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EF reveals English Proficiency Index at Westminster

EF has announced its annual English Proficiency Index of nations, with the Netherlands coming out on top for the second year in a row. Scandinavian nations dominated the top end of the index, with Sweden, Denmark and Norway immediately following the Netherlands. Finland was pushed out of the top five by Singapore, but held on to sixth.

EF vice president Christopher McCormick spoke at the launch event in the Houses of ParliamentEF vice president Christopher McCormick spoke at the launch event in the Houses of Parliament. Photo: Andrew Parsons / i-Images for EF Education First

Although Saudi Arabia has spent lavishly on international education, it still languishes in 72nd place

EF launched the 2017 index with global events, including a pre-launch event at the Houses of Parliament in London, which was attended by MPs, leaders in the UK ELT sector, and the author Sebastian Faulks, who presented a brief potted history of the English language.

The launch in Westminster aimed to demonstrate “how important English is for the UK, as the country looks to strengthen global relationships,” EF said in a statement.

“Absolutely it starts with teachers”

EF’s vice president Christopher McCormick went further, mentioning Brexit by name, and firmly stating that the UK’s exit from the European Union can be an opportunity, as much as a moment of uncertainty.

“As we head towards Brexit, we know that a relationship with other countries will depend on our ability to communicate across borders.” he told the attentive crowd.

“It’s an opportunity for the UK to champion the English language, as a way to reach across borders, to foster collaboration, and help to change people’s lives,” McCormick added.

Though the EPI revealed new insights into the way English is understood around the world, there were some consistencies in this year’s report too.

For example, women speak better English than men. “Year on year this has been stable, and proven time and time again,” as McCormick commented.

“It speaks volumes to how well Singapore is doing as an education system”

Young people still speak better English than older people, and yes, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries dominated once again.

But the Index has also highlighted changes in the global English learning landscape.

Africa was presented as a distinct region for the first time, with nine nations highlighted. However, with only those nine nations featured EF said African proficiency “remains difficult to gauge”. This is because Nigeria (31) and South Africa (8) both have much larger populations than the other nations included, and therefore their relatively high rankings which EF said could risk “inflating the population-weighted regional average”.

One of the Index and report’s authors Minh Tran, a senior director at EF, told The PIE News that along with the recognition of Africa, the leap Singapore has made to 5th in the rankings was surprising, yet inspiring.

“It speaks volumes to how well Singapore is doing as an education system,” Tran said.

The foundation of this rise has been the development of the education system, according to Tran.

“They teach English the with focus on communication, rather than grammar – more at the conceptual level. Countries have flocked to SIN to learn from their education system,” he said.

When Singapore was first included in the EPI, in the second year (2012), it placed 12th. It has since overtaken most of Europe.

But another nation highlighted by Tran is Saudi Arabia.

He notes that it has spent lavishly on sponsoring international education, especially sending students abroad for ELT and degree-level courses. But Saudi Arabia languishes in 72nd place on the 2017 index.  And Tran argues that this is down to a lack of in-country investment.

“You have to really improve the education system [to improve proficiency],” Tran told The PIE News.  “That means training local teachers,” he added.

“Absolutely it starts with teachers.”


EPI 2017 Top Ten

1 – Netherlands

2 – Sweden

3 – Denmark 

4 – Norway 

5 – Singapore 

6 – Finland 

7 – Luxembourg 

8 – South Africa

9 – Germany

10 – Austria 

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