Study finds France has lowest level of English proficiency in Europe

by Ray Clancy on November 17, 2014

Among European Union countries the French have the lowest level of English proficiency out of all nationalities, a new report by an international language training company has found.

A study by the firm Education First looked at levels of English proficiency in 63 countries and France ranked 29th overall, the lowest out of all EU nations. With a score of just 52.68, France even ranked below Indonesia.

There is significant interest in the French property market, poll shows

France has the lowest levels of English proficiency in Europe according to a report by Education First

The only European nations with lower levels of English were Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Denmark had the top level of English with a proficiency of 69.3, followed by Holland with 68.98 and Sweden with 67.80. Overall, European adult English proficiency still remained strong, with 19 European countries appearing in the top 22 in this year’s index.

Many countries, including Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, have made proficiency gains, but in France, little has changed — likely due to the country having poor quality English teachers.

Indeed, the report says there have only been ‘limited’ education reforms for language teaching in France and as a result, only children whose parents are able to afford trips abroad, tutoring and private schools are able to achieve a high degree of English proficiency.

It also blamed France for being too protective of its own language. ‘Improving the country’s English skills is not a subject of national debate. If anything, public debate is aroused only when it is proposed that English take on a small measure of official importance,’ the report says.

Overall, the index report explains that Northern Europe, parts of Central Europe and Argentina have high proficiency workforces and most of these are countries where English has traditionally been strong  such as Scandinavia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Argentina. However, Poland presents an interesting case of a country that transitioned to high English proficiency more recently.

Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic and Uruguay have moderate proficiency. In Germany, English is taught to all students in schools, but most media is dubbed. Spain has promoted English language teaching in schools, but too recently to have affected most of the adult population. The Czech Republic, like Poland, has become more open, and English is now taught in schools.

Most emerging markets, plus France and Italy, have low proficiency workforces. In lower proficiency countries, English is typically taught as, at best, a secondary academic subject in schools. The quality of teaching is often poor and reliant on outdated methods.

The report also points out that it is not just big, multi-national companies that need a workforce with high levels of English. ‘In a globalised economy, small companies are also increasingly finding that their best opportunities for expansion also lie internationally. Small companies really need to think globally from the outset, and insufficient English proficiency may be a key barrier to success. It will make it more difficult for them to act as suppliers for foreign multinationals entering their home market and also to penetrate export markets,’ it concludes.

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