Countries That Are Most And Least Proficient In English

English is widely spoken across the globe.
English is widely spoken across the globe.

Importance Of The English Language

Of the thousands of languages spoken in the world today, English has become one of the most important. Originally the language of England, it has since spread throughout the world due to the wide reach of the British Empire. Several countries have reported that English is their primary or secondary language. This widespread use has lead to this language becoming the principal method of communication among international businesses, financial institutions, academic research, media outlets, and even the entertainment industry.

The English language is important in bringing the world together. Individuals from different countries, where English is not an official language, may be able to communicate by using this language. Additionally, many important academic works and educational materials are only available in English, particularly information from the field of sciences and engineering. The fact that a significant amount of information may not be available to someone simply because they do not understand the language makes learning English that much more critical.

This article takes a look at which countries, where English is not an official language, have the highest and lowest levels of English proficiency according to the EF English Proficiency Index.

EF English Proficiency Index

The EF English Proficiency Index was created by EF Education First, an educational company, to measure the English communication skills of adults in countries where English is not an official language. This measurement is determined by a free exam that is administered online to individuals who are interested in knowing their level of English. It is considered a survey and not a controlled research project. Researchers have determined that respondents are likely to be young, urban adults and not a proper sample of the total population. Since it was first made available on the internet in 2012, approximately 1.7 million individuals have taken the exam.

For a country to be included in the results list, at least 400 individuals must have taken the exam. Some trends were noted in the calculations: European countries tend to have the highest proficiency levels, Middle Eastern countries tend to have the lowest proficiency levels, higher proficiency levels in countries with higher gross national income per capita and exports per capita, and women tend to have higher levels of English than men.

Countries With The Highest English Proficiency

As previously mentioned, the countries with the highest English proficiency levels are primarily located in Europe. Of the 7 countries with “Very High Proficiency”, Singapore is the only non-European country listed. The top 7 countries for English proficiency (and their scores) are: the Netherlands (72.16), Denmark (71.15), Sweden (70.81), Norway (68.54), Finland (66.61), Singapore (63.52), and Luxembourg (63.20).

In the Netherlands, between 90% and 93% of the population reports having English fluency. This country has a long history using this language, which was motivated by its significant trade and commerce relationship with the United Kingdom. Some researchers believe this percentage is so high because the Dutch language shares similarities with English, making it easier to learn. Additionally, the population is relatively small here and rather than using audio dubbing for television and cinema, the industry relies on subtitles instead. This language is particularly common in the city of Amsterdam, where signs, advertisements, and announcements are published in English. English also plays an important role in the educational system of the Netherlands and is required for graduation. Approximately 100 schools teach a bilingual curriculum and the majority of post-graduate degrees are taught in English only.

Singapore, interestingly, is also considered to have a very high level of English proficiency. The English spoken in this country is referred to as Singapore English. This language has been important in Singapore since 1819, when British colonialists established a trading post here. This country was a British colony until 1965, with English serving as the official language of government, administration, and business. Additionally, English plays an important role in bringing the large variety of cultures living here closer together. The population of Singapore speaks a wide variety of first languages, for example, around 42% of the population is foreign-born and come here speaking several different languages. Additionally, people born in Singapore do not share a first language or one common culture. This diversity makes English an important common denominator for shared communication.

Countries With The Lowest English Proficiency

As previously mentioned, most of the countries with the lowest English proficiency are located in the Middle East. Of the 24 countries with “Very Low Proficiency”, 14 are Middle Eastern. This category also has a number of Latin American and Southeast Asian countries. The bottom 24 countries for English proficiency (and their scores) are: Colombia (48.41), Panama (48.08), Turkey (47.89), Tunisia (47.70), Guatemala (47.64), Kazakhstan (47.42), Egypt (47.32), Thailand (47.21), Azerbaijan (46.90), Sri Lanka (46.58), Qatar (46.57), Venezuela (46.53), Iran (46.38), Jordan (45.85), El Salvador (43.83), Oman (43.44), Kuwait (42.98), Mongolia (42.77), Algeria (41.60), Saudi Arabia (40.91), Cambodia (39.48), Laos (38.45), Libya (37.82), and Iraq (37.65).

