green grass field

Which country has the highest level of English proficiency? Which country is the best at learning English? And what lessons can we learn from these high-proficiency countries?

Interactive Transcript!

You Can Now Read and Listen at the Same Time With an Interactive Transcript!

To see this content become a Patreon member and supporter of Thinking in English!

Listen Here!


  • Proficient (adj) – skilled and experienced.
    • Which country is most proficient in English?
  • Rankings (plural n) – A list of items or individuals arranged in order of importance, achievement, or performance.
    • At the top of the rankings are the Netherlands, Singapore, and Scandinavian countries.
  • Index(n) – A systematic arrangement or listing of information, often in a sequential or alphabetical order.
    • The EF English Proficiency Index looks at the most proficient English-speaking countries.
  • To dub (v) – To replace the original audio in a film or television program with a different language.
    • Some countries use subtitles rather than dubbing TV shows into their own language.
  • To immerse(v) – To become deeply involved or engaged in a particular activity or environment.
    • Using English everyday is a great way to immerse yourself in the language.
  • To be exposed (v) – To be subjected to or have experience in a particular situation or environment.
    • If you are exposed to English regularly, it is much easier to learn.
  • Multinational companies (n) – Corporations that operate in multiple countries and have business interests across national borders.
    • Multinational companies tend to use English for communication.
  • Lingua franca (n) – A common language used for communication among speakers of different native languages.
    • Singapore uses English as a lingua franca between its different ethnic groups!

Listeners From Around the World!

I have listeners from all around the world – I think people from nearly 200 different countries and territories have listened to at least 1 Thinking in English episode.

I’m sure many of you are curious about where my podcast is listened to the most. Well, the top 10 listening countries of Thinking in English are… Poland, Italy, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Vietnam, Japan, Colombia, and Germany!

Quite a diverse set of countries, right?

There could be a few reasons why these countries are the ones who listen most to me. The most likely reason is luck – one of my episodes could have been popular in the country, made it on the Spotify rankings, and then other people discovered me.

At a more basic level, these countries, your countries, are likely full of people who want to improve and better their English skills. For many people, learning a language is a lifelong task – from school, to university, to adulthood, it can take decades to reach your desired level.

But some places are better at learning languages than others. Or, perhaps, I should say that some countries are better at teaching languages, in this case English, than other countries.

This is what I want to look at today – Which country has the best average English level (of course, excluding native speaking countries)? And what can we learn from places with high levels of English proficiency.

Do you want to Think in English?

I’m so excited that you found my blog and podcast!! If you don’t want to miss an article or an episode, you can subscribe to my page!

Which Country Has the Highest Level of English Proficiency?

Before we can talk about which country is the best at English, we need a way at measuring this. We need a way of comparing English levels across many different countries.

This is not the easiest thing to do. National exams, whether they be high-school, university, or national proficiency tests, are not the easiest to compare – they ask different questions, test different skills, and are formatted differently.

What we need is an internationally available test, with takers from countries across the world. And this is where the EF English Proficiency Index can be useful!


What is the EF English Proficiency Index?

The EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) is a report published annually by Education First, a global education company that offers language training and educational programs. Their index measures and ranks countries and regions based on their English language proficiency. It aims to provide insights into how English language skills are developing worldwide and how they impact various aspects of society, such as education, employment, trade, and global communication.

To create the ranking, they analyse data from their EF SET English tests, which are online standardized tests used to assess English language proficiency. These tests are taken by millions of adults worldwide, and the data from these tests are used to generate the rankings of which countries have the highest average English level.

These reports help policymakers, educators, businesses, and individuals understand the importance of English language proficiency, highlights areas where improvements are needed and provides valuable information for designing language education programs and policies.

But for us, today, it is going to help us understand which countries are the best at learning English and why!

Of course, there are limitations to the EF English Proficiency Index. The EF SET English tests are voluntary and self-administered, meaning that they cannot be representative of a whole country. They are limited in scope, it doesn’t take into account larger economic factors and context, and the tests are mainly for adults.

Despite these weaknesses, the EF EPI is a valuable tool for understanding English proficiency around the world.  

The Rankings

Ok, so what are the results of the most recent EF English Proficiency rankings? After analysing 2.1 million test results from the previous year, the 2022 results classified 13 countries as being “Very Proficient in English.”

The most proficient country at speaking English in the world is the Netherlands. And we’ll talk more about this later.

Following the Netherlands, in order, are Singapore, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Germany, Croatia, South Africa, and Poland.

With the exception of Singapore and South Africa, the top of the rankings is dominated by European countries. Out of the 31 countries ranked as Very High or High Proficiency, 24 are European.

The highest ranked country in Asia is Singapore, followed by the Philippines at 22 and Malaysia at 24; South Africa is the top performing African nation, with Kenya next at position 20; and Lebanon is the highest ranked Middle Eastern country at position 54.

