Danes world’s best non-native English speakers

Danes are the best in the world at speaking English as a second language, a major report released this week concluded.

Danes world's best non-native English speakers
Photo: Nicolai Perjesi/Copenhagen Media Center
The Education First (EF) English Proficiency Index (EPI) ranked Danes as the best non-native English speakers in the world. 
Of the 63 non-Commonwealth countries included in the study, Denmark was one of just seven in the category of ‘very high proficiency’. Behind Denmark were the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Poland and Austria
Denmark’s proficiency score of 69.3 was enough to top the list and was significantly higher than the average EF EPI score of 56.92. Denmark’s proficiency score has risen by 2.72 points over the past seven years. 
That figure could very well continue to climb. With a reform of Denmark's public school system that took effect this year, Danish students are now taught English beginning in the first grade. 
“English is a very powerful platform for both commercial and cultural exchange. Language is a hugely important, but often overlooked, door opener. By mastering the English language at a world-class level, Danes have a clear advantage in the world. This is something to be proud of,” Christen Bagger, the head of EF in Denmark, said. 
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Denmark returned to the top spot of the index after being topped by Norway, the Netherlands and Estonia in last year’s list. In 2012, Denmark was in second place behind Sweden. 
Globally, the report found that the world’s population is getting better at speaking English and that Europe’s English proficiency remains far higher than other regions’, and continues to improve.
“Worldwide, English proficiency among adults is rising, although this increase is far from uniform in all countries and all populations,” the EF EPI report reads. 
The report, the fourth of its kind, also found a significant gender gap when it comes to English skills. 
“Women speak better English than men worldwide and in nearly every country surveyed.This gender skill gap is significant enough to have an impact in the workplace,” the report reads. 
This was also the case in Denmark, although the difference was not as pronounced as in most countries.  
The study also concluded that there are strong correlations between English proficiency and income, quality of life, ease of doing business, Internet usage, and years of schooling. These correlations are remarkably stable over time, stated EF in its findings.
EF is the world's largest educational company, specializing in language learning, academic programs and cultural exchange. The company was founded in 1965 and today operates 500 schools and offices across 52 countries.

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Why mastering English isn’t all good news for Danish workers and their companies

While learning English is clearly an advantage for Danish workers, mastering the language of Shakespeare isn't enough for companies that export to Germany.

Why mastering English isn't all good news for Danish workers and their companies
English language skills don’t cut it for Danish companies hoping to export to Germany. Photo: Maheshkumar Painam / Unsplash

The Danish business community is facing a major language problem – and it’s not with English.

According to Dansk Industri (DI), an organisation representing approximately 18,500 companies across Denmark, Danish companies are experiencing a shortage of employees with good German skills.

As more Danes opt to master English, fewer are mastering the German language than in the past. This is making it more difficult, DI said, to trade with companies in Germany. 

Although Danes are considered to be the best in the world at speaking English as a second language, DI Deputy Director Mette Fjord Sørensen said speaking English when doing business in Germany isn’t always an option.

“Germany is a big country and not everyone speaks English at a high level, so misunderstandings can occur that could have consequences for a business deal,” Sørensen told The Local. “Speaking in someone’s native tongue, in this case German, can have a positive effect.”

DI said that German skills are in “extremely high demand” in a wide range of professions, from trade graduates to engineers and craftsmen. 

“Our companies demand employees with dual competencies – for example the engineer or electrician who also knows German,” Sørensen said, adding that DI is worried as they see fewer and fewer students choose to study German. 

An analysis by SMV Denmark, an organisation representing small and medium-sized companies in Denmark, shows that the number of high school students graduating German at A-level fell from 11 percent in 2005 to less than 6 percent last year. Additionally, the number of students admitted to a higher German education last year was 30 percent lower than in 2010, according to Avisen Danmark

Sørensen thinks the long term solution is to expand German language studies within Denmark’s education system, but there are several solutions available in the meantime.

This includes language courses for working professionals, specific to the work they do. 

“German expats in Denmark could also play a vital role in the need for German language competence,” Sørensen said. “We have to dig into the possibilities expats can contribute.”