The English Proficiency Index (EPI) from global language training company Education First (EF) was released on Tuesday and Danes will have to settle for third best this time around.
Denmark’s overall score of 70.05 out of a possible 100 put it slightly behind both Sweden and the Netherlands, resulting in a fall from first place in the 2014 ranking. Just behind Denmark were fellow Nordic nations Norway and Finland.
But EF’s vice president, Christen Bagger, told The Local that Danes have nothing to be ashamed of – they are still at the very top of the pile.
See also: Top ten mistakes Danes make in English
“Basically Denmark didn't fall, it was just beaten. Denmark has actually increased marginally, it's just that Sweden is doing better. There isn't a huge difference between first and fourth place,” Bagger said.
But Bagger, himself a Dane, acknowledged that getting topped by the Swedes might be a bitter pill to swallow.
“Obviously there is a bit of national pride to it all, but it's more that Sweden has performed better rather than that Denmark has gotten worse,” he said.
Even though Denmark fell by two spots, it is still one of just nine of the 70 countries studied in which English proficiency was ranked as “very high”.
Bagger said that Denmark can easily reclaim the top spot.
“What Danes can and should do to continue to be at the top of the list going forward – and I don't mean just fighting for first prize, but to stay as one of the nest non-native English speaking countries – is to invest in education. They're cutting down on it now, not specifically for language, but in general. They need to continue to invest in education, particularly when it involves globalisation, things like languages and international relations,” he told The Local.
The EFI's index for European countries. Story continues below.
The EPI report was based on data from nearly one million adult English learners. Larger European countries including Italy, Spain and Hungary failed to make the top 20, while France languished in 37th place.
For the first time the study also revealed the connection between countries' English levels and their achievements in innovation, by looking at metrics such as technology exports and spending on research and development.
"Countries with higher English proficiency have more researchers and technicians per capita," said the report.
"The ability to learn from the research of others, participate in international conferences, publish in leading journals, and collaborate with multinational research teams is dependent upon excellent English," it concluded.
The report also found that correlations between countries' English ability and Gross National Income per capita, quality of life and internet connectivity remained strong and stable.