Around 840 million people speak English around the world, according to Ethnologue. (335 million people speak it as a first language, and 505 million speak it as a second language.) That’s a lot of people, but where do they all live? Read on to find out which countries have the most English speakers and the highest English proficiency.
United States: 268M English Speakers
No surprise here: Those arrogant former colonists may not speak the Queen’s English correctly, but they do have the world’ s largest English-speaking country. Approximately 225 million Americans speak English as a first language, while 43 million speak it as a second language.
India: 125M English Speakers
India is next on the list, with 125 million English speakers. But only 226, 449 of those speak it as a first language. For the rest, it’s a second language.
However, as BBC reporter Zareer Masani noted in a 2012 article, the patchwork state of English education means that many Indians speak “not so much English as Hinglish, or what my parents’ generation called Babu English – the language of clerks.”
Pakistan : 94,321,604 English Speakers
Surprised? English is one of Pakistan’s official languages, along with Urdu. Although virtually nobody in Pakistan speaks English as a first language, around 49% of the population do speak it as a second language.
The Philippines: 90M English Speakers
The Philippines has two official languages: Filipino and English. Only around 37,000 Filipinos speak it as a first language. However, a little over 92% of the population can speak it as a second language.
Nigeria: 79M English Speakers
Ever wonder why so many email scams originally came from Nigeria, as opposed to Kenya or Zimbabwe? There are a lot of reasons, but the relatively high percentage of English speakers is probably one of them. Around 53% of the population in Nigeria can speak English, which means that a small percentage of those people (by no means representative of all Nigerians) can use their English skills to claim royal descent and a big fat inheritance. With a hefty payout for you, dear blessed one, if only you’ll kindly wire them the transfer fee.
The United Kingdom: 59.6M English Speakers
It’s about time, right? 98% of people in the UK speak English. But the UK’s comparatively small size and small population mean that larger countries like Nigeria and the Philippines actually have more English speakers.
Which Countries Have the Highest English Proficiency?
Obviously, numbers don’t tell the whole story here. Which countries have the highest English proficiency – the highest percentage of people who can speak English well? To answer this question, let’s take a look at results from EF’s English Proficiency Index (EPI). EF is a company that administers English exams to companies. (Not coincidentally, they also promote the idea that English should be the world’s “common language” for business.)
Excluding English-speaking countries like the US and the UK, here are the 5 countries where professionals are most proficient in English, according to EF:
The Netherlands: 15M English Speakers
90 percent of people in the Netherlands speak English, and their EPI score is 73.8, which is the highest of any country they tested.
Denmark: 4.8M English Speakers
The Nordic countries are known for their English skills. See the next three countries on this list? Denmark has a slight edge over the other three, with an EPI score of 72. 91% of the population speaks English as a second language.
Sweden: 8.2M English Speakers
90% of Swedes speak English as a second language. The country has an EPI score of 71.7.
Norway: 4.5M English Speakers
90% of Norwegians speak English as a second language. Their EPI score is 71.3.
Finland: 3.8M English Speakers
70% of Finns speak English as a second language, with an EPI score amongst professionals of 69.2.
The Philippines: 90M English Speakers
The only country to rank in the top 5 for both numbers of English speakers and English proficiency, the Philippines has an EPI score of 67.4.
What Does This Mean for Translation?
So, if you’re trying to do business in one of these countries, will you still need to invest in translation? Probably so. Translation is still important. Remember, India may have 125M English speakers, but that’s only 12% of their population. Of course, the amount of translation help you’ll need depends on factors like the nature of your business and the target audience for a given piece of content.
As EF noted in the Harvard Business Review,
“Not a single country surveyed has workforce English proficiency that qualifies as “advanced” — level C1 or C2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.”
And that’s among professionals, who are more likely to be educated and have access to English classes.
Plus, even when people can speak English as a second language, that doesn’t mean that’s the best way to communicate with them. 75% of people prefer to buy things in their native language, even when they can speak English. And of course, when it comes to product packaging and other communications with customers, consumer protection regulations often require accurate translation.
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Photo credits: By Addicted04 – Own work with Natural Earth DataThis vector image was created with Inkscape., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link; By Pakistan_(orthographic_projection).svg: Turkish Flamederivative work: Atin Bhattacharya (talk) – Pakistan_(orthographic_projection).svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link ; By Ukabia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link