Of the roughly 1.5 billion people in the world who speak English, over 1 billion speak it as a second language. That’s a heck of a lot more than native speakers, so what gives? Here, it’s impossible to ignore the key role English played in colonialism. The linguistic hegemony built up around this language has led it to become a basic skill required for a large portion of the global workforce. If you want to move, travel or do business in a foreign country, you can bet your bottom dollar that English will somehow come in handy. So, what are some of the best non-native English speaking countries out there for you to practice in?
With the help of the EF English Proficiency Index (EPI) — the world standard for measuring a country’s English-speaking capability — we can see the results from over one million test takers in 80 countries. The test is biased towards respondents who have access to the internet and are interested in English, so it’s not a perfectly representative sample. Still, it does provide valuable insight into which countries excel the most at English as a second language. These countries stand out:
Countdown Of The Top Non-Native English Speaking Countries
8. South Africa (63.37)
You may be thinking to yourself, “But isn’t English the official language of South Africa?” Yes, technically English is one out of South Africa’s 11 official languages. The majority of South Africans actually speak English as a second language, but English is the most commonly spoken language, and the one used in business. Universities also play a role with their focus on English learning initiatives. Interestingly, South Africa is one of two countries outside of Europe to make the EPI Top 8 in 2017.
7. Luxembourg (64.57)
Luxembourg is officially a trilingual country, in large part due to its geographic borders with France, Germany and Belgium. That said, English is widely understood in Luxembourg City, where it’s taught in schools and spoken in the international banking sector. Like many of the other countries on this list, Luxembourg has a leg up on the competition because English is one of three “procedural” languages of the European Union.
6. Finland (65.83)
Finland consistently ranks high over the years in terms of its English-speaking capabilities. The EF Corporate Solutions country manager, Laura Häkkinen, says that Finns learn English from a young age in school, which gives them a great head start in the professional world. This is pretty impressive, considering that Finnish isn’t linguistically related to most other languages in Europe!
5. Singapore (66.03)
The other non-European country on the list is the global business hub, Singapore. After British colonizers imposed their language on the native population, English spread like wildfire to become the lingua franca of local Malay, Chinese and Indian communities. It’s now the most popular medium of communication among young people, with individuals using an impressive two to three languages on a daily basis, including the creole Singlish.
4. Norway (67.77)
There’s a hidden root that ties English with Scandinavia: English and all of the Scandinavian languages are Germanic languages. This means that all of these languages belong to the same family tree! It’s no surprise, then, that Norwegian words and sentence structures closely resemble English, giving Norwegian learners a clear advantage in the classroom. The next time you visit Oslo, you can rest easy knowing someone will be keen to speak English with you.
3. Denmark (69.93)
Denmark and its neighbor, Sweden, are always in a close race for a top spot on the list. Seeing as both countries belong to Scandinavia, you can probably guess why. Considering that only about 5.5 million people in the world speak Danish, national levels of English are generally high. Like the other Nordic countries, Denmark also opts not to dub English TV or movies into Danish.
2. Sweden (70.40)
There are a lot of reasons why Sweden ranks so high on this list. First off, being a Scandinavian language, Swedish sentence structure is very close to English. It’s not uncommon for locals to speak English every day in Sweden, as the “working language” of many workplaces often includes English (indeed, this is more of a rule than an exception in the cosmopolitan city of Stockholm).
1. Netherlands (71.45)
So, which nation tops the list of best non-native English speaking countries? The Netherlands! With high living standards and levels of life satisfaction, the Dutch place a lot of importance on mastering English. From Groningen to Rotterdam, you’ll likely find locals responding in English to your attempts at speaking Dutch, simply because they feel it’s easier for the both of you. And in case you’re curious, Dutch is another Germanic language with many similarities to English. In fact, it’s one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn!
If you want to see the complete list of rankings, you can view the EPI page here. Or, if you’re curious to discover further connections between these countries and English, try learning the local language!