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English Proficiency in Reading and Listening of Adults around the World


December 2023 | Assessment | Communication skills | Non-native speakers | Research | Teaching & Learning

What this research was about and why it is important

The need to learn foreign languages, and namely English as the main communication medium, has not changed over the past decade. This research summary presents key findings of the “Education First English Proficiency Index 2023” (EF EPI) report. This report contains a ranking of 113 countries, 1200 cities and 5 world regions according to their proficiency levels in reading and listening competence. It also briefly describes the methodology used and provides a list of ideas for teachers and schools on how they can improve the English proficiency of their learners.

What the researchers did

  • The report covers aspects of English proficiency in relation to economy (productivity and workforce), innovation (research and talent competitiveness), work (industry and job function), society (social mobility and gender equality), and the future (environment and freedom). It also provides infographics about the proficiency score, gender, age group, and the top region and city in each participating country by world region.
  • The EF Standard English Test (EF SET) used is “an online, adaptive English test of reading and listening skills. It is a standardized, objectively scored test designed to classify test takers´ language abilities into one of the six levels established by the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)”.1 The test is available online for free and could easily be used by you and your students.

What the researchers found

  • In 2023, a total number of participants (working adults and young adults finishing their studies) was 2.2 million, out of which 55% were female test takers and 45% male test takers aged 18-60 years old, with the average age of 26.
  • The report compared the proficiency level achieved in each participating country, the proficiency level in a particular world region and 1200 cities in these countries. 113 countries were compared: Europe (34), Asia (23), Latin America (20), Africa (23), and Middle East (13).
  • The EF EPI 2023 scores were found to correlate strongly with TOEFL iBT 2021 scores and IELTS Academic Test 2022 scores. Although these three tests have different design and target test takers, they revealed similar trends in national English proficiency.
  • Out of the total number, the top 3 countries with the best score were the Netherlands, Singapore, and Austria, and the top 3 cities included Amsterdam (Netherlands), Vienna (Austria), Copenhagen (Denmark).

Things to consider

Recommendations for teachers, schools and universities1 include the following:

  • Use a communication-based methodology.
  • Focus on acts of communication rather than on mistakes.
  • Engage students outside of the classroom with English-language media
  • Give students frequent opportunities to speak, e. g. English clubs, theme days, trips, guest speakers.
  • Provide a forum for teachers to share best practices and get advice about teaching English effectively.
  • Give teachers of all subjects the opportunity to improve their English.
  • Include English language requirements for all university majors.
  • Allow subject classes to be taught in English.
  • Create a remedial English program to help those who have fallen behind.


1Education First (2023). EF EPI: EF English Proficiency Index – A Ranking of 113 Countries and Regions by English Skills. Signum International AG. Full-text available here:
2EF Standard English Test (EF SET) – EF SET Certificate.