The About page says:

In this third EF EPI report, we have used test data from the 750,000 adults who took our English tests in 2012 to create the global country rankings, while at the same time analyzing the English proficiency trends that have emerged over the past six years (2007 to 2012), using test data from nearly five million adults.

I have no idea how reliable the data is (and I confess the slickly commercial look of the site puts me off, perhaps unfairly), but for what it’s worth, here are the results. Who knew they spoke better English in Slovenia than in Slovakia? (If, of course, they do.)


  1. I feel EF is deliberately angling for this to be treated as a gauge of different countries’ English levels when it’s really just a gauge of EF students in different countries, which is obviously a very different thing. To cite a particularly glaring example, there’s no way Singapore’s “English proficiency” is lower than Malaysia’s (and most likely some other countries ahead of it on the list)—it’s just that EF’s English instruction is probably not very popular in Singapore (where English is the lingua franca and primary language of instruction) and those who take their classes would have a lower English level than the general population. By contrast, those taking their classes in Malaysia might have a higher level than the general population. Yet their documents consistently speak as if these results accurately reflect the countries as a whole.

  2. I also question the sample base and methods. However, it has raised an interesting question for me. I noticed a glaring absence of UK countries, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. In addition to the percent of the population that meet basic english skill level, I’d be very interested to see the ranking of scores. Do Swedes who know english score better than the Scots or Americans who know english for instance.

  3. Hean-Michel, the test-takers are not necessarily EF students. As I understand it, anyone can take the test for free online.
    But the survey is still being slightly oversold by EF and way oversold by credulous journalists. All this can tell us is “Which country’s participants in a voluntary online English test did better?” It’s a little like those internet polls on the sidebar of a news story: “Do you support Obamacare?” You have to already be online, be reading a newspaper, and have an opinion that you want to register.
    Unfortunately, many reporters are passing EF’s survey on as if it is a rigorous survey of English abilities. It might correlate well with a country’s English skill, or it might not. (The biggest point in its favour is that there are millions of test takers included.) But for example an earlier version of the survey had India’s English ability on par with China’s, which I think struck a lot of close observers (and this distant observer) as distinctly weird if not flat-out crazy wrong.

  4. Anecdotally, I have always felt that Slovenes on average speak much better English than Slovaks. That has been my experience. Not that surprising – Slovakia is a far more isolated country, especially once you head east of Bratislava. However, my experience is also that Slovenes also speak much better English than Poles or Hungarians, on average, and certainly true for anyone over 40 years old. Not sure how those two countries jumped so high. Seeing Austria ranked so high will no doubt be a bitter disappointment to most Austrians, who love nothing better than complaining about the inadequacies of their education system.

  5. But for example an earlier version of the survey had India’s English ability on par with China’s, which I think struck a lot of close observers (and this distant observer) as distinctly weird if not flat-out crazy wrong.
    Which country do you expect has higher English ability? My sense is that, yes, there is a relatively small class of people in India who speak perfect native English, and a very large class of people who know no English at all. In China very few people can speak truly fluent English, but a great many people can manage a conversation with a foreigner, negotiate business deals, and read and understand English texts – and that sort of knowledge is actually more diffused through society – both regionally and on a class level – than it is in India. Just my impression. I doubt this test can make those distinctions.

  6. English in India to my mind is like Hebrew outside (or before) Israel: there are only a handful of L1s, but there are a lot of L2s who learn the language from other L2s. That makes Indian English a stabilized and evolving, though not a native, dialect of English. By contrast, “Chinese English” is just one of the thousands of kinds of foreigners’ English, none of which is stably maintained, having to be constantly re-created by each new generation of English-learners. So while there may be lots of English proficiency in China, it’s individual proficiency.

  7. The other differnece between L2 spekaers in China and India is the influence of English on Indian languages and what that means for an Indian student learning English.

  8. Victor Sonkin says

    I’d expect Slovenia to be miles ahead of Slovakia in English proficiency.

  9. Not that surprising – Slovakia is a far more isolated country, especially once you head east of Bratislava.
    Isolated from what? And what does that have to do with anything?
    If one were to take this survey seriously (which I find hard to do), it would primarily be about the education system. But then again, comparing language skills without comparing how one acquired them is of dubious use.

  10. Heh—I was waiting for bulbul to show up with an armful of umbrage!

  11. marie-lucie says

    I don’t know any other Slovaks, but if the statement is true perhaps bulbul is an exception? a superlearner?

  12. Consider umbrage brought! 🙂
    But don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of defending the reputation of my compatriots when it comes to English skills, my umbrage is directed at the worthlessness of this survey and at the shivers-inducing idea of anybody actually using it to influence, say, public policy. Wouldn’t be the first time…
    I don’t know if my workplace is representative, but it is quite typical in that the average age is pretty low and English is an indispensable skill. And yet there is a great deal of variation, from people who speak excellent idiomatic English to those whose English is barely intelligible to native speakers both in terms of pronunciation and lexical choice. I find that the more time one spent somewhere English-speaking, the more likely is their English to be better. The education plays some role as well, i.e. there are some cities and some types of schools that seem to do a better job of teaching English than others.

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