What began as an idealistic forum to promote peace has evolved into the most tightly integrated political and economic union in the world, enabled by a shared language.
Europe has the highest English proficiency of any region by a wide margin – even more so if only EU and Schengen Area countries are included in the regional average. This success reflects decades of effort by national education ministries and the EU itself to promote multilingualism. Fast and easy communication strengthens ties between Europeans, as does student exchange, travel, and transnational work. Even as growing nationalism challenges the EU project, the opposing forces of European cohesion appear robust.
On the same page The countries with the highest English proficiency in Europe are clustered in Scandinavia. School systems in these countries employ several key strategies, including an early focus on communication skills, daily exposure to English both in and outside the classroom, and career-specific language instruction in the final years of study, whether that is vocational school or university. The EU’s robust data-collection and informationsharing network has been helpful in spreading best practices between member countries.
Corporate and government-funded adult training programs are common across Europe as well, but these English courses are often too short and too low-intensity to be effective. European countries would be able to raise English proficiency even further, especially among older demographics, by instituting adult training that is certified externally and normalized against credentialing systems to ensure its quality and portability between jobs.
Proficiency: Very high
EF EPI score: 652.00
Proficiency: Very high
EF EPI score: 616.00
EF EPI score: 559.00
Of the Eurozone’s four largest economies, only Germany speaks English well. France, Spain, and Italy lag behind nearly every other member state – a finding that has been consistent across previous editions of the EF EPI. Of the three, only France has made consistent gains over the past three years. According to a recent government report, at the age of 15, only a quarter of French children are able to string together a few sentences in “more or less correct” English. Another round of education reforms was announced last year.
The gap in English proficiency is particularly concerning because both Italy and Spain suffer from high rates of unemployment, particularly among the young, and could desperately use the new economic opportunities that faster, smoother communications with the rest of Europe would bring.
English skills continue to lag in countries on the margins of the European continent. English proficiency in Turkey has declined in the past five years, although recovering somewhat this year, as the country’s dreams of joining the EU have faded and other priorities have emerged. English instruction in schools focuses on grammar and translation rather than practical communication skills, with much of the content delivered in Turkish. Hundreds of elite high schools with a portion of the instruction delivered in English have been closed across the country for political reasons. As in the Gulf States, Turkish graduates often need a year of intensive English preparatory courses before entering university because their level of English is too low for the degree they plan to pursue.