Regional average scores in EG's 2017 English Proficiency Index (EPI).
EF unveils latest international English Proficiency Index

EF Education First has released the findings of its annual English Proficiency Index (EPI), showing the Northern European nations continuing to dominate the rankings and Latin America catching up with Asia.

The 7th EPI ranks 80 countries where English is not the native language based on data from more than one million EF Standard English Test (SET) takers in 2016.  


The Netherlands retained first place in the EF EPI rankings with an average score of 71.45 (from a maximum of 100), followed by Sweden, Denmark and Norway, with Singapore the highest non-European country at fifth.


"Northern Europeans are the best non-native English speakers in the world," said the authors.They cited the requirement to start English in primary school, the use of the communicative approach in learning, widespread university programmes in English and benefits from everyday exposure to English through travel and business as key characteristics for high proficiency countries.


In terms of regions, Europe - with eight of the top ten countries - retained the highest average at 55.96, followed by Asia (53.60). The authors noted that the improving average score in Latin America was now only two points below Asia.


"Countries in Latin America have the narrowest proficiency score range of any region, with just over 10 points separating Argentina, the region's highest-proficiency country, from El Salvador, the lowest," the authors said. Most Latin American nations profiled increased their average scores in the 2017 research.


The countries with the largest increases year on year were Panama (+2.60), Saudi Arabia (+3.07), Singapore (+2.51) and Thailand (+2.57).


A number of key language student recruitment markets were located within the 'low proficiency' and 'very low proficiency' bands on the EPI scale, including China, Japan, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Turkey.


Overall, and within most regions worldwide, the average scores of women test takers were higher than men. "Women in most countries are more educated than men, more likely to complete general-track secondary school rather than vocational-track, and more likely to attend university," the authors said.


The EF EPI findings also show a correlation between youth and English proficiency, with the 18-to-20 cohort achieving the highest average globally at 55.26 and the average scores descending with each jump in age.


EF said that higher levels of English correlates with key economic and social indicators such as economic development, internet connectivity, research and development expenditure and the human development index (HDI).


"It is unlikely that there is a causal relationship between English and any of these indicators; rather, they may be in a virtuous circle. As better English facilitates the exchange of ideas and services, more people gain access to international opportunities, which in turn improves their English proficiency," the authors said.


The report outlined a number of national initiatives to improve levels of English, including using English as a medium of instruction in Panama and Spain; internationalisation of higher education plans in Japan and Russia; study abroad scholarships from Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Brazil; and strategies to improve the skills of teaching staff in Malaysia.


The full results of the 7th EF EPI are available online.


Minh Tran, Senior Director of Research and Academic Partnerships at EF, has written previously for StudyTravel Magazine on the findings, methodologies and lessons of the EPI.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor