Europe speaks English
Europe is remarkably strong in English. All 11 of the top scoring countries in the main index are European. In addition, all Schengen Area countries— European countries which do not impose border controls on each other—have moderate to very high proficiency. The European Union has an explicit goal of multilingualism for all its citizens. This affirmation of a culture of multilingualism is a powerful force driving changes in public school curricula, corporate culture, and European Union policies. European adults are increasingly called upon to interact with colleagues and partners outside their countries of origin. English is the most common language of communication in these settings, and young professionals have the best levels of English across most of Europe.
Language of politicians and students
Adults in northern Europe speak English well, and this common cultural trait is visible in everyday life. Imported television programs are rarely dubbed. Politicians make speeches before international bodies in English. University students often work directly from source texts published in the United States or Britain and write their final theses in English. A culture of English proficiency, once in place, reinforces English learning among children. They learn to see mastery of this tool as an essential part of growing up.
Central Europe increasingly speaks English
The countries of central Europe make up the second bloc of high proficiency nations. Despite the legacy of the U.S.S.R. and its imposition of Russian as a foreign language in some parts of central Europe, today’s adults have learned to speak English. Their proficiency is all the more striking considering that Poland and the Czech Republic spend significantly less on education as a portion of GDP than many other European countries.
Strength despite austerity
Despite the relatively strong English skills in Europe, there is still significant room for improvement. In today’s strained economic climate, moderate proficiency countries must continue with proposed education reforms in English instruction in order to raise their proficiency levels to those of their neighbors. Education spending across Europe does not correlate well with English proficiency. This suggests that current funding, if spent effectively, should be sufficient for all countries to attain high or very high proficiency. Well-developed networks for sharing information about education systems between European countries can give weaker countries information on best practices which they can use to implement cost-effective reforms. In particular France and Italy, both large and sophisticated economies, can do better. Our data indicates that the level of English instruction in France and Italy is below European standards, rendering adults in these countries less able to participate in European and global marketplaces. In these challenging economic times, an under-skilled workforce is the last thing either country needs.