We can also look at cities in the EF Index. Amsterdam is the city with highest English proficiency , followed by Copenhagen, Stockholm, Zagreb, Helsinki, and Oslo.  

You may also be surprised by some countries at the lower end of the scale. Japan is a low proficiency country down at position 80, Mexico is very low proficiency at positon 88, and Saudi Arabia is ranked down at position 102 out 111.

Now we know the results of the index, what can we learn from this? Well, I want to look at a few of the best performing countries and discuss what makes them so successful at English teaching and learning.


The Netherlands is the number one ranked country in the EF English Proficiency Ranking. Amsterdam, a Dutch city, is the most proficient city in the world. And the Netherlands have been at the top of EFs index multiple times since the ranking started.

By some estimates, up to 93% of Dutch people claim to be able to have a conversation in English and over 50% use English as a second language.

In fact, the level of English proficiency in the Netherlands is often regarded as better than that of the US – while 90% of Dutch people can have a conversation in English, the same is definitely not true in the USA.

Why is the Netherlands so proficient?

The first factor is a linguistic one – English and Dutch are closely related. In fact, Dutch is closest related major language to English (after Scots and Frisian).

Dutch and English are both Germanic languages with similarities in vocabulary and grammar. You may remember in the episode I recorded on How Long Does it Takes to Learn English that your native language definitely impacts your ability to learn and speak English – the fact Dutch and English are so close is a big help.

But this can’t explain everything – especially with large amount of Latin vocabulary in English which doesn’t appear in Dutch.

English is a key part of the Netherland’s school system. It is taught from a young age, often the first years of elementary school until the final years of high school.

Moreover, Dutch higher education uses English extensively. Many major and top-rated universities, like the University of Amsterdam. teach many classes and courses in English (sometimes exclusively in English). If you want to study at these universities, a high level of English is almost always required.

Even if the university course is taught in Dutch, students in the Netherlands are often required or encouraged to use English language academic papers and media for research purposes – meaning that most university graduates in the Netherlands are quite proficient in English.

Unlike other countries, the Netherlands doesn’t dub TV shows and movies into English. In countries like Spain, France, or Japan (where I’m currently living), many English shows are shown on TV with the audio dubbed over.

TV in the Netherlands, however, simply subtitles shows. This means the Dutch people, from a very early age, are constantly exposed to and listening to English. English and American culture also tends to be popular in the Netherlands.

Alongside education and media, business is a factor. As a small country, the Netherlands puts emphasis on English to access global markets. The Netherlands is a business-friendly country, with many multinational companies headquartered there.

There is also the fact that historic rivalries (for example, Germany in WW2) and cultural similarities (similar religion to England and connected royal families) made English a more attractive second language in the country than German or French.


From this there are a few things we can learn…

  1. An education system that focuses on English is important – using English at school consistently and being forced to use it at university are a strong motivating factor.
  2. Immersing yourself in English and exposing yourself to English all the time really helps.
  3. Culture can make it easier to learn a language.

Never miss an episode

Subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts:


Last year, Singapore ranked as the 2nd most proficient English-speaking country. It is by far the most proficient country in Asia, and way ahead of Hong Kong (the place it is most often compared to), China, South Korea, and Japan.

Singapore has also continued to rise up the rankings – just a few years ago it was ranked 12th.

Singapore is a multicultural melting pot, with large communities of ethnically Chinese citizens (native speakers of Mandarin or other Chinese languages like Hokkien), Malay speakers, and citizens with origins in South India (most commonly Tamil speakers).

Despite this, English is used as the lingua franca in the small country. Most Singaporeans are bilingual – speaking English and one other language. English is the most spoken language in Singapore, despite it not being the native language of many of the country’s citizens.


Why is Singapore so proficient in English?

The last country we looked at, the Netherlands, had the benefit of cultural and linguistic similarity with English. Singapore doesn’t.

And while it is true Singapore was a British colony for a long time, this doesn’t mean it is automatically going to be a great English-speaking country (Hong Kong, often compared with Singapore, was a British colony for longer and ranks significantly lower).

Singapore’s English proficiency is due to politics. The country’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, made English a major part of Singaporean life. In the 1960s, Yew realised that English could be the key to his country’s financial and economic success.

Schools became bilingual in that decade, and by the 1970s English replaced Chinese as the main language of instruction in Singapore. In 1987, for example, school subjects like math and science began to be taught in English.

The country follows a Communicative Language Teaching approach to English education. In simple terms, English is not just taught in Singapore. Instead, it is used authentically, in real situations.

This is one of the foundations of Thinking in English too – I like to say, “don’t learn English, learn in English.” Use English to learn something else – in the case of Singaporean schools, learn math, science, and other subjects in English.

Teachers in the country are also well paid, highly trained, and respected.

Even today, Singapore still focuses on English. The English Language Institute of Singapore was established in 2011 and government campaigns like the Speak Good Englishmovement focus on encouraging Singaporeans to use standard English rather than dialects like Singlish.

