English Proficiency Linked to Quality of Life, Economic Advantage

Danish adults the best non-native English speakers in the world, report finds
November 19, 2014 Updated: November 19, 2014

In some countries and regions, the spread of English is considered a threat to the national language. At the same time, proficiency in English is seen as necessary for countries that want to foster growth and become economically competitive internationally. 

According to a new report, English proficiency is a key indicator of a nation’s economic competitiveness, with strong correlations between English proficiency and income, quality of life, ease of doing business, and international trade. What’s more, these correlations have remained stable over time.

“English is a powerful platform for professional, cultural, and economic exchange,” says Christopher McCormick, senior VP of academic affairs with Education First (EF), an international education company that operates 500 schools and offices across 52 countries.

“The EF EPI has inspired conversations about the importance of language education around the world and continues to do so,” McCormick added, referring to its annual survey, the EF English Proficiency Index. 

The EF EPI for 2014, released last week, found that worldwide, English proficiency among adults is rising, although the increase is far from uniform in all countries.

Its ranking of English proficiency in 63 non-Commonwealth countries showed that adults in Denmark are the best non-native English speakers in the world, followed by those in the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Poland, and Austria. 

The top 10 countries in English proficiency are all European, and Europe’s English proficiency remains far higher than that of other regions, the survey found.

Asia has a wide range of proficiency levels, with three Southeast Asian countries—Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam—showing some of the fastest gains in English ability in the world. 

On the other hand, almost all countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and North Africa have low or very low English proficiency. Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and the United Arab Emirates are the leaders in their regions, with moderate English proficiency.

The report, the fourth of its kind, also revealed a gender gap in English skills. 

“Women speak better English than men worldwide and in nearly every country surveyed. This gender skill gap is significant enough to have an impact in the workplace,” the report reads.

The survey didn’t include Quebec, but according to the 2009 census, the number of English-speaking Quebecers grew by about 5.5 percent due to both immigration and a slowdown in the number Anglophones leaving the province. This was the first increase in 30 years.

In September, EF launched the world’s first free standardized English test (EFSET) to serve the two billion English language learners globally who it says often lack a free, high-quality self-assessment tool. Data from the test results will be used for next year’s EF EPI.

“The EFSET will also be useful to schools, companies, and governments, which to date have found large-scale testing prohibitively expensive,” the organization says.