Iraq ranks lowest in English proficiency. In this country, Arabic and Kurdish are the official languages. Regional and minority languages include: Syriac-Aramaic, Feyli Lurish, Armenian, Turkish, Turkmen, and Persian. Iraq has a unique history that has not involved extensive trade with Europe or British colonialism. Without these factors, English has not held such an important role in this country. For example, the Ottoman Empire held control of this region during the spread of the British Empire. In fact, Britain held Iraq as a mandate for 15 short years, between 1917 and 1932. Without this outside influence of the English language, the majority of the population has not been exposed and has not needed to learn English in order to be successful. Interestingly, English is considered the primary foreign language in this country.

Among the least proficient in English is El Salvador, a Central American country. This country was a Spanish colony from 1525 until 1821, when the Spanish language was used for government, business, and religious purposes. Today, its official language continues to be Spanish. Like many other countries on the “Very Low Proficiency” list, El Salvador does not have a significant history with the British Empire. Because of this, English has never held an important role in its society. Indigenous languages, such as Nawat and Maya, continue to be used today by a small percentage of the population.

Countries That Are Most And Least Proficient In English

2016 RankCountry2016 Score2016 Band
1 Netherlands72.16Very High Proficiency
2 Denmark71.15Very High Proficiency
3 Sweden70.81Very High Proficiency
4 Norway68.54Very High Proficiency
5 Finland66.61Very High Proficiency
6 Singapore63.52Very High Proficiency
7 Luxembourg63.20Very High Proficiency
8 Austria62.13High Proficiency
9 Germany61.58High Proficiency
10 Poland61.49High Proficiency
11 Belgium60.90High Proficiency
12 Malaysia60.70High Proficiency
13 Philippines60.33High Proficiency
14 Switzerland60.17High Proficiency
15 Portugal59.68High Proficiency
16 Czech Republic59.09High Proficiency
17 Serbia59.07High Proficiency
18 Hungary58.72High Proficiency
19 Argentina58.40High Proficiency
20 Romania58.14High Proficiency
21 Slovakia57.34Moderate Proficiency
22 India57.30Moderate Proficiency
23 Dominican Republic57.24Moderate Proficiency
24 Bulgaria56.79Moderate Proficiency
25 Spain56.66Moderate Proficiency
26 Bosnia and Herzegovina56.17Moderate Proficiency
27 South Korea54.87Moderate Proficiency
28 Italy54.63Moderate Proficiency
29 France54.33Moderate Proficiency
30 Hong Kong54.29Moderate Proficiency
31 Vietnam54.06Moderate Proficiency
32 Indonesia52.94Moderate Proficiency
33 Taiwan52.82Moderate Proficiency
34 Russia52.32Low Proficiency
35 Japan51.69Low Proficiency
36 Uruguay51.63Low Proficiency
37 Macau51.36Low Proficiency
38 Costa Rica51.35Low Proficiency
39 China50.94Low Proficiency
40 Brazil50.66Low Proficiency
41 Ukraine50.62Low Proficiency
42 Chile50.10Low Proficiency
43 Mexico49.88Low Proficiency
44 Morocco49.86Low Proficiency
45 Peru49.83Low Proficiency
46 United Arab Emirates49.81Low Proficiency
47 Ecuador49.13Low Proficiency
48 Pakistan48.78Low Proficiency
49 Colombia48.41Very Low Proficiency
50 Panama48.08Very Low Proficiency
51 Turkey47.89Very Low Proficiency
52 Tunisia47.70Very Low Proficiency
53 Guatemala47.64Very Low Proficiency
54 Kazakhstan47.42Very Low Proficiency
55 Egypt47.32Very Low Proficiency
56 Thailand47.21Very Low Proficiency
57 Azerbaijan46.90Very Low Proficiency
58 Sri Lanka46.58Very Low Proficiency
59 Qatar46.57Very Low Proficiency
60 Venezuela46.53Very Low Proficiency
61 Iran46.38Very Low Proficiency
62 Jordan45.85Very Low Proficiency
63 El Salvador43.83Very Low Proficiency
64 Oman43.44Very Low Proficiency
65 Kuwait42.98Very Low Proficiency
66 Mongolia42.77Very Low Proficiency
67 Algeria41.60Very Low Proficiency
68 Saudi Arabia40.91Very Low Proficiency
69 Cambodia39.48Very Low Proficiency
70 Laos38.45Very Low Proficiency
71 Libya37.82Very Low Proficiency
72 Iraq37.65Very Low Proficiency

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