students in the UAE have had the highest increase of English proficiency in the world, but their level is still low compared to some other groups, according to new data from an international language testing agency.
Listening, reading, writing and speaking are the areas which are evaluated by the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which assesses the English-language proficiency of university and job applicants.
"Results from 2011 show UAE test takers increased their average scores across all four language skills, which is a credit to the work students are putting into their English studies," said Philip Rylah, director examinations Middle East at the British Council, one of three co-owners of the IELTS.
The test is taken by applicants for admission to universities in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, as well as professionals who are seeking visas to work and live in Australia and Canada.
In 2011, more than 1.7 million tests were sat, according to the organisation.
Out of the 40 countries from which the data was collected, UAE test takers showed the highest increase of English proficiency skills among students who were taking the test for academic reasons.
The average IELTS score in the UAE increased from 5.1 in 2010 to 6.3 last year. All tests are scored on a banded system from 1, the lowest score, to 9, the highest. The biggest improvement was in speaking skills, which increased to an average score of 7, and was the strongest competency among people in UAE taking the test in 2011.
Malaysia and Romania had the highest average scores among non-native English speakers at 6.9. Scores were also high among French and German test takers who achieved 6.8 on average. Saudi Arabia had the lowest average score of 5.1, followed by Kuwait, Libya and Oman, 5.2. The data was taken from test takers who sat the IELTS academic test.
Among test takers sitting the examination for general training purposes, the UAE scored the lowest average score of 4.3. Saudi Arabia scored 4.5. Overall, people whose first language was Arabic had the lowest scores - averaging 5.2 - for academic and general training test takers.
At the other end of the spectrum, test takers in the US and Malaysia had the highest average scores of 8 and 7. Native speakers of English, German and Afrikaans had the highest average scores.
There are 19 IELTS test centres across the UAE.
IELTS test results are requested by more than 7,000 educational institutions, governments and employers around the globe.