Only 31 out of 112 countries appearing on the Education First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) achieved a score Very High or High in 2021, even though English is widely considered the most widespread world language or lingua franca following in the footsteps of Latin. According to the annual reference publication Ethnologue, English has approximately 1.4 billion first and second language speakers around the world against Chinese's 1.1 billion. As our chart shows, test takers from just two Asian countries show English proficiency levels above Moderate.
One of those countries, the nation-state of Singapore, actually scored fourth place overall in this year's rating with an index score of 635, while Malaysian language test takers on average showed High proficiency. The European countries of the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark placed first, second and third overall, respectively. On the African continent, South Africa showed the highest English proficiency with a score of 606, while Argentina took first place in Latin America with 556 and Lebanon ranked highest among Middle Eastern countries with 536.
To achieve a score of Very High, test takers are required to use nuanced language in social situations, read advanced texts and negotiate a contract with an English native speaker. Moderate marks require an understanding of song lyrics, the ability to participate in meetings about one's area of expertise and write professional emails on familiar subjects, while a proficiency of Very Low encompasses personal introduction, understanding of simple signs and giving basic directions to foreign visitors. Overall, 86 of the 112 countries included achieved Low proficiency or higher in 2021.
The EF EPI is published annually by the Swedish company Signum International and collects test results of millions of adults across the world. While the data is comprehensive, its results are not completely representative, since only test takers interested in speaking or learning English are taken into account and only online tests are considered, excluding regions without internet access.