New Survey Ranks English Proficiency Across the World

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

Voice of America, an organization committed to providing English education for students around the world, released a new study showing that the global grasp of the English language continues to improve.

The study was an overview of English proficiency for 70 different countries that use the language on a regular basis. Overall, the report shows that average adult English proficiency is up, but not all countries are improving.

Europe sits on top overall, with Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway taking the top four spots. This is in part due to the structural similarity between English and their native languages. The only Western European country that appears to be lagging behind in English education is France, a nation that is historically protective of its language and culturally averse to English.

Asian countries have traditionally been some of the world’s greatest proponents of English education, with South Koreans paying more than any other country for English education. However, countries like China have dropped a full 10 rankings since last years survey. This is not due to China slacking on English education. Their English proficiency has continued to grow according to Minh Tran, the Director of Research and Academic Partnerships for the Voice of America report.

It is instead because seven different Latin American countries have surpassed China in the ranking. Nonetheless, Latin American English proficiency is still slow, with most of the gains that allowed them to surpass China occurring only among young people. Argentina is the only Latin American country to hold a ranking of high proficiency according to the study even as countries like Brazil and Colombia continue to improve.

The worst region in the world for English proficiency is the Middle East and North Africa. English ability is dropping in many African countries with few exceptions. Libya has been ranked the lowest overall in the world. Much of this is credited to violence and instability throughout the region preventing quality standards of education from being established, but even stable nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are lagging behind the rest of the world.

For educators considering taking time to teach overseas, considering the state of education in your country of choice will be an important factor in seeking out employment. Whether your goal is to assist in education reform in countries that are lagging behind, or to learn better teaching techniques from successful programs, the Voice of America survey will be an important tool in helping you to assess which country is right for you.