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EF’s EPI: Sweden on top; southern Europe flagging

An English Proficiency Index (EPI) compiled annually by global education company, EF, has revealed that Sweden is now considered to be the best in the world in terms of English Proficiency, usurping Norway to take the title and zooming up from fourth position in the 2011 report. Given EF’s Swedish origins, owner Bertil Hult may well be happy.

EPI 2012a

"English skills are strongly linked with how much exports contribute to an economy"

Meanwhile, southern European countries hit by the eurozone crisis are stagnating at mid-ranking echelons of the table. In the 2012 rankings (produced by canvassing 1.7 million people from 2009-2011), Italy garnered the worst results among countries hit by the eurozone crisis, with Spain and Portugal also languishing, say the report’s authors.

“The poor performance of Italy, Spain and Portugal is worrying because they need to export their way out of their current economic slump”, commented Kate Bell, the report’s author. “EF’s research suggests that English skills are strongly linked with how much exports contribute to an economy.”

Nevertheless, Europe as a region had the strongest English skills. The Middle East, North Africa and Central/South America were all considered to have overall poor levels of English, according to the report. Of the 54 countries surveyed (nationals took free English tests offered by EF), Libya was ranked bottom at no. 54.

EF also surveyed 100,000 professionals who contributed to the data this time, and gathered demographic data about test takers, enabling it to provide more colour to the statistics, produced using fresh data. It acknowledged that there was enormous variation in proficiency within countries. For example: “In some low proficiency countries, professionals are at a high proficiency level.”

Other findings of note: women are, on average, better at English than men, in almost every country, and particularly when assessing English speakers in the Middle East and North Africa, where they scored more than five points above men.

The lower league, from Uruguay to Libya

English ability peaked in the early-30s age group, and those working in travel & tourism, consulting and telecoms were most likely to score well on the EPI.

EF pointed out that strong export-driven economies all speak English, while scientific research without international collaboration and global citations does not embed into the global knowledge economy. In 2011 only 15% of scientific papers published in China cited an international collaborator, compared to over half in Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden.

Women are, on average, better at English than men, in almost every country

“This index shows countries’ ability at a language which is key to international commerce and research”, said Michael Lu, head of global communications at EF. “The index should be a timely wake-up call to countries falling behind their neighbours – because today’s report shows that poor English is linked with less trade, less innovation and lower income.”

There were wide disparities revealed between BRIC countries too; the nations competing to be future economic superpowers. Brazil is ranked only 46th, much lower than China at 36th, Russia at 29th or India – where English is an official language – at 14th.

This year, EF has also produced fact sheets for 11 individual countries, including Brazil, Russia, China as well as France, Germany and Spain.

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