Any world traveler knows that English is not equally spoken and understood in all countries, but do you know where is the English proficiency the highest?
EF (Education First) is doing yearly extensive worldwide surveys of English proficiency and publishes its EF EPI (English Proficiency Index) on a very comprehensive webpage. According to the latest survey, Denmark is the country with the highest index at 69, slightly ahead of the Netherlands and the other Nordic countries.
Some points are important to notice:
- Most European countries score far higher than the rest of the world.
- Proficiency has risen from the previous study, although non-uniformly
- Asian countries are very mixed in proficiency and improvement
- Most Latin America, Middle East and North Africa countries have very low proficiency
The authors also mention that “[t]here 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“.
Finally, the study doesn’t include many African countries, although in many of them, English is one of the only official languages, or even the only one, so I suspect many would score high on the index.
The index is of course very relevant from a localization standpoint, but even in countries with very high proficiency, customers will be more likely to purchase a product if the marketing is done in their language, even if they understand perfectly well the English version.
Besides the proficiency index, market size, economic development and cultural factors should influence the choice of localization targets for any company.
What I find very strange is that out of the 7 countries with Very High Proficiency, five (Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Norway) are in the top 10 most expensive for translation from English into the local language.
You would think that in a country where most people speak very good English, the corresponding translation rate would be low as the number of potential translators is very high, but it’s unfortunately not the case, and the high GDP per inhabitant trumps the availability of translators!