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What we stand to learn from the world’s largest English test

What we stand to learn from the world’s largest English test

Each year, the results from the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) are published as a benchmark for measuring, tracking, and ranking adult English proficiency over time in countries the world over. Now in its seventh edition, the 2017 EF EPI tested over one million adults in 80 countries.

The participating countries are ranked based on their performance. This year’s ranking sees the Netherlands in the top spot once again, followed mostly by Nordic countries. In Asia, Singapore has the best English, while in Latin America, that title goes to Argentina. However, full EF EPI report is not just a simple numerical ranking: it uncovers trends, identifies successful English learning initiatives, and even offers suggestions as to how countries and regions can improve. (Click here to find our more about the rankings or to download the full report.)

Based on the data, here are five takeaways that English language teachers can use to inform their practice and classroom methods.

1. Teaching English benefits individuals and entire economies

A higher English proficiency level comes with wide-reaching benefits, affecting not just individuals, but entire countries and regions. The economies of most countries are dependent on international trade and rely on English for supporting global supply chains, operating internationally, and as a tool to ease the process of  doing business internationally. That’s why having stronger English language skills correlates with having a better performing economy. English should be viewed as a necessary shared language required for global transactions in a connected world, and less as a testament to the cultural supremacy of any one country.

2. Exposure to authentic learning materials matters

The best way to increase exposure to a wide variety of authentic resources is access to the Internet and accredited online English training resources. Technology-assisted English instruction has real potential, even if for most learners  it has not yet been fully realized. Unlocking this potential is often—though not always—dependent on reliable Broadband access and an increase in Internet users. Even offline, technology is likely to be a driver of English skill development as it bolsters all types of trade and creates new sectors of exchange. Nigeria implemented a simple SMS-based English vocabulary-building tool called SpellAfrica, which is now one of the fastest-growing education startups in the country and has expanded to offer other English learning services.

3. Sharing ideas in English fuels innovation

In addition to the growing number of English speakers worldwide, the most influential platforms for sharing ideas—from academic journals to TED talks—overwhelmingly use English. As a result, innovation in countries with higher English proficiency is less likely to be contained by language or geographical barriers and more likely to be discovered and shared globally. This propels ideas with more momentum, increasing their integration within the global scientific community, which in turn leads to more innovation. A healthy by-product of this process is an increase in countries collaborating on research. As of 2015, more than half of the scientific papers published in Very High English Proficiency countries like the Netherlands, Singapore, and Sweden, listed at least one international collaborator, compared to less than 30% in lower proficiency countries.

4. An immersive language experience is invaluable

One of the most popular forms of investment in English training is funding study abroad scholarships for university students. These scholarships tend to be less politically controversial than sweeping education reform and are simpler to implement. In Latin America, most programs to improve English proficiency focus on funding either teacher training or student exchange. In 2013, Mexico initiated Project 100,000, a public scholarship fund that plans to send 100,000 students to the United States for intensive short-term language courses by the end of 2018. Study abroad and foreign exchange opportunities can offer an authentic and engaging life-changing language immersion experience.

5. Investing in the local workforce pays off

Strikingly few countries have national initiatives aimed at improving English skills in adults. Hong Kong and Singapore are unique in sponsoring ongoing public awareness campaigns to encourage adults to improve their English. With many strong correlations between a highly proficient workforce and overall economic performance, nations can’t afford to rely only on individuals and companies to invest in their own growth. Funding should increase alongside sensible policies in order to improve on a national level. Specifically, there needs to be continued training and further education for local teachers. Teachers are at the heart of every education system and everyone serves to benefit from ongoing professional support, practical training, adequate facilities and materials, and recognition for doing an important job well.

English is the language of science, business, and diplomacy, and it is as essential to international communication in 2018 as it has ever been. Benefits of learning and teaching English are not simple causal relationships, but more like a virtuous cycle:  as better English facilitates the exchange of ideas, goods and services, more people gain access to international opportunities, which in turn improves English proficiency.

Visit www.ef.com/epi to read more about the EF EPI or download the full report.

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