This first edition of the study measures the English reading and listening proficiency levels of 130,000 students enrolled at hundreds of partner schools and universities in 16 countries.
This report looks at our most compelling findings about English language acquisition during secondary and tertiary education and discusses how this research can be taken further by educators and policymakers, and how it may be applied to improve learning outcomes.
Looking at the English teaching curriculum in most countries, we expect to see a steady rate of improvement in English proficiency every year. After all, students are receiving similar amounts of instruction each year, they are taught by teachers with the same types of qualifications, and they follow a curriculum that is structured around steady progress. But that ideal of a steadily rising level of English proficiency is far from reality. Barring Italy, the English skills of students around the world do not progress steadily throughout lower secondary, upper secondary, and university education.
Barring Italy, the English skills of students around the world do not progress steadily throughout lower secondary, upper secondary, and university education. These varying rates of progress are not the same among countries either, even among those within the same region. The difference in the speed of acquisition of English skills is striking within any given country. For example, Polish students improve their English 50% faster in lower secondary school than in upper secondary school, and their improvement in upper secondary is more than three times faster than at the university level. In Brazil, students improve rapidly in upper secondary school but not at all in university.
This graph shows the rate of English skill acquisition by comparing the composite EF score change year over year in three different age groups. There are two important things to note in order to interpret this graph correctly:
1. It is easier for students in the beginner levels to improve than for students in the more advanced levels; therefore, a slower rate of acquisition at higher skill levels is to be expected. This graph, however, gives no indication of students' English level. It only shows their rate of improvement.
2. Our data set does not contain students who took our test multiple times over a prolonged period. For example, in all graphs comparing students by age, we are comparing a group of 15 year olds to a different group of 16 year olds, rather than comparing the same students at different ages.
|Age 13-15||Age 16-18||Age 19-21|
|Annual Increase in EF Score|
In almost all of the 16 countries studied, listening skills develop more quickly and outpace reading skills for students of all ages. Comparing the distribution of reading and listening skills among 18-year-olds in all countries surveyed, we find that the range of variability in listening scores is broader. This could be due to different individual levels of exposure to spoken English outside the classroom via media consumption and international travel. Written English exposure is perhaps not as common outside the classroom.
The graph below compares the average reading and listening scores that would be expected from an 18-year-old, based upon a linear growth model. There is a wide range of variability for both expected reading and listening scores across the 16 countries studied, as shown by the overlapping graphs. The corresponding bell curves model the distribution of scores across countries. The global average listening score is 11.5 points higher than the global average reading score.
These varying rates of progress are not the same among countries either, even among those within the same region. The difference in the speed of acquisition of English skills is striking within any given country. For example, Polish students improve their English 50% faster in lower secondary school than in upper secondary school, and their improvement in upper secondary is more than three times faster than at the university level. In Brazil, students improve rapidly in upper secondary school but not at all in university.
Continuous assessment of English language skills using a standard set of assessment tools allows us to pinpoint areas for improvement and reveal successful strategies at the institutional, national, and international levels. We invite all schools, universities, and ministries of education throughout the world to participate in our research.
Participating institutions will have access to the EF Standard English Test (EF SET). Offered at no cost and built to the same standards as other standardized tests, the EF SET rests on a foundation of evidence-based research and analysis. Test items were created by experienced exam writers, carefully reviewed by a panel of experts, and piloted on more than tens of thousands learners from 80 countries.
Upon completion of testing, participating schools receive customized reports with their students’ EF SET scores and CEFR levels and comparisons between groups of students of interest to the institution.
The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools
The EF English Proficiency Index for Companies (EF EPI-c) is an evaluation of global workforce English skills.
Participate in the next EF EPI report by taking the EF SET – the world's first free standardized English test.