When we compare Singapore to other Asian countries, the differences are large. Hong Kong has focused on Mandarin Chinese as its second language (after Cantonese); South Korea emphasises test taking rather than actually using the language; and Japan struggles with low quality English teaching.


What can we learn from Singapore?

  1. Use English authentically – use it to communicate, to learn, to conduct daily tasks. The members of the Thinking in English community on Patreon have the opportunity to do this or there are countless apps and services to get you using English.
  2. Learn something in English. Take a free online course from EdX or Coursera, read a book in English on history – just try learning in English.
  3. Find a good teacher – Singapore’s teachers are well-trained and paid. If you are trying to find the cheapest teacher possible, they are probably not the best. I recommend trying a teacher from today’s sponsor Lingoda (I know from experience Lingoda is much stricter with hiring teachers than most other online language platforms) or take a class with a tutor from Thinking in English (I recommend Nathan – he has a linguistics degree and is CELTA qualified).


And finally, I want to talk about Scandinavia. Scandinavia is not a country, of course, but a region made up of countries including Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.

The reason I want to take a look at this region is that all of these countries are consistently ranked at the top of the EF rankings. Sweden was number one back in 2018, and all four of the Scandinavian countries I mentioned tend to be in the top 10 English speaking nations.

Is this because people in Scandinavia are naturally talented at learning English? No…probably not.


Why is Scandinavia so proficient in English?

Like in the Netherlands, it is probably a mix of the education system, similarity of English and their languages, and a cultural interest in learning English.

The similarities between English and Scandinavian languages are less obvious than with Dutch. While they are Germanic, they are not in the same branch of Germanic languages – English (and Dutch, German, Yiddish, etc) are West Germanic Languages while Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese are North Germanic languages.

There is one professor in Norway who has been arguing that English is actually more closely related to Norwegian, but regardless they are still closely related.

For example, there are 1,558 shared words between English and Swedish, sentence structure and ownership (or possessive grammar) are similar in English and Norwegian, and there are lots of phonetic (sound) similarities between English and Danish.

Scandinavia is known for its excellent school system. Schools are publicly funded and tend to consider English as a core subject. In Sweden, for example, English is considered a core subject along with Math and Swedish language. Other Scandinavian countries also start teaching early.

Scandinavian countries also realise the importance and usefulness of English internationally. Some rankings I found placed Sweden, Norway, and Demark in the top 5 nations that love to travel the most – and English is of course important language when travelling.

English is also viewed as an important business language. Norway is a major exporter of oil and fossil fuels, and the region is home to global brands like Ikea, H&M, Volvo, and Spotify.

And like in the Netherlands, English is common in Scandinavian countries. English movies and TV shows tend to be subtitled rather than dubbed, English music is popular, and English is found everywhere.


So what can we learn from Scandinavia?

  1. Immerse yourself in English.
  2. Think about the motivation, reasons, and potential benefits for learning English. Scandinavia’s love of travel, desire for internationalisation, and economic hope are key factors behind its success in learning English!

Shop new arrivals

Final Thought

We can learn valuable lessons from the language proficiency of the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Singapore. These countries have consistently ranked high in the EF English Proficiency Index, and there are several key factors contributing to their success in learning English.

From the Netherlands, learners can understand the importance of cultural exposure. The Netherlands emphasizes English in its education system from an early age, immerses students in English media without dubbing, and uses English extensively in higher education and business.

Singapore’s success in English learning highlights the power of a strong language policy and authentic language use. The country’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, recognized English as a key factor for economic success and made it a major part of Singaporean life. The country focuses on using English authentically in real situations, and its bilingual approach encourages using English alongside other languages.

Scandinavia’s excellent school systems prioritize English as a core subject from an early age. The region’s strong motivation for internationalization, business, and travel also drives the desire to learn English.

Overall, we can take away valuable lessons from these countries. Consistent exposure to English through education, media, and authentic language use, along with strong motivation and cultural interest, play vital roles in achieving high English proficiency.

What do you think? How does your country perform in rankings of English proficiency? What lessons could you learn from this episode?

Extended Vocabulary List

Become a Patreon Subscriber to Access the Extended Vocabulary List!

To see this content become a Patreon member and supporter of Thinking in English!

Vocabulary Games and Activities!

Learn and practice vocabulary from this Thinking in English episode. Practice using 5 different study games and activities – including writing, listening, and memorisation techniques!

To see this content become a Patreon member and supporter of Thinking in English!
Matching Game
To see this content become a Patreon member and supporter of Thinking in English!
Learning Game
To see this content become a Patreon member and supporter of Thinking in English!
Test Yourself
To see this content become a Patreon member and supporter of Thinking in English!
Listening and Spelling
To see this content become a Patreon member and supporter of Thinking in English!

Donate to Thinking in English!


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly
Liked it? Take a second to support Thinking in English on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

Leave a Reply