Executive Summary

In 2018, the English language is as important as it has ever been. It is the de facto language of communication for all types of international exchange – goods, services, and ideas.

For companies, English is a key component of remaining competitive and fostering innovation in an internationalized marketplace. As English becomes necessary for ever more interactions in the globalized world, the value of proficiency in the language grows apparent, and the cost of not speaking English grows steeper.

As a consequence of its popularity, English is more detached than ever from any particular culture. Less than a quarter of the world’s English speakers are “natives,” and that proportion will continue to decline as more people learn English as an additional language. Already, experts estimate that the majority of the world’s population speaks two or more languages.

This report aims to broaden the understanding of how and where English proficiency is developing around the world. In order to create the eighth edition of the EF English Proficiency Index, we’ve analyzed the results of 1.3 million test takers who took our English tests in 2017.

Our key findings are:

ENGLISH PROFICIENCY IMPROVED OVERALL

SOCIETIES THAT SPEAK ENGLISH ARE MORE OPEN, LESS HIERARCHICAL, AND FAIRER TO WOMEN

ENGLISH AND INNOVATION GO HAND IN HAND

WOMEN SPEAK ENGLISH BETTER THAN MEN

ON AVERAGE, ADULTS IN THEIR TWENTIES SPEAK THE BEST ENGLISH

MANAGERS HAVE A BETTER GRASP OF ENGLISH THAN EXECUTIVES OR STAFF

ENGLISH PROFICIENCY VARIES WIDELY BETWEEN INDUSTRIES AND JOB FUNCTIONS

AFRICA SHOWED THE STRONGEST GAINS IN ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

ENGLISH SKILLS ARE STRONGER IN EUROPE THAN IN ANY OTHER REGION, ALTHOUGH NOT UNIFORMLY SO

IN ASIA, ENGLISH PROFICIENCY DID NOT IMPROVE DESPITE HIGH LEVELS OF INVESTMENT IN ENGLISH

LATIN AMERICA IS THE ONLY REGION IN THE WORLD THAT EXPERIENCED A SLIGHT DECLINE IN ENGLISH PROFICIENCY

THE MIDDLE EAST HAS THE WEAKEST ENGLISH PROFICIENCY OF ANY REGION, AND ALSO THE MOST ERRATIC

Conclusions

Learning to speak English can open the door to a better job, offer new opportunities for personal exploration and professional growth, and provide access to the world’s shared knowledge.

For these reasons and more, millions of parents invest in English tutoring, summer study abroad programs, and online English education programs for their children. This is also why millions of professionals make the same investments in their own English education, and governments include English on the core school curriculum.

English is unique in having such a wealth of educational resources outside the boundaries of formal schooling. Other skills – like web programming, accounting, numeracy, and literacy – are also extremely valuable, but they are already provided by public schools, or they are only required for certain types of jobs. English is unique in that it is in high demand for many professions, and yet most students do not master it adequately in school.

It’s not just individuals: companies, cities, regions, and countries stand to benefit from developing English proficiency. English facilitates international collaboration, investment, and mobility. In English-proficient communities, engineers have access to the latest techniques, recruiters can draw from a global talent pool, and mergers take place more smoothly and comprehensively. And if that were not enough, English proficiency is also correlated with key development indicators, including metrics of income, equality, and productivity.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to building a culture of English proficiency, but the regions and countries with the strongest English skills share certain time-tested strategies. In particular, they:

  • officially recognize English as a key skill
  • teach English to all children starting from primary school, using a communicationbased methodology
  • set minimum standards of English proficiency for students and test them to make sure no one falls behind
  • choose not to dub movies and television shows, ensuring regular exposure to English from a young age across the broadest possible swath of the population
  • fund short and long-term study abroad opportunities at the secondary and tertiary level
  • allow universities to teach courses using English as the medium of instruction
  • include English language requirements for all university majors and in all vocational schools
  • include English in the training regimens for all new teachers
  • re-train English teachers in communicative methods and teaching skills
  • set up professional support networks for English teachers to share best practices
  • provide high-quality English language instruction in job centers and unemployment reduction programs
  • lead by example, with politicians, businesspeople, and celebrities coming out in support of English learning

Companies with strong cultures of English proficiency also tend to pursue certain strategies. They:

  • make English the official corporate language
  • foster a culture of internationalism and mobility
  • offer partially or fully funded English training to employees, usually in collaboration with a third-party supplier
  • train employees according to their roles using an appropriate role-specific English curriculum rather than general English training
  • test the entire workforce to identify strategic weaknesses in English skills and focus on improving those first
  • set minimum standards of English proficiency for different roles and test that those standards are met on time
  • prioritize hiring strong English speakers
  • compose diverse teams that include people from many nationalities
  • require that all company documents be written in English
  • encourage executives to lead by example, speaking about their personal experiences as English learners and English speakers

While the exact strategies vary from place to place, the benefits of improved English proficiency are clear. Communities with strong English skills are more competitive and open, and better able to take advantage of opportunities, knowledge, and talent around the world. There is no sign that globalization is slowing, and technology promises to make international communication ever simpler. Now more than ever, English gives people access to the world.

EF EPI Executive Summary