Which Countries Have the Most English Speakers?

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.usa-globe

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 Speakersindia

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 Speakerspakistan

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 Speakers177px-location_philippines_asean-svg

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 well-known email scams originally came from Nigenigeriaria, as opposed to another country? 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.

But let’s get one thing clear: Internet fraud isn’t limited to Nigeria.

Most Nigerians despise scammers and deplore the damage they’ve done to the country’s reputation. However, every country has a few bad apples, and in Nigeria, some of those bad apples used their English skills to become famous for a specific type of email scam called “advance fee fraud.” Other countries have their own specialties, and when it comes to Internet fraud as a whole, most of it actually comes from countries other than Nigeria, and continents other than Africa. For example, Russians are known for hacking restaurants and stealing customer’s data, and Estonia is a hotbed of clickbait fraud.

Also, these days, that “Nigerian Prince” offering to share his wealth via email could just as easily be an old white guy from Louisiana.

Nigeria: A growing economy with a vibrant literary and entertainment scene

Nigeria is also home to world-renowned authors who write in English. You may have heard of Chinua Achebe, the Man Booker-prize winning author of Things Fall Apart who died in 2013, or Nigerian poet and Nobel Prize-winning playwright Wole Soyinka. But there’s also Chris Abani, who was imprisoned twice as a teenager after publishing books the government at the time considered suspect. And there’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novelist, feminist writer, and short story author. Meanwhile, Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma’s novel The Fishermen won several awards and is being translated into 15 languages.

Nigeria is also the largest economy in Africa, and it’s expected to have the highest GDP growth in the world between now and 2050. Meanwhile, the Nigerian film industry is the third-most-valuable in the world.

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.

Need help with translation for your business? We provide an entire range of document translation services!

Photo credits: By Addicted04Own 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 UkabiaOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

40 replies
  1. Peveen Kithsiri
    Peveen Kithsiri says:

    Lol where is Sri Lanka at? Our entire nation speaks English and it’s a official language here and we have 20 million people?

    Reply
  2. Lirpa Olof
    Lirpa Olof says:

    What about South Africa? It’s been spoken there for hundreds of years. Everyone speaks and needs to speak it. Probably over 50m

    Reply
    • Krince
      Krince says:

      It’s not because of they are good english speakers or how long they speak in english it’s because of the population of the country let’s just say USA is the smallest country if that country is so small that you think it will be the most english speaker?

      Reply
  3. Jonathan Tafreg
    Jonathan Tafreg says:

    What about Tanzania? I think this might be the first time the name appears here. A country with over 50 Millions people, Kiswahili being the national language, and English holding an unknown status, for even the government leaders cannot speak English fluently and efficiently, not to mention university lecturers and the so called “Wasomi”. English is like a mother-in-law to them. Do we have anything left for us when it comes to English?

    Reply
  4. Stevo
    Stevo says:

    Isnt English supposed to be one of the hardest language’s to learn? With all the nouns, pronouns, verbs, subject’s and predicates ECT. Coupled with the fact we have several words for example, close and clothes which sound exaclty the same but have different spelling and totally different meanings. Then factor in the the tricky singular version of a word such as box, and the plural version of boxes and all the puncuation that means as much as the words themselves. Learning the words of a language is not enough alone to be considered a “second language” if you dont know the meaning of the words you are trying use you wont make much sence to the people who speak that language fluently.

    Reply
  5. Irshad Muhammed
    Irshad Muhammed says:

    ohj…i am happy to see india at 2nd of d list” but around india thr is 29 states ,and deffrent languages still indians are communicating fluent english with good pronunciation.

    Reply
  6. Aman
    Aman says:

    As an Indian, I can say most of the Indian use English as their second or third maybe fourth language. As we have many languages to communicate with. So basically most of us aren’t perfect in English. And I can tell these are only numbers who just speak English. Not based on how fluently.
    Does anyone know where did they get these exact figures from? I wonder if they took me in their count or not.

    Reply
  7. Xj mahmud🇧🇩
    Xj mahmud🇧🇩 says:

    Moral what are we fighting for? English is just a language guys it’s not a knowledge but nowadays people judge people by their English speaking skill. Seems, we judge a book by its cover.

    Reply
  8. James cool
    James cool says:

    I am pleased that Nigeria is part of the list. I am very displeased with way the description the writer of the article gave about Nigeria. Nigeria isn’t not the only corrupt country in the world, even the so called countries that paint themselves to be saints are worse in the history map in terms of crimes and fraud. You don’t describe a country or a nation by using crude and diminishing words to get your point across. Some of the so called internet scam and fraud are been done by other people using the name of the country Nigeria to perpetuate their evil agenda, and then people like you the writer of the article will quickly jump into conclusion without proper investigation. You should be ashamed of yourself for using such discriminatory description you gave or use in analyzing the country Nigeria.

    Reply
    • Alison Kroulek
      Alison Kroulek says:

      Hi James, Thanks so much for your feedback! I certainly don’t think your country is especially corrupt or criminal, and I would like to apologize that what I wrote came across that way. I’ve updated the section on Nigeria to make that more clear.

      Reply
  9. Pinoy Ako
    Pinoy Ako says:

    English in the Philippines is being thought since Pre-School (5years old) until college alongside Filipino Language. So most likely all kids who go to school either private or public know how to speak english but since none of them speaks english outside of school and its a little awkward to speak english with friends. So we use ’em when we speak with foreigner instead.

    Reply
  10. Job Mark Daniel
    Job Mark Daniel says:

    This is the most foolish blog I’ve ever read. You don’t make a conclusion of this out of the numbers of the population. You need to consider the proportion, correct enunciation, efficiency and fluency of the population if you are going to make a conclusion about this. I do not think India should be in the second place. I don’t even know that they are already speaking in English, they still seem to sound Indian. Next time you should consider those things. And I do believe you are Indian, that’s why you want to uplift your race through this. If you depend on population at all times , then, like for example, Vatican City would be the poorest country in the world; if Vaticanos sum up their all their income then it would be the least because there only has 801 people living their.
    Moreover, before you consider yourself as English speakers make sure every person understands your English. BOom!

    Reply
  11. nicholas kabutey
    nicholas kabutey says:

    Why is Ghana not there, Sweden, Holland and Denmark have less speakers compared to Ghana’s 30 million population. The whole of Ghana speaks English.

    Reply
    • Alison Kroulek
      Alison Kroulek says:

      Hi Nicholas,

      The first list is of the countries with the most English speakers. The second list is of non-English-speaking countries that have the highest English proficiency –  the highest percentage of people who can speak English well, according to English testing firm EF.

      Reply

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