Predictably European countries still dominate the highest positions in the index but Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand have all made some of the most rapid gains in the world thanks to increased efforts by governments in each country to improve English levels.
The EF EPI data calculates
a country’s average adult English skill level using data from two different EF English tests completed by hundreds of thousands
of adults every year. Only countries with a minimum of 400 test takers were included in the index.
Top scorer Denmark reached 69.3 on the index while the country with the lowest proficiency, Iraq, scored just 38.02.
The report’s co-author Minh Ngan Tran told The PIE News that China is improving overall and he regards the ability of a mainland Chinese city to beat Hong Kong as a very positive indicator for the future despite Hong Kong (52.50) edging past China (50.15) in terms of overall averages.
“The growing middle class in China recognises the growing importance of English as China’s economy internationalises”
“The growing middle class in China recognises the growing importance of English as China’s economy internationalises, and therefore it has invested heavily in private English training,” said Tran.
“Also Chinese companies that are looking to operate abroad or attract foreign capital are expecting higher English proficiency levels from their applicants, and some have started providing English courses to their existing employees,” he added.
Similarly, Tran said Southest Asian countries, including Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, have made English language learning a national priority.
“The Vietnamese government for example plans to spend US$450m between 2008 and 2020 on language learning, and 85% of that budget has been dedicated to teacher training,” he said.
The “rising star” of this year’s rankings according to EF is Argentina, which set a record as the first Latin American country to break into the “High Proficiency” band. The report suggests that the strong results are owed to the highly qualified English teachers in the country, who have usually at least five years’ of training.
Click on the map to see an enlarged version of the proficiency ban breakdown
Elsewhere, the BRIC countries appear to be stalling after years of constantly climbing the rankings, which could be a result of big populations making it difficult to sustain large improvements year after year Tran said.
North African and Middle Eastern adults once again are in the lowest global English proficiency band. Tran attributed the MENA region’s poor performance partly to the structure of its labour market where the public sector employs as much as 50% of the workforce.
“A huge public sector with guaranteed lifetime employment and higher wages than the private sector distorts incentives both for students and employees,” he argued.
One exception is the UAE that has managed to climb from 36th place to 32nd, and stands out in the region as the most improved country. The report credits the UAE’s climb to its two recent waves of education reform, improved teacher training and mandatory English lessons in all primary schools.
The global survey of 750,000 adults across 63 countries also revealed that English proficiency among adults is rising, although this increase is far from uniform in all countries, and women speak better English than men worldwide and in nearly every country surveyed.