Spain continues to have one of the worst levels of English in Europe


A new study places the country in the 25th spot on the list of 33 European states with respect to its proficiency in the language.

Spaniards do not have a good level of English. In fact, surveys from the European  Union 's statistical office, Eurostat, and a report from the foreign language company, Education First, place Spain close to the bottom of the ladder compared to the rest of Europe when it comes to English proficiency.

´´´´''Socio-economic status influences language skills, and Spain is still a relatively poor country in Europe'', says Antonio Cabrales, professor at University College London.

According to experts, the poor result is explained in part by the size of Spain, its relatively low GDP per capita and the number of people who speak Spanish worldwide. 

Unlike other countries, the number of Spaniards who can speak English has scarely changed in the last 10 years. And Spaniards in the 25-34 age bracket level have been left far behind their peers in Greece, Portugal and Italy, which had simlar low rates of English speakers 10 years ago.

The 2019 English proficiency Index places Spain in 25th place out of a total of 33 European countries and 35th in the world, with no improvement noted since last year. The international ranking, drawn up by Education First, a company bfounded in Sweden in 1965 which publishes the index annually, was based on the results of 2,3 million exams in 100 countries. 

Eurostat meanwhile showed that in 2007, 46.6% of Spaniards between the ages of 25 and 64 could not spaek a foreign language. In 2016 - the most recent data available - this figure had dropped only marginally to 45.8%. During the same period, Portugal reduced this figure from 515 to 31%, Greece from 43% to 33%, and Italy from 38% to 34%. In all three of these countries, more than 82% of people between ages of 24 and 34 were able to speak at least one foreign language - in Spain that figure was only 66%. Eurostat also found that English is the most studied foreign language in the EU with 94% of students still taking it in the second cycle of secondary school.

The United Kingdom and Ireland have worse foreign language skills than Spain

''The statistics are bad'', says Anntonio Cabrales, a professor at University College London who has researched how English is learned in bilingual schools in Spain. ''One of the reason for this is to do with wealth. Like any other subject, socio-economic status influences language skills, and Spain is still a relatively poor country in Europe. Another factor is the size of the country. If you compare countries with a similar income bracket, normally the big ones perform worse. The small ones are generally more open to the outside world and their citizens see more opportunities both professionally and otherwise in learning foreign languages. Large countries have a larger domestic market and are not as concerned (about learning a language)''.

France, for example, does worse in language surveys and exams than Belguim; while Austria performs better than Germany. According to the data from Eurostat and the Education First, the countries with the best level of English ( where English is not the official language) are Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Ignacio Zafra, Valencia - Nov 11 2019