Danes no longer world’s best English speakers

Danes have been knocked off their perch as the world’s best non-native English speakers by the Swedes and the Dutch.

Danes no longer world's best English speakers
Danes still have plenty to be proud of when it comes to their English skills. Photo: Colourbox
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. 
“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 map of Europe.
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.

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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.”