Promoting foreign language education is at the core of the European Union’s multilingualism policy, which aims to facilitate movement within Europe and protect the rich linguistic diversity of the continent.
As a result, English proficiency in Europe is the strongest in the world, with European countries occupying nine of the top 10 positions in the index this year. However, our results show significant regional differences in English proficiency. These disparities are tied to differences in national education systems and language education policies, as well as the prevalence of English in everyday life.
The Very High Proficiency band once again features the Netherlands and four Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden). These five countries have occupied the top five slots in five of six editions of the EF EPI, proving themselves to be world leaders in English language education.
English proficiency is largely ensured by the public education systems in these countries, which have included English as a compulsory subject throughout primary and secondary school for four decades or more. The foreign language teaching policies in these countries focus on communication rather than on the mastery of grammar.
However, schooling alone cannot explain the consistently strong proficiency levels in Northern Europe. Daily life in the region is characterized by constant exposure to English through non-dubbed English-language media, particularly on television. This level of exposure expands vocabulary and increases comprehension and production abilities, even among young children not yet studying English formally.
There is still room for improvement, however, even in these countries with high English proficiency. Recent reforms have tackled the problem of inadequate command of academic and formal written English among Scandinavian students, which, in the long run, limits study abroad opportunities and dampens economic competitiveness.
Several Central European countries have experienced small but steady improvements in English proficiency over the past decade. Countries such as Belgium, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland have made huge efforts to implement national teaching standards and curricula aimed at increasing the quality of foreign language instruction. These countries' positive results can be attributed to policies that require students to study more than one foreign language, with English as a required foreign language in the curriculum.
Countries with more than one official language, such as Belgium and Switzerland, have managed to include a high level of English instruction in their students’ education alongside their national languages, demonstrating that it is possible for students to master multiple foreign languages.
Although public expenditure on education remains low in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Serbia compared to other countries in Europe, all three countries boast a remarkable level of English proficiency. In these countries, there is a widespread acceptance that foreign language skills are essential for international integration, coupled with education systems that emphasize the importance of English and other foreign languages in knowledge-based economies.
Every country in Asia, no matter how skilled, would benefit economically from higher English proficiency across a broader swath of the workforce.
Overall, English proficiency in Latin America is low, and there is substantial room for improvement.
The Middle East and North Africa has the lowest level of English proficiency in the world, and the overall level of proficiency is improving in only a few countries.