The English Proficiency Index 2017 of Education First (EF EPI) placed Argentina no. 25 in the world, and in the 1st place in Latin America. Even though the Index is developed on a sample that is not representative, the test works as a reference of the level of proficiency of the language. Neuquén, La Plata and Rosario are the Argentinian cities with the highest score.
Argentinians are capable of using English to take part in meetings linked to their area of experience, write professional e-mails on topics they know, or understand the lyrics of a song. However, the average English level in the country is not good enough to read a newspaper, deliver a presentation at work, or understand TV programs. Most Argentinians would also not be capable of negotiating a contract with an English native speaker or easily read advanced texts.
These conclusions emerge from the English Proficiency Index 2017 of Education First (EF EPI), which measured the proficiency of this language in 80 countries and territories, using data from over a million adults that last year solved the Standard English Test of EF (EF SET), a standardized exam of oral and reading comprehension. With 56.51 points, Argentina was no. 25 among 80 countries, with a “moderate proficiency level”. Nevertheless, Argentinians still lead the ranking in Latin America, according to the test.
A key fact about this index is that the population that participates of this test does not necessarily represent the countries analysed, as it is an online test and people choose to take it (in other words, people who do not have internet access or are not used to online apps are excluded). From Education First, they state “the sample would tend to show grades above the normal average, as the poorest, less educated are excluded”.
The ranking is led by the Netherlands (71.45 points, followed by Sweden (70.40), Denmark (69.93), and Norway (67.77). The first non-European to appear in the list is Singapore (no. 5, with 66.03 points). The top 10 is completed by Finland, Luxemburg, South Africa, Germany, and Austria. The worst results were registered in Algeria, Cambodia, Libya, Iraq, and Laos (no. 80 with 37.56 points).
The performance of Argentinians was not very different from that of other Latin American countries. The closest are Dominican Republic (56.31 points, no 26) and Costa Rica (53.13 points, no. 35).
The report points out that “the rank of scores in Latin American is getting smaller, as the countries with lower levels of proficiency are improving faster than their neighbours with higher levels”. So, only 10 points separate Argentina, the country with the highest level of proficiency in the region, from El Salvador, the country with the lowest level.
The report also compared the performance of certain Argentinian cities, and found that the highest levels are in Neuquén (59.46), followed by La Plata (59.02), Rosario (57.48), and Buenos Aires (56.60). In addition, in tune with the global trend, Argentinian women show higher levels of proficiency (58.41) than men (54.68).
In order to improve the English level among Latin American students, the Education First report recommends “improving the English level among teachers”, “evaluate teachers and re-train those who do not reach the expected levels”, as well as “hiring better qualified English teachers, improve their training prior the service and standardize English learning programs”.
The document highlights certain public policies, such as the Brazilian program Languages without Borders, which aims at preparing university students for studying abroad; the Plan Ceibal in Uruguay; the Mexican program Proyecta 100.000, a public scholarships fund that seeks to send 100,000 Mexican students to the United States for intensive English courses; and the program Panamá Bilingüe, which demands 300 extracurricular hours per year of English lessons for secondary school students, and 5 to 10 hours of classes per week for students from pre-school to the third grade.
EF’s survey states that “countries with higher levels of English proficiency tend to export more services, have better internet access and larger investments in research and development than countries with lower levels”. The survey states that “it is unlikely that there is a simple cause-effect relationship between English and any of these indicators; on the contrary, it is possible that these facts are within a virtuous circle”. As a higher level of proficiency enables de exchange of ideas and services, “more people have access to international opportunities, which also improve the English skills among adults”.