English as a second language: Who in Europe speaks it best?


English as a second language is becoming more and more competitive. Due to the weight the language carries in the modern, professional world, speaking English is fast becoming less of a benefit and more of an essential, or even basic, requirement when looking for a job in Europe.

Approximately 2 billion people study English worldwide and some countries find it easier than others to pick it up. Throughout the emerging generations of many nationalities, proficiency is almost ubiquitous as people are becoming more and more serious about language learning. For example, companies like ESL offer language courses abroad, giving people the opportunity to properly immerse themselves in a new culture. There are also plenty of online learning resources, to help English learners iron out their common mistakes.

Based on the percentage of English proficiency in the adult population, here’s the list!

Updated 31st July 2018.


Who in Europe speaks English best?

10)  Belgium

The Belgian people have increased their overall English level since the 2015 figures and their hard work has bumped them up into the top 10 countries who speak English as a second language best! Welcome to the list Belgium!

Percentage of adults in Belgium who speak English as a second language


9)  Poland           

With more and more Poles moving and working abroad their need to learn English has increased too. However, Polish as a language is on the rise in the UK, as Brits fall in love with Polish expats and look to learn their language.

Percentage of adults in Poland who speak English as a second language


8)  Austria  

Slipping down one place and losing 7th place to its geographical and linguistic neighbours in the English as a second language ranking, is Austria. Sharing its borders with a whopping eight countries, it’s little wonder that the people of Austria have an aptitude for languages.

Percentage of people in Austria who speak English as a second language


7)  Germany      

The Germans, with their industrial efficiency, have always had a firm grip of the English language. The modern language of the business world is English and, as German businesses are dominating the European market, the pressure on professionals to speak English to a proficient level is higher than ever.

Percentage of adults in Germany who speak English as a second language


6)  Luxembourg            

For the very same reasons as Austria, it is hardly a shock to see this tiny landlocked country so high on the list. With heavy influences from both East and West, the country has three official languages: French, German and Luxembourgish – and on top of that, well over half of the adult population having a proficient level of English!

Percentage of population in Luxembourg that speak English


5)  Finland          

We start to head more to the north of Europe as we near the top of the list. Finland has a population of just under 5.5 million people, and almost 70% of its adult population speak high-level English.

Percentage of population in Finland who speak English as a second language


4)  Norway                         

In Norway they truly see English as a second language, so the country is far from a surprise entry in at number four. The Norse languages also have had a huge influence on the English language after the occupation of the Vikings over a thousand years ago.

Percentage of population in The Netherlands that speak English


3)  Denmark        

As we approach the grand finale, the countries are becoming less and less surprising. Denmark, yet another Scandinavian country, comes in at number three. Danish is also one of the most in demand languages in Europe, but who could possibly have beaten them in terms of English proficiency?!

Percentage of people in Denmark who speak English as a second language


2)  Sweden    

Sweden was knocked off the top spot in 2016 but moves up this time into second place. However, their reputation for about as near-native English as you can get, remains strong and I´m sure they’ll be back with a vengeance. But who takes top spot from the Swedes? ...

Percentage of people in Sweden who speak English as a second language


1)  Netherlands              

Congratulations to the Dutch, not only on their ability to invent hilarious surnames, but also on their ability to speak the English language. Their linguistically gifted population has knocked the Swedes off the number one position...for now.

Percentage of population in The Netherlands that speak English


This list refers to Europe, however if it included all the countries in the world (obviously where English is not a native language) it would be almost identical but countries six to ten would each slip one place lower, as Singapore would slot in at number six.

VIDEO: Do you know these English phrases?


It is unsurprising to see the top four countries who speak English as a second language best dominated by Nordic countries - and the Netherlands. They have an increasing knack for topping lists, having very high living standards, population satisfaction as well as cost of living. Germany may have been Europe’s most popular country but they are maybe lower than you would have expected considering their mechanical proficiency in most things.

Also - and I believe this to be key – in the Nordic countries they do not dub the television into their own languages, something has surely helped them ensure they always rank towards the top of the list of English Speaking Countries. Whereas, in France, Spain and even Germany, they translate the television into the country language, despite the majority of TV shows being American or English.

There is also a noticeable lack of southern European countries, with Austria being the southernmost point of the list.  But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Dutch reign supreme over the non-native English speaking world. In fact, I regularly meet Dutch and Scandinavian people and assume that they, like me, are English; that’s how flawless their accents are.

English as a second language has come to be less of an advantage and more of an essential for non-native speakers in the professional world and having a high or native level of English gives you a huge advantage when trying to find a job abroad (or at home too acutally). Inspired to improve your English or master a new language? There are several free apps such as Mondly, as well as YouTube channels where you can receive free lessons. With today’s resources you’ve got no excuse for being monolingual!  

Figures sourcewww.ef.com.es/epi


Jul 31, 2018 by Katie

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The Dutch speak English very well indeed but this is a direct result of the international competitiveness of Dutch companies.

posted 1 year ago by Pietro

Not a surprise France is bad at English.

posted 1 year ago by Julie

What about Italy?

posted 1 year ago by Davide

I didn't expect that Sweden would be number 3, sometimes Swedish speak English as if they were English.

posted 1 year ago by Antigoni

It is important to make sure that the native language remains proficient as well as putting the focus on learning a foreign language.

posted 1 year ago by Mirna

As a Dutch expat living abroad for the past 16 years my English has developed to close to Native. Once you start dreaming in English you're close....)

posted 2 years ago by Leon

Wow what an interesting article. Did not know that Austrian would be in the top 10 :)

posted 2 years ago by Sarah

Interesting overview

posted 2 years ago by Edoardo

Being in this industry for last two decades I follow researches similar to this one. Czech republic and Serbia lately invested a lot in increasing number of English speakers as well. The Mediterranean for sure failed.

posted 2 years ago by Zoran

Well, another reason to visit Poland.

posted 2 years ago by Heidi Stephane


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