Nov 13, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

English is the “de facto language of communication for all types of international exchange,” declares a just-released report from Education First (EF). It follows that countries with high levels of English proficiency have the inside edge in the global marketplace.

Which begs the question: which countries without English as their dominant language shine when it comes to the English language, and why does it matter so much? There’s no better time than International Education Week to take a closer look at the 2018 EF English Proficiency Index.

Leading the Pack

Sweden came out on top when it comes to English proficiency with a 70.72 score. The Netherlands and Singapore took second and third place, respectively, with scores of 70.31 and 68.63. Also falling into the 'Very High Proficiency' category were Norway (68.38), Denmark (67.34), South Africa (66.52), Luxembourg (66.33), Finland (65.86), Slovenia (64.84), Germany (63.74), Belgium (63.52), and Austria (63.13).

Meanwhile, 15 countries had scores ranging between 62.45 and 57.58, earning a 'High Proficiency' rating. These include Poland, Philippines, Switzerland, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary, Malaysia, Greece, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Argentina.

The English Imperative

The EF English Proficiency Index also included many key findings, including that English proficiency is trending upward, with Africa making the biggest improvements, and that societies where English is spoken are “more open, less hierarchical, and fairer to women.”

In fact, the date indicates women speak English better than men -- at least in part because they are “more motivated, use a wider variety of strategies to retain new information, and are more willing to make mistakes.”

Additionally, adults in their 20s speak the best English, while managers outpace both executives and staff in terms of English proficiency across a breadth and depth of industries and countries.

One last area where English matters? Innovation. The report explains, “A brilliant idea is just as brilliant whether it is explained in Arabic, Swahili, English, or any other language. But, unfortunately, far fewer people will be exposed to it if it is not expressed in English.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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