Based on the average performance on the online EF Standard English Test (which tests reading and listening) of each country’s test takers, the rankings show that English proficiency is improving all across the world. This is good news for Brexit Britain, says EF.
The Netherlands topped the podium, followed by Sweden and Denmark in second and third place.
Norway held on to fourth position, while Singapore was fifth, pushing Finland into sixth place.
At the bottom of the European ladder, Italy and France fell from 28th and 29th positions to 33rd and 32nd places respectively.
Italy now carries the title of worst English speaker in Europe.
But Europe overall is losing its edge, EF says. It still has the best non-native English speakers, but Asia is closing the gap and Latin America is improving.
This is all the more important to know now that ‘the country looks to strengthen global relationships, particularly in new markets outside Europe’, EF points out.
‘It is no coincidence that EF is launching the EF EPI in the UK now, when Britain is approaching Brexit and seeks to develop new partnerships.
‘English proficiency across the globe is becoming more significant, transcending borders and offering new opportunities,’ said Minh N. Tran, senior director, research and academic partnerships at EF Education First.
The feeling was shared by novelist and journalist Sebastian Faulks, who said at a launch ceremony for the results this week: ‘The English language is our greatest national treasure that we must continue to promote’.
But some argue that the EF EPI results can’t be held as a true picture of a country’s English proficiency.
The rankings included results from 80 countries, but those with less than 400 test takers are excluded.
Since the rankings are based on the results of all the people that took the freely available online test, the sample is self-selecting and can potentially be unrepresentative of the population as a whole. Different countries also have different sample sizes, putting those with a larger sample potentially at a disadvantage.
Others like to point out that the test only assesses receptive skills, excluding writing and speaking.
Surely the Italians would have been able to talk their way up the rankings?