The Dutch have the World’s best non-native English proficiency

The Dutch have the World’s best non-native English proficiency

According to the EF English Proficiency Index by Education First, the Netherlands has once again managed to claim the top spot, having the world’s most proficient non-native English skills. Whilst this may be the second year in a row that the Netherlands has been top dog, they have also been in the top three since 2011.

EF English Proficiency Index

This is the seventh year that the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) has published its results, and this year the Index is based on the data of over one million responses to the three online EF Standard English Tests (EF SET) in 2016. The study included 80 countries and territories, and the adults taking part had a median age of 26, with only 1 percent of adults over 60 years of age.

The EF SET tests assessed the English reading and listening skills of those taking the tests. The scores on the tests classified users according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). In order to calculate each country’s proficiency score, individual test scores were normalised to find the percentage of correct scores, and then averaged across all three tests, which were weighted equally.

Countries were grouped into proficiency bands based on their scores. Very high proficiency corresponded with a CEFR B2 level, whilst very low proficiency equated to an A2 level. Everything in between was placed in the B1 proficiency band.

Those taking the tests tended to be people who were interested in going on to study language, therefore there is a bias in the results. However, despite this bias, a balanced number of males and females took part in the study and a wide range of ages was evaluated.

The Netherlands on top

The Netherlands scored 71,45, thus placing itself in the very high proficiency band and taking the global top spot. In the Netherlands, some regions performed better than others. The region with the highest English proficiency score was Utrecht, followed by North-Holland. Gelderland and Overrijssel score the lowest as a region, but still relatively high compared to other countries.

As expected, the city with the best English proficiency is Utrecht scoring 72,70, followed by Amsterdam with 72,17. Eindhoven scores the lowest in the Netherlands with 70,14.

The EF EPI report also looked at proficiency in gender. Males in the Netherlands had a greater score, namely 72,84, compared to females who averaged 70,77. Still, both scored much higher than the global averages of 52,97 for males and 53,81 for females.

A reason for the Netherlands’ high score could be the inclusion of the English language as a compulsory subject at Dutch primary and secondary schools, the abundance of English courses available and the focus on communication in these classes. Also, in the Netherlands, many English television programmes are watched without being dubbed.

The top 10

Although the Dutch claimed first place, other countries such as Sweden and Denmark, were not far behind. This year, eight countries scored very high proficiency, with the only countries outside of Europe being Singapore and South Africa. According to the study, Iraq and Laos scored the lowest in terms of English proficiency.

The top 10:

  1. The Netherlands
  2. Sweden
  3. Denmark
  4. Norway
  5. Singapore
  6. Finland
  7. Luxembourg
  8. South Africa
  9. Germany
  10. Austria

For more figures see the EF EPI website

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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GeorgeBucklandLtd 13:50 | 16 November 2017

This is very interesting, English and Dutch are very closely related languages (1) and and perhaps this is one of the reasons why Netherlands is top of the table. (1)