Education First (EF) has released its 2022 English Proficiency Index revealing that nine out of the top ten countries with very high proficiency in English are European. The report investigates how and where English proficiency is developing around the world. To create the 2022 edition of the EF English Proficiency Index, the organization analyzed the results of 2.1 million adults who took our EF SET English tests in 2021.
Some of the main findings include that girls leave school with less English than boys, but women catch up. Over the past decade, EF has documented steadily rising English proficiency among men while women’s skills have remained stable. For the first time last year, men outpaced women globally. This year, that gap has widened as men’s English proficiency improved and women’s declined slightly. Men now have higher scores than women in every region of the world and in two-thirds of the countries surveyed, although in some cases those gaps are small.
These trends appear to be driven by biased education systems or unequal access to education. The gender gap is widest in the 18- 20 cohort and only slightly narrower among those under 26, but once people reach the workplace, the gap disappears. Among adults over 30, there is no gender gap.
Since 2015, when EF began collecting age data, English proficiency has risen significantly among all cohorts over 25 with the largest improvement in adults over 40. This is in part a mechanical increase: those who were 24 in 2015 are now over 30, bringing their English skills with them. That explains less than half the progress among older adults. The rest comes down to actual learning through increased exposure to English, practice in the workplace, motivation to improve and adult education programs.
English proficiency among those aged 21-25 has not changed since 2015, and for the youngest cohort, proficiency is declining. Their skill loss since the start of the pandemic is particularly striking, with a drop of nearly 50 points over 2 years, the equivalent of an entire proficiency band. Successful language acquisition requires at least as much practice as instructional time. Remote classrooms, social distancing, masks that impede communication and a lack of travel opportunities have hit this cohort particularly hard.
Capital cities and other metropolises have higher average levels of English proficiency than the country as a whole in almost every case; however, it is relatively rare for a country’s top performing city to be its capital, and many cities do not appear to drain English speakers from their surrounding regions. Of the 500 cities included in this year’s index, 130 do not outscore their region and another 130 barely do. This finding is relevant for companies considering where to recruit talent at a reasonable cost, particularly given the massive shift towards remote and semi- remote working arrangements.
According to the report, English proficiency in Europe continues to rise at an average rate of 6 points per year, making it the most improved region since 2011 despite starting from a relatively high base. This year’s increase was driven by large Low and Moderate proficiency countries such as Italy, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. The rate of improvement within the EU was slower. Regional averages are population weighted.
1. Gender gap
The skill gap between men and women widened slightly this year in Europe, although both groups’ English proficiency improved. In 12 countries, the gap is significant (over 20 points), and men outscored women in all but 6 countries. A few large countries (France, Italy, Russia and Ukraine) have almost no gender gap.
2. Generation gap
Adults are the drivers of rising English proficiency in Europe, undermining the commonly held belief that people learn most of their English in school. Since 2015, young graduates in Europe have had stable scores, while every other age group has improved significantly.
3. Europe’s EF EPI ranking
- Czech Republic