English skills matter because they are the career currency of the future and a ticket to a global, connected future for the individual. They also matter at the national level because they can tell us a lot about a country’s level of economic competitiveness, innovation and future prospects.
In EF Education First’s 10th English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), we compiled test data from 2.2 million adults from 100 countries and regions and used this data to rank them according to their English skills.
The following are key findings from this year’s report:
- English proficiency is improving overall. The worldwide, population-weighted average remained stable, but 26 countries made significant gains in their scores, while only seven declined significantly.
- Levels in the European Union improved, with France improving for the third consecutive year, while Spain and Italy continue to lag behind.
- Levels in Asia declined slightly, and continued to show high levels of variation between countries. While China has improved continuously, almost half of Asian nations have seen their scores drop this year.
- Levels in Latin America are rising, with 12 out of 19 countries improving their English proficiency scores, partly thanks to significant investment in teacher training.
- Levels in Africa improved in a few countries while declining in others. Overall, variation in English levels between countries on the continent remains high.
- Levels in the Middle East improved slightly thanks to government efforts, although the region has the lowest overall levels compared to other regions.
The results also unearthed enlightening correlations between levels of English and greater connectivity, higher levels of innovation, higher levels of technological adoption and even openness and social and political fairness.
On an individual level, the following findings also stood out:
- Young adults, between the ages of 26-30, speak the best English, with those between 21-25 coming in second. Both reflect the growing prominence of English across a range of situations that young people face, from English instruction in university education to the availability of on-the-job English practice across a range of junior roles and industries.
- Men are catching up to women in terms of average English levels, improving their score from the previous year and surpassing women in Europe and Latin America.
- Managers speak better English than lower-ranking staff or higher-ranking (and often older) executives, highlighting the need to look at English levels across functions in order to improve individual and company prospects in an increasingly competitive world.
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 accelerating technological change.
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.