The Dutch have been crowned as the best non-native English speakers in the world for the fifth time in a row, according to Education First’s annual English Proficiency Index. The EF EPI 2023 categorised the English proficiency of the Netherlands as “very high”, adding that in countries with very high English proficiency, many people can use nuanced language, read advanced texts and negotiate contracts in English.
EF EPI 2023 names Dutch as best non-native English speakers
The ranking, which is published annually, compares 113 countries on their inhabitants’ English proficiency and is the largest English proficiency study in the world, with the 2023 data based on scores from 2,1 million test-takers. The ranking also looks at towns, cities and regions with over 400 test-takers as part of the study, so comparing between states / regions and cities is possible, thanks to the EPI’s data.
Each country’s overall score is calculated through an online test, as well as placement tests used by EF for enrolment into English language courses. This means that the test has a slight bias towards those with an interest in learning languages. The median age of respondents in the survey was 25, and 41 percent of test-takers were female, while the rest were male.
The Netherlands has been the best non-native English country for five years
This is not the first time that the Netherlands has sat atop the EF EPI’s annual ranking. In 2023, the Netherlands is actually celebrating its fifth consecutive victory in the ranking, after overtaking Sweden in 2019.
Behind the Netherlands comes Singapore, Austria and Denmark as the top four non-native English-speaking populations in the world. The lowest-ranked countries included in the survey were Libya, Iraq and Uzbekistan.
According to the ranking, the countries in the highest performing bracket – Very High proficiency – have inhabitants who are able to use nuanced and appropriate English in social situations, read advanced English-language texts with ease and can negotiate a contract with a native English speaker, while those in the lowest bracket – Very Low proficiency – can only give a simple self-introduction, understand basic signs and give simple directions in English.
There is still variation in English ability within the Netherlands
Despite all schools in the Netherlands teaching English as a second language, there are still some variations in English-language ability between Dutch cities and provinces. The region with the highest English proficiency according to the EF EPI 2023 is Limburg, followed by Flevoland and Friesland, while the three worst provinces for English proficiency are Zeeland, Groningen, and somewhat surprisingly – Noord-Holland!
The rural-urban divide also makes for some surprising comparisons between Dutch cities. The city with the highest English proficiency according to data from the survey is Breda, followed by The Hague and Groningen. While the province of Groningen scores as one of the lowest for regions, it seems the city itself has many proficient English speakers.
The cities with the worst English proficiency according to the study are Hilversum, Nijmegen, and the Dutch capital: Amsterdam. It is important to note that only cities, towns and regions with more than 400 test-takers are included in the report, which is why lots of other Dutch cities are not included.
EF EPI Top 10 non-native English-speaking countries
According to the ranking, these are the top 10 non-native English-speaking countries:
- 1. The Netherlands
- 2. Singapore
- 3. Austria
- 4. Denmark
- 5. Norway
- 6. Sweden
- 7. Belgium
- 8. Portugal
- 9. South Africa
- 10. Germany
For more information about the ranking, or for the full list, see the EF EPI 2023.
Image: Dutchmen Photography / Shutterstock.com