Turkey saw the largest improvement in language ability while Sweden has the highest English proficiency score and Iraq the lowest.
“As students become more proficient, they are more able to go abroad”
The research revealed broader economic gains linked to learning English as countries maintaining a higher English proficiency score had larger gross national income per capita.
English proficiency reflecting economic development is most identifiable in Turkey- the nation that has improved the most over the last six years following the country’s average economic growth of 5.5% every year since 2002.
The index also reveals improvement across the emerging BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China– with India and Russia moving ahead, ranked 21st and 31st out of 60 respectively.
Russia’s growth has been largely due to the country hosting a series of sporting events including the FIFA world cup in 2018 as well as local and national governments pushing the country’s English skills as part of globalising its universities.
China – the number one source of overseas students in 2011 is fast improving its English proficiency overtaking France as the result of its 50,000 English language schools, and the national government pouring billions of US dollars into developing the country’s English skills as well local governments setting goals for civil servants to master 300 to 1000 English phrases by 2015.
“We saw again that consistently there are strong correlations between English proficiency and economic indicators of growth, such as GNI per capita, exports per capita, and the Human Development Index,” co-author Minh Ngan Tran told The PIE News.
EF identified Kazakhstan as a rising star after coming a close second to Turkey for the largest gain in English language skills on a national scale– a figure only set to increase after its government made learning English as a foreign language mandatory from the very first year of primary, this academic year. Government targets state that 20% of the population will speak English by 2020.
“They’ve recognised the importance of English for their country’s competitiveness, so they’re putting money into these programs for students and professionals,” said Minh Ngan Tran.
English language skills are improving in BRIC countries.
Speaking of the how proficiency affects student mobility Tran added “as students become more proficient, they are more able to go abroad. We also see that where student mobility goes up, proficiency goes up – such as Brazil.”
However Brazil, the second highest ranked Latin American country behind Costa Rica, is still striving to match its English proficiency to its booming economy. Ranked 38th, 80% of its middle class does not speak any foreign languages.
A significant proportion of other Latin American countries are also shown to have less than average English language skills. Mexico is ranked 40th and needs to train an additional 85,000 English teachers in order to teach all its 12 million primary school students English.
Countries showing the reverse trend include Japan –ranked 26th – where the national proficiency levels have not improved in the last six years and the number of students studying abroad has also dropped.
This year’s country rankings are based on tests taken by 750,000 adults from 60 countries in 2012. The analysis of evolving English proficiency over a six-year period (2007 to 2012 inclusive) uses test data from nearly five million adults.