This week, Minh N. Tran, Director of Research and Academic Partnerships at EF Education First, gives his input on the findings of the recently released fourth edition of the world’s largest ranking of English skills, the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI).

What is the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) and why is it important?

The EF EPI is the world’s largest survey of adult English skills in non-native English-speaking countries. The EF EPI makes it possible for governments and companies to track the development of English proficiency across regions, and allows comparative studies of public education policies, economic competitiveness, and many other language-related issues.

What are the strongest regions in English proficiency?

This year, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden ranked highest in our testing, and European countries have performed well in our previous indexes as well. Europe has a long history of multilingualism, so it’s not a surprise that Europe has the highest English levels in the world. Asia is catching up. Some Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Vietnam, have shown consistent growth thanks to high private and public investments in English learning.

What steps should a nation take if they aim to increase its English proficiency?

The common elements shared by successful countries include providing comprehensive training for English language teachers, using English as a medium of instruction, lowering barriers to study abroad, supporting English learning for adults and so on.

Government entities should define English proficiency as a core competency for graduates at all levels. Official recognition is important for reform, and policies such as the inclusion of English as a required and tested subject for all public schools will motivate individuals, governments, and companies to invest in English learning.

Other policies such as negotiating visa agreements with English-speaking countries, offering free English tests, developing assessment standards that evaluate effective communication, scholarships, standardising credit transfers for university exchange students and setting up official research partnerships all contribute to English proficiency.

The ability to speak English seems to correlate with the quality of life in a country.

This is probably a virtuous cycle, in which improving English skills drive up salaries, which in turn give governments and individuals more money to invest in English training. Based on anecdotal evidence, the relationship also applies on a smaller scale, where improved English skills allow individuals to apply for higher-paying positions and raise their standards of living.

What countries have improved their English proficiency the most since last year? What’s behind this increase?

Argentina, Indonesia, Poland, and the United Arab Emirates are a few of the countries that stand out this year for their above-average gains. All of these countries have focused on improving teaching quality in the past two decades, and these reforms have had a significant impact on adult English proficiency today. For example, Argentina requires its English teachers to complete a five-year graduate programme to teach in public schools. Also, since 2006, with the passage of its National Law of Education, the Argentine government made studying English as a foreign language mandatory for all students studying grades 4-12 in public schools. With stronger teachers and more time devoted to English learning, Argentines have developed the best English skills in Latin America.

The importance of English proficiency going forward

Research suggests that English will remain the preferred language for international business, research, and cultural exchange in the foreseeable future. By 2020, it is predicted that at least one in three people in the world will speak English. With globalisation, the universality of the language will only make English proficiency more important than it already is.

Find out more about the report on

Minh N. Tran is the Director of Research and Academic Partnerships at EF Education First. He works with ministries of education on large-scale partnerships and edits the EF English Proficiency Index research series, the world's most comprehensive survey of English skills.

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