English is a mysterious language. It annoys countless learners with its bendy rules and confusing spelling. Yes, the Colonel is the king of KFC’s secret 11 herbs and spices and no, it’s not pronounced like that. However, its popularity does represent the need to connect with others in a world growing smaller by the day.
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. Putting aside linguistic hegemony, English is typically a good sign for a country’s development and has a correlation with high quality of life and average income. It’s also become a basic skill for the entire global workforce.
So if you want to move, travel or do business in a foreign country, you can bet your bottom dollar that your English is going to help you. With the help of the EF English Proficiency Index (EPI) — the world standard for measuring a country’s English capability — we can see the results from over one million test takers in 80 countries. Note the test’s data is biased towards respondents that are interested in English and have access to the internet, so it’s not a perfectly representative sample of the countries’ citizens. Still, it does provide a valuable insight and has an even split of men and women from a broad range of ages.
With that in mind, here are the eight non-native English speaking countries with the best English:
Countdown Of The Eight Non-Native English Speaking Countries With The Best English
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. Interestingly, South Africa is one of the two countries outside Europe to make the EPI Top 8 in 2017, likely because there’s been a big focus on English learning initiatives from universities.
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, as it’s taught in schools and spoken in the banking sector thanks to the large variety of foreigners. Like many of the other countries on this list, Luxembourg also has a leg up because English is one of three “procedural” languages of the European Union.
6. Finland (65.83)
Finland’s been consistently high-ranking in terms of English capabilities for a while. Their country manager for English First Corporate Solutions, Laura Häkkinen, says that because Finns learn English from a young age in school, it sets them in good stead for working life. 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 English was imposed by the British during its period of colonization, the language spread like wildfire and was adopted by the local Malay, Chinese and Indian communities as a lingua franca. It’s now the most popular medium of communication among young people, with individuals using an impressive two to three languages on a regular basis; English and the creole Singlish included.
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 descended from the same family tree! It’s no surprise then that Norwegian words and structure closely resemble English, which gives Norwegians a clear advantage when learning English. The next time you visit Oslo, you can rest easy knowing someone will be keen to speak English with you or catch a movie in the original version.
3. Denmark (69.93)
Denmark and its neighbor Sweden are always in a close race for a top spot on the list. (Seeing as they’re also both Scandinavian languages, you can probably guess why.) Considering that only about 5.5 million people speak Danish, levels of English are generally high because the national language isn’t well known around the world. Like the other Nordics, they also don’t dub TV or movies into Danish and their English pronunciation is crystal clear.
2. Sweden (70.40)
There are a lot of reasons why Sweden ranks so high on this list. First, Swedish sentence structure is very close to English. It’s also not uncommon for locals to speak English day-to-day in Sweden, with the “working language” of many workplaces often including (or, in the cosmopolitan Stockholm, solely being) English. And in addition to the previously listed reasons for the other Scandinavian countries, it’s no secret that the Swedes love to travel. This is a good indicator that they’re also welcoming to those traveling to their homeland!
1. Netherlands (71.45)
Who in the world speaks the best English as a second language? The Dutch! With high living standards and life satisfaction, the Dutch place a lot of importance on mastering English, which makes them the best non-native English speaking country in the world. Here you’ll likely find locals responding to your attempts at Dutch in English, 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, view the EPI page here. Or, if you’re curious to find the connections between these countries and English, try learning the local language!