Index shows declining English skills among young adults

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

EF Education First (EF) has released the 2023 edition of its EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI), the largest international survey of adult English skills. 

The index, calculated from the test results of 2.2 million non-native English speakers in 113 countries and regions, reveals a concerning decline in youth English proficiency over the past five years and a growing gender gap.

“This year’s index portrays an illusion of global stability – where everyone’s English stays about the same, but the truth is that gains in certain countries and regions are being offset by losses in others,” said EF EPI author Kate Bell. 

“Language is essential to sharing perspectives and sparking understanding; and as a bridge language, English has been uniquely positioned to connect people across borders.  We look forward to continuing our examination of English proficiency trends over time, as we did for the first time this year.”    

The EF EPI is based on test scores from the EF Standard English Test (EF SET), used worldwide by schools, companies, and governments for large-scale testing as well as individual test takers. 

Key findings include:

  • Youth English proficiency continues to drop (-89 points in 18 – 20-year-olds since 2015), driven by a few large countries including India and Indonesia. Many more countries experienced pandemic-related declines in this cohort, accelerating the worldwide trend.
  • Workforce proficiency is rising.  Worldwide these gains were made during the pandemic period (+20 points for adults over 30 between 2020 and 2021), however, many national trends indicate steady improvement since 2015.
  • The gender gap is widening, with men’s English improving (+14 points) and women’s declining (-19 points since 2014). The gender gap is not uniform, however, with 63 countries at or near gender parity.
  • Regionally:  Proficiency in East Asia has declined four years running, accelerated this year by Japan and China.  Proficiency in the Middle East is stagnant.  English is steadily improving in Latin America, but the region’s progress is hampered by declining proficiency in Mexico and a slower pace in Brazil.  Despite dominating the top of the index, Europe plateaued this year.  Finally, English proficiency in Africa is largely stable except for Tunisia and Algeria, both improving quickly.