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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Danes are ‘world’s second-best’ speakers of English as a foreign language

A new annual ranking has judged Danes to be the world’s second-best speakers of English as a second language.

Danes are 'world’s second-best' speakers of English as a foreign language
Photo: ActionVance on Unsplash

The newest edition of the annual English Proficiency Index (EPI) from global language training company Education First (EF) ranked Denmark second out of 100 countries that don't have English as a national language. 

That’s an improvement from last year, when Denmark was fourth, and means it has overtaken Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway (now fourth and fifth respectively) on the list. Finland is ranked third, but Iceland, another Nordic country known for its natives’ high standard of English, is not included in the analysis.

“The countries with the highest English proficiency in Europe are clustered in Scandinavia. School systems in these countries employ several key strategies, including an early focus on communication skills, daily exposure to English both in and outside the classroom, and career-specific language instruction in the final years of study, whether that is vocational school or university,” the report states.

This year's index was again topped by The Netherlands.

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It appears Denmark has done well to slightly improve its position on the list, as the index authors found that the rest of the world is slowing catching up with those countries who have the highest proficiency levels.

“The worldwide, population-weighted average English proficiency score remained stable, but 26 countries’ scores improved significantly (meaning they gained more than 20 points), while only seven experienced significant declines,” the report summary notes.

The high scores of Denmark and the other countries near the top of the list are also a good reflection on those societies, EF writes.

“There is an increasingly clear relationship between a society’s connectedness to the world and the level of social and political equality experienced by its citizens,” the summary states.

“Closed societies turn inwards and nurture rigid hierarchies. Open societies look outwards. They are flatter, fairer places. English, as a medium of international connectivity, correlates well with measures of both equality and engagement with the outside world,” it continues.

A total of twelve countries were ranked in the ‘very high proficiency’ category, the highest level. Ten of the 12 are in Europe. The full top 12 is as follows:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Norway
  6. Austria
  7. Portugal
  8. Germany
  9. Belgium
  10. Singapore
  11. Luxembourg
  12. South Africa

'Very high' proficiency is defined by EF as the ability to carry out complex, nuanced tasks in English, such as negotiating a contract with a native English-speaker, reading advanced texts with ease, and using nuanced and appropriate language in social situations.

The report is based on a comparison of English skills measured by testing 2.2 million people who took EF’s English tests in 2019. The full EPI report can be read here

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BUSINESS

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.”

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