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Spain through the looking glass

Language matters

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Spain has come in at 18th place in a new global study looking at English skills.

The study run by the English teaching conglomerate EF places Spain squarely in the medium proficiency bracket with an English proficiency index score of 55.89. That’s just above Portugal and Argentina but below many other European countries.

Digging deeper, a regional breakdown shows people in the Basque Country were the only group to be rated ‘high proficiency’ while test takers from Extremadura were at the foot of the table with very low proficiency. Spanish men, meanwhile, bucked the global trend by outscoring women: scores for males were 56.16 against 55.59 for females.

These figures are based on the results of three different tests taken by 1.7 million adults in 52 countries from 2009 to 2011. The first two tests are open to internet users worldwide for free and the third is the online test EF uses to place its students in English classes. All three tests have grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening sections.

EF readily owns up to the study’s various methodological issues. They note the sample group is self-selecting and only people who are actually interested in learning English will take the online tests. Then there is the issue of lack of access to the internet in some countries and among underprivileged groups. As The Economist explains it:  “If a country has an urban elite who are good with English, and a lot of rural poor people who cannot take the test, its score might be relatively inflated. In another country where nearly everyone is online but English skills are mediocre, the scores might be relatively depressed.”

But The Economist also recognises the value of the EF study and its regional, age, sex and industry breakdowns of English proficiency. The study shows, for example, that the best speaker of English are aged 30–35, and that women score higher than men – an average of 53.90 compared with 52.14.

Industry-wise, the best performing students are in travel and tourism and consulting, while people in high-tech industries like telecommunications and aviation also score well. People in retail and public service are at the other end of the scale with very low proficiency.

Europeans are still the best speakers of English worldwide, with the top 11 places owned by the continent. But EF warns that “moderate proficiency countries must continue with proposed education reforms in English instruction in order to raise their proficiency levels to those of their neighbours”.

The teaching giant also says education spending across Europe does not correlate well with English proficiency. They suggest that “current funding levels, if spent effectively, should be sufficient for all countries to attain high or very high proficiency.”

France and Italy come under particular fire for their low scores in the EF report.

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Written by georgemills25

October 31, 2012 at 09:04

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