Global analysis of English language skills

Survey results confirm English language proficiency across the globe

Over the past decade, EF Education First (EF) has gathered data on the English language skills of millions of adults across the world.

The EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) is published yearly, and the latest edition (Sixth) was released in November 2016.  The Index is an online survey based on data collected from English language tests available for free over the Internet; it is, therefore, not a statistically controlled study.  Participants are likely to be younger and more urban than the population as-a-whole.

While it is not based on a representative sampling model, it can be a useful tool for marketers, negotiators, members of global teams, and HR professionals.

Data for the Sixth Edition was generated from 950,000 test takers in 69 countries and 3 territories.  Some of the general conclusions are:

  • English is a key component of economic competitiveness at both the individual and national levels. Exports per capita, Gross National Income per capita, innovation, and connectivity are all correlated positively with English language proficiency level.
  • Young adults aged 18-25 have the strongest English proficiency worldwide.
  • Women speak better English than men in almost all countries and age groups. This finding has been consistent in all editions of the EF EPI.
  • Europe as-a-whole has the highest level of proficiency worldwide. Northern European countries occupy the top five positions in the latest index. The lowest proficiency levels are found in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • English proficiency levels are evolving at different rates in different countries. In some countries, there are declining English language skills.
  • For the first time, an Asian country – Singapore – is in the highest proficiency band. Malaysia and the Philippines are also in the top countries worldwide.
  • While the decline is small, Latin America is the only region with a drop in average proficiency level.

There are five proficiency bands, and here are the three highest and lowest scoring countries in each band (scores are out of 100):

Very High Proficiency Band

Highest in Band

  • Netherlands (72.16)
  • Denmark (71.15)
  • Sweden (70.81)

Lowest in Band

  • Finland (66.61)
  • Singapore (63.52)
  • Luxembourg (63.20)

High Proficiency

Highest in Band

  • Austria (62.13)
  • Germany (61.58)
  • Poland (61.49)

Lowest in Band

  • Hungary (58.72)
  • Argentina (58.40)
  • Romania (58.14)

Moderate Proficiency

Highest in Band

  • Slovakia (57.34)
  • India (57.30)
  • Dominican Republic (57.24)

Lowest in Band

  • Vietnam (54.06)
  • Indonesia (52.94)
  • Taiwan (52.82)

Low Proficiency

Highest in Band

  • Russia (52.32)
  • Japan (51.69)
  • Uruguay (51.63)

Lowest in Band

  • United Arab Emirates (49.81)
  • Ecuador (49.13)
  • Pakistan (48.78)

Very Low Proficiency

Highest in Band

  • Columbia (48.41)
  • Panama (48.08)
  • Turkey (47.89)

Lowest in Band

  • Laos (38.45)
  • Libya (37.82)
  • Iraq (37.65)

Always remember that low English proficiency does not – in any way – mean your non-native English speaking counterpart(s) is less smart than you.  Be very, very careful about any assumptions you make because of their lower English fluency.  Your assumptions could cost you dearly!

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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