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How Well Does Your Country Speak English?


Teachers in trainings at the National University of East Timor practice an interactive English game.

Teachers in trainings at the National University of East Timor practice an interactive English game.

For VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

The world’s English continues to improve, says a newly released study.

The report, called the EF English Proficiency Index, is a yearly report card on the English level of adults in 70 countries. Sweden leads the world, while Libya is last. EF, a private education company, produced the report.

The average level of adult English proficiency is up. But not all countries are improving. A few are even getting worse.

Europe

Europe leads the rankings. It is no surprise that Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway take the top four places. These countries have excellent public education systems and native languages that are structurally similar to English.

In almost every country surveyed, women speak much better English than men. But in the northern European countries, the gender gap is very small.

France is the exception in Western Europe. Its English proficiency is much lower than its neighbors. The French take great pride in their national language. The report says France’s poor performance could be due to a “cultural aversion” to English. France ranks below less-developed countries Indonesia, Ukraine, and Peru.

Turkey has the lowest English proficiency in Europe. Its ranking has gone down since 2012. The report says Turkey’s emphasis on grammar and memorization discourages students. But with its young population, it could improve quickly if it took the right education reforms.

Asia

In Asia, China has slipped 10 places since last year. Part of this drop is because the survey added three countries. The other reason is that seven Latin American countries showed more improvement than China.

Minh Tran is EF’s Director of Research and Academic Partnerships. He says China has made great progress over the past 10 years and the overall trend is still positive. But he says China will have to change the way it teaches English if it wants to reach a higher level.

“They’ll need to significantly improve teacher quality and put a strong focus on a communicative approach, right? Because, often in China, students are still learning English to pass a test, and not yet to learn English to communicate. So that is perhaps the next step for China.”

China’s neighbors continue to invest heavily in English education. Singapore, Malaysia, and India have the highest proficiency in the region. As former British colonies, these countries have long histories of using English, especially in higher education.

“English fever” continues in South Korea, where people spend more money on English education than any other place in the world. But South Korea’s average English level is not improving. South Korean public schools “fail to teach English at a high level,” the report says.

Vietnam has improved slightly since last year. Thailand and Cambodia remain at very low proficiency, despite their strong tourism industries.

Latin America

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Latin America has shown slow improvement over the past eight years. Most of the gains are among young people. But the overall adult English level is still low. Argentina is the first and only Latin American country to rank as “high proficiency” on the survey.

The report says teacher quality is a major problem across the region. Young people who can speak English can make far more money in fields outside of teaching.

Brazil has shown some improvement, but it still does not have enough competent English speakers in its workforce, the report says. In preparation for the 2016 Olympics, the government is offering free English lessons to 150,000 tourism professionals.

Last year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the government will invest $690 million USD in English education. Some of the money will be used to train 12,000 teachers and help pay for private English lessons for 40,000 professionals.

Middle East and North Africa

In contrast to the rest of the world, English ability is going down in the Middle East and North Africa. Youth unemployment is high throughout the region, even among college graduates.

The United Arab Emirates, with its large multinational work force, ranks better than its neighbors. However, it still has low proficiency.

Education has suffered because of violence and instability in Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, where English levels are very low.

Syria was not included in the survey.

The Gulf kingdoms of Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia have very low English proficiency despite their wealth.

The survey did not include sub-Saharan African countries.

Methodology

The EF English Proficiency Index is based on the online test scores of 910,000 adults in 70 countries. The results do not reflect the entire population of a country. The report is based on data from people who took an EF online English test in 2014.

How does your English compare? You can take one of the tests used in the survey. It is called the EFSET, and you can take it online for free.

I’m Jill Robbins.

And I’m Jonathan Evans.

How did your country rank on the survey? Do you agree with your country’s ranking? Write to us in the comments section.

Adam Brock wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Jill Robbins and Kathleen Struck were the editors.

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Words in This Story

proficiencyn. the state of being good at doing something

structurallyadv. relating to the way something is built or organized

gender gapn. the difference in opportunities, status, attitudes, etc., between men and women

aversion n. a strong feeling of not liking something

communicative approachn. an approach to language teaching that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of study.

colonyn. an area that is controlled by or belongs to a country and is usually far away from it

competent adj. having the necessary ability or skills : able to do something well or well enough to meet a standard

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