The sixth annual edition of the EPI, released this week, has found that the Netherlands, with a score of 72.16, is the non-anglophone country most proficient in speaking English.
The Netherlands came in a whole point above second place, Denmark. Last year’s top country, Sweden, fell to third place, with a score of 70.81.
“I think that Singapore just has a very strong education system overall”
The Nordic countries Norway and Finland followed, with these five countries claiming the top five spots for five out of the six editions of the EPI.
However, breaking into the traditionally European-strong block of ‘very high proficiency’ was Singapore, jumping from 12th place last year to sixth, marking the first time an Asian country has entered the top band.
Singapore made a consistent improvement in its English proficiency year after year, according to co-author of the English Proficiency Index, Minh Tran.
“I think that Singapore just has a very strong education system overall, and it has an English environment, unlike most Asians, Singaporeans actually speak to each other in English,” he told The PIE News.
“We see this in Singapore’s performance on other international measures as well, like TOEFL, IELTS, PISA. Singapore just does very well.”
Singapore also sits ahead of Europe’s Luxembourg, Austria, Germany and Poland.
This year’s EF English Proficiency Index is compiled of results from online EF English tests taken by 950,000 adults in 2015.
And there were seven new countries in this year’s edition, including Macau, Serbia and Laos, making a total of 72 countries measured.
Results also reveal a widening gap between the most proficient and the least proficient countries. Iraq, at the bottom of the proficiency index, had a score of 37.65 – a difference of 34.51 points from the Netherlands.
Iraq’s score also fell by 3.04 points from last year, the largest decrease seen in any country. The MENA region overall is still very much behind the world average of 53.1 in English proficiency, with 45.07.
“The [MENA region] is very volatile, that is just the nature of the region,” said Tran. “It’s volatile politically, economically, and also educationally.”
Despite the general decrease among MENA countries, Morocco has bucked the trend and jumped from 52nd place to 44th this year, with a score increase of +2.46 points.
There is an increasing enthusiasm for learning English in the Maghreb region, according to the report, and in Morocco, there are plans to switch the language of the higher education system from French to English.
“French has a negative connotation for many in Morocco because it was the language of the elite during the colonial period,” the report says.
“English, on the other hand, has no historical baggage in Morocco.”
“If you look at the multi-year trend in Latin America, you still see an improvement”
The UAE is the only other country in the MENA region which is not in the lowest proficiency band.
Meanwhile, in Latin America, despite nine of the region’s 14 countries in the index displaying a slight downtrend, Tran said this apparent decrease is not significant.
“What we prefer to look at is the multi-year trend, not the year-to-year up or down,” he said.
“If you look at the multi-year trend in Latin America, you still see an improvement and you see that many countries in the region have national initiatives that focus on language training.”
Argentina, for example, which sits at 19th in the index, has the oldest English language policy in the region, passed in 2006, making it mandatory for all public schools to teach English as a foreign language from grades four to 12.
“[This] makes sense as to why Argentina has the highest level because it was the first country to have a concerted effort to improve English proficiency,” said Tran.
Other countries in the region started similar programmes between 2012 and 2014.
“So we would expect to see an improvement not now but in a few years after those programmes have had a chance to have an effect,” he said.