Switzerland's English language skills continue to worsen, ranking reveals

Switzerland's English language skills continue to worsen, ranking reveals

The latest English Proficiency Index by Education First (EF) has seen Switzerland fall down the order once again, barely securing a place in the top 30. As the Netherlands continues to dominate the top of the ranking, experts in the alpine nation argued the results show that the Swiss school system needs to redouble its efforts to get people to learn English.

English Proficiency Index 2023

To create the study for 2023, EF, a language course provider, analysed 113 countries around the world where English is not the first or official language, to see which populations are the most proficient in speaking the language. Each nation was graded by the average score attained in EF’s Standard English Test - in 2022, 2,2 million people from around the world took the test.

Averages from 2022, 2021 and 2020 were collated for each country and then translated into a score out of 800 and an average grade in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages - the A1 to C2 system used in language certification. For reference, if a country were to score 700 points or more, it would mean that an average member of the population is essentially fluent in English.

Switzerland's English language score drops precipitously

Interestingly, Switzerland’s English proficiency score has become even worse after dropping down to 29th in the ranking last year. For 2023, the alpine nation finds itself in 30th place, behind the likes of Malaysia, Czechia, Nigeria, Argentina and Hong Kong, and below all other German-speaking nations.

With a score of just 553 points, Switzerland’s score has dropped by 10 since last year and is now 94 points off the Netherlands, which took the top spot for the fifth time in a row. In fact, the alpine nation is only nine points away from being classed as having a “moderate proficiency” in English as opposed to “very high.”

German-speaking Switzerland the most proficient in English

The country’s score has been declining precipitously since the start of the 2010s. After peaking at 11th in 2011, Switzerland has not occupied the top 20 for three years in a row. However, the country was still ranked as having a “high proficiency” in English, meaning many people in Switzerland, especially in cities, are still able to apply for jobs, read newspapers, negotiate work contracts and have idle small talk in English without issue.

German-speaking Switzerland was found to have the most proficient English speakers, scoring 25 points more than the national average (578). It was followed by the Romande (523 points) and Italian-speaking Switzerland (496). In terms of age groups, while the English language proficiency of 18 to 30 year olds is finally beginning to rise - after dropping every year since 2019 - the language competence of people over 30 has started to decline.

Basel rated as having the most proficient English speakers

Of the 18 different Swiss cantons analysed by EF, the population of Basel-Stadt was rated as being the most proficient in English with 638 points. They were followed by Zug (595), Zurich (594) and Aargau (584), with Ticino ranking as having the least competent English speakers at just 496 points.

Naturally, Basel was also rated as the Swiss city whose population is most proficient in English, followed by Zurich, Bern and Lucerne - all four were rated as having a “very high proficiency.” Surprising considering its international reputation, Geneva was rated as the city with the least competent English speakers.

“These results highlight the need to redouble our efforts in learning English in an increasingly connected world,” noted Swiss language expert Laurent Morel. “This is particularly the case in French-speaking Switzerland, where the level has seen a general decline over the last year.”

Which countries around the world have the most proficient English speakers

In all, here are the 10 countries with the most proficient English speakers in 2023:

  1. The Netherlands (647)
  2. Singapore (631)
  3. Austria (616)
  4. Denmark (615)
  5. Norway (614)
  6. Sweden (609)
  7. Belgium (608)
  8. Portugal (607)
  9. South Africa (605)
  10. Germany (604)

For more information, check out the official ranking.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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