This content is not available in your region

Bad at languages? Here are the top European countries for English speakers

A group of friends talking
A group of friends talking   -   Copyright  Canva
By Nichola Daunton

If you’re planning a move to Europe in 2022 and English is your first or second language, then you may want to move to a country where it's widely spoken.

Learning the language of your new home should be one of your top priorities, but as Netflix’s guilty pleasure Emily in Paris has shown, doing so might take a while.

In the meantime, knowing that people will understand you if you speak English might be comforting as you struggle with conjunctions and grammatical genders.

According to Statista, approximately 1.35 billion people in the world now speak English, either natively or as a second language. While the second most spoken language in the world is Mandarin Chinese, with 1.12 billion speakers.

But Britons are notoriously terrible at learning languages. With surveys often condemning them as the ‘worst in Europe’. A study by the European Commission in 2020 discovered that 62 per cent of those surveyed in the UK couldn’t speak a second language, compared to 56 per cent of people in the EU who can speak at least one.

If languages really aren’t your strong point though, global education company Education First (EF) has pulled together the top (and bottom) countries in Europe when it comes to English speaking in its latest English Proficiency Index. So if it takes you a while to learn the native language, you can still order the right kind of coffee.

People in cities have better English language skills

Canva
Vienna, AustriaCanva

To get their results, EF analysed the data of 2 million people who took their English tests worldwide, including people from 35 European countries. They then gave each country a ranking out of 800 points.

They found that English proficiency is higher in almost every large city, and that capital cities generally outperform their countries as a whole.

Business and the economy are the most likely reasons for this country/city divide. With many office jobs exposing people to an international environment, where the common language of English is used more frequently.

English proficiency is also highest in Europe compared to other continents, and has risen significantly since 2011. Despite this some of Europe’s largest economies, including Germany, France and Italy, failed to make the top 10.

Which European countries have the best English language skills?

Canva
Amsterdam, The NetherlandsCanva

Eight EU countries made the top spots, with Croatia at number 10. The Nordic countries also dominated, with Finland and Sweden featuring and Denmark coming in at number three.

Austria made it to second place, with a strong 641 points out of a possible 800, so while German is the national language, in tourist areas you won’t have any trouble ordering a beer in English (though it’s not that hard in German either).

Austria was beaten to the top spot by the Netherlands, which gained an impressive 663 points out of 800. Between 91 and 93 per cent of Dutch people claim they can hold a conversation in English.

It helps that the Dutch don’t dub their TV shows.

One of the main reasons for this is that the Dutch don’t dub their TV shows. All English language programmes are shown in their original format and Dutch subtitles are added on top. This means that Dutch children grow up hearing the English language, making it much easier to learn at school.

It also helps that the two languages share the same roots, with both Dutch and English coming from the same Germanic group of Indo-European languages. Though remember English speakers, this means it shouldn’t be hard for you to learn Dutch either.

EF English Proficiency Index
European Rankings for the EF English Proficiency IndexEF English Proficiency Index

Which EU country speaks the least English?

Canva
Florence, ItalyCanva

We certainly don’t want to name and shame a country for simply speaking their own language and not bothering as much with English. But if you can only speak English, it might be worth taking a few language classes before you move to Italy.

The country came bottom of the EU bunch with 535 points out of a possible 800 - but when your language is as beautiful as Italian, why would you want to speak English at all?