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Why the level of English in your country is so important

Why the level of English in your country is so important

English skills matter because they give people access to a wider range of information, a more diverse, international network, and more job opportunities than ever before. They also matter at the national level because they can tell us a lot about a country's level of innovation, competitiveness, and future prospects.

In EF Education First's 2023 English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), we compiled test data from 2.2 million adults and used this data to rank nations according to their English skills.

The following are key findings from this year’s report:

  • The population-weighted worldwide average English proficiency level among adults has not changed since 2011. While the overall level has remained the same, gains in one group are offset by losses in another, as circumstances change and priorities shift

  • English proficiency is rising in the workforce — adults are building proficiency in the workplace, either through sanctioned training schemes or personal development on the side.

  • East Asia’s adult English proficiency has been declining in the past 4 years, and in Japan for an entire decade. That decline accelerated this year with both Japan and China experiencing significant changes.

  • Latin America as a whole saw a larger-than-average erosion in youth English proficiency during the pandemic, from which it has not yet recovered.

  • Despite continuing to dominate the top of the index, Europe is in a bit of a slump this year with several high and very high proficiency countries reporting slightly lower scores.

  • North Africa’s English proficiency has been improving steadily over the past decade, although the pace of improvement has slowed since 2021.

This year’s results also cemented some enlightening correlations between levels of English and greater interconnectivity, increased productivity, and higher levels of innovation.

On an individual level, the following findings also stood out:

  • The gender gap in English proficiency has widened again with men’s improving while women’s experience a slight decline.

  • The youngest age group (18-20) has declining English proficiency, however, this is a case where what looks like a worldwide trend is, in fact, only a trend in a few large countries. In most places, the English proficiency of this cohort has remained stable.

  • For individuals, speaking English opens doors. It can lead to broader access to information, a higher salary, more varied educational opportunities, and greater independence from one’s local labor market.

  • Speaking English allows individuals to engage with people outside their bubble, gaining awareness of their lifestyles and priorities, the injustices they suffer, and their dreams for the future.

Although the findings of the EF EPI do not tell the whole story, they do tell an important one: high English proficiency levels are part and parcel of a future that is prosperous, connected, and healthy.

They also underscore the critical importance of skills that make individuals, companies, and societies more internationally connected and adaptable in the face of ever-accelerating technological change.

As the 2023 EF EPI report points out:

“Language is an essential part of sharing perspectives and building understanding. This is true of all languages, but because English is spoken by people around the world, it's uniquely positioned to draw us closer across borders. More people deserve the opportunity to be part of that conversation.”

For full national rankings and analysis of the relationship between your country’s English skills and its economy, level of innovation, and connectivity, go to www.ef.com/epi.

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