The Netherlands still has the world’s best non-native English speakers, according to the just released the Seventh Annual Edition of the English Proficiency Index (EPI) by EF Education First. This year’s EF EPI results were announced at a reception in London.
“Given the vast sums that parents, governments, and companies invest in English training, the EF EPI serves as a valuable resource for sparking a discussion on the best ways to improve a country’s English level,” said Minh N. Tran, EF Senior director of research. “In today’s global economy, the advantages of learning English transcend borders.”
The EF EPI 2017 ranks 80 countries and territories based on data from more than one million adults who took the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), the world’s first free standardized English test. The EF SET provides language learners access to a high-quality, standardized English test. The EF SET has been used worldwide by thousands of schools, companies, and governments, where large-scale testing was previously cost prohibitive.
Highlights of the EF EPI 2017 include the following:
—For the first time, Africa is included in the EF EPI as a distinct region with nine African countries represented. The region has the largest gender gap, with African women outperforming men and scoring above the global average.
—Europe leads the world in English proficiency, with eight European countries in the top 10. The Middle East occupies the lowest ranks.
—Asia has the world’s second best proficiency, but the largest gap between individual country scores.
—Colombia, Guatemala, and Panama all improved enough to break out of the Very Low Proficiency band. Despite significant spending on education within Latin America, the region still performs below global averages.
—Worldwide, women speak English better than men, although the gap is narrower for some world regions than in previous editions of the EF EPI.
—English proficiency is linked to economic competitiveness, social development, and innovation. Countries with higher English proficiency tend to have higher average incomes, better quality of life, and greater investment in research and development.
—The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools (EF EPI-s), a companion report to the EF EPI, was also released today. The EF EPI-s examines the acquisition of English skills by secondary and tertiary students from 26 countries. The full EF EPI 2017 ranking is below.
Last Year’s Top 10
- The Netherlands
Note: EF Education First is an international education company that specializes in language training, educational travel, academic degree programs, and cultural exchange. The company was founded in 1965 by Bertil Hult in the Swedish university town of Lund. The company is privately held by the Hult family. EF has approximately 43,500 staff and 500 offices and schools located in more than 50 countries. The EF EPI and EF EPI-s reports and country fact sheets are available for download at www.ef.com/epi.
Why is The Netherlands Number One?
We wanted to know why the Dutch speak English, including American English, with its slang and arcane idioms, so well. For an answer to this question that would have meaning for tour and travel industry professionals, we turned to Arjan Helle, owner of Target Travel Marketing, a DMC based a little more than 15 miles south of downtown Amsterdam who has worked with the U.S. travel market for nearly 30 years. An insightful and witty observer of the American scene (he serves DMOs in both the U.S. South and the Mountain West), he reveals both qualities in his answer, which follows.
“The main reason I always give when explaining to non-Dutch people as to ‘why’ we speak our foreign languages so well is that The Netherlands is a tiny country and Dutch—not to be confused by Deutsch, which is the language they speak in Germany (!)—is only ‘officially’ being spoken by some 30 million people around the world (South Africa, Belgium, Dutch Antilles and Surinam).
“You could say the same from Belgium, indeed, but the Dutch have been ‘traveling’ the world many centuries as traders with many foreign countries. As it was ‘our’ choice to visit these countries and Dutch is a very hard (and irregular) language to learn The Dutch decided to ‘adapt’ to their trade partner languages.
“Okay, that’s a bit of history which, at least, accounts for some ‘reference’ towards the present: In addition to the Dutch being very hospitable and respectful to other cultures (you might call it ‘liberal’) it is true that particularly over the past 30 years most Dutch kids pick up English (in particular) from television and computer games as well as pop music, as most popular songs are English.
In addition, English is being taught at school starting at the age of 9 (or 10). Some secondary schools are bi-lingual these days and at college and university level some courses are completely lectured in English.
“Of course this is helping to make the Dutch feel at ease while traveling (in general and) to English-speaking countries in particular. I was recently helping an American friend traveling to France, suggesting to her that she take the train from Paris to Amsterdam when she mentioned that she was afraid the French wouldn’t understand her when buying a train ticket or having other questions. That for sure is a concern that hardly ever occurs to a Dutch person!
“In my capacity as CEO of Target Travel Marketing, a DMC, I always explain to my clients that there is no need to have their website translated in Dutch. However: 90 percent of keywords used by potential travelers from The Netherlands searching the internet are Dutch! This makes it very important for U.S. destinations to at least have some Dutch landing pages on their website which are “high quality & SEO optimized” (Yes … sorry, I’m ‘pitching’ a little bit here:-).
“Your question about the ‘slang’ / American English can best be explained by the influence of television: my kids picked up their (American-)English from popular series like ‘Friends’ and were able to ‘talk-along’ with Ross, Phoebe and the others flawlessly. Indeed, No single television program is ‘dubbed’. They are subtitled/translated though.
“I have one question for you: How come so many Americans, even those working in the travel industry, believe that Amsterdam is the capital of Denmark (or the other way around)? Or think that Dutch is the language they speak in Germany? Or confuse the Netherlands with Sweden?
“I know that the fact that the official Dutch CVB is using ‘Holland’ as our countries name doesn’t help (Holland is like Dakota: they’re both a province/state and there is in both cases a ‘North’ and ‘South’ Holland/Dakota being part of The Netherlands/the U.S.). Anyway, that might be an item for another time! In the meanwhile, the people from the Netherlands (including those from North & South Holland) keep traveling very consistently (as for the past 25 years) and, although the arrival figures were hardly showing an increase over the first five months, there is no double-digit percentage decline like in the UK and Germany. The Dutch seem to be ’spreading out’ much more over all states (although NY/FLA/CAL are still attracting 70 percent of all Dutch visitors) there is an increasing interest in ‘other destinations’ within the US of A!”
For the record: The U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), in its last monthly report on inbound arrivals, said that year-on-year, for the first five months of 2017, visitation from The Netherlands was up 6.1 percent. Netherlands, with a population of 17 million, is the second smallest country in the NTTO list of Top 15 Overseas Source Markets for inbound travel to the U.S. It ranks No. 14. The smallest country, in population, is No. 15 Sweden, with just under 10 million people. Also, Sweden is No. 2 on the EF English Language Proficiency Index.