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Portugal has world’s seventh-best non-native English speakers

12 November 2020

EF shares their global survey of over two million adults reveals worldwide trends in English proficiency.

Portugal has the seventh-highest English proficiency among non-native speakers in the world, according to the new EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI). The index takes into account 100 countries and regions around the world.

At the top of this year’s list is the Netherlands, followed by Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Austria. Next on the list is Portugal, which is placed ahead of Germany, Belgium, and Singapore.

Meanwhile, Porto and Lisbon both made the top-15 list of cities, placing 9th and 14th respectively.



The EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) ranks countries by the average level of English language skills amongst adults who took the EF test, a standardized test of the English language designed for non-native English speakers.

 "While 2020 has been a challenging year, the circumstances have also highlighted the importance of clear communication and cooperation across borders. English as a global lingua franca continues to bring people together, and the EF EPI contains valuable insights for policymakers to evaluate and strengthen their organizations' and governments' language learning capability," said Dr. Christopher McCormick, EF Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Portuguese men speak better than women

The study - which assessed the English language skills of more than 2.2 million people - concludes that worldwide women speak English better than men, although this disparity is less evident compared to past editions of EF EPI.

In Portugal, following last year's results, men managed to obtain a better classification than women. Even so, Portuguese women this year also reached a “very high” level of English skills (61.3 points), a figure well above the average for men worldwide (49.8 points).

Portuguese young people between 21 and 25 years of age continue to be the best rated in the EPI - a report that shows a correlation between fluency in English and quality of life, innovation, and a set of other social and economic indicators.

In the majority of countries, both rich and developing, women are more educated than men. Yet their job opportunities are limited by wage gaps, structural imbalances, and cultural expectations that they will do more than their share of unpaid work in the home.

 In societies with more progressive gender roles, people speak better English. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report measures how well women fare relative to men in terms of economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health.

Even though this positive correlation between fluency in the English language of a region and the average value of its gross income, Portugal is one of three countries with a “very high” level of English proficiency, but staying below the national average income per capita correlation line.

Portugal does not follow global trend

Despite the high correlation between English proficiency and the Global Talent Competitiveness Index, a report that assesses a country's ability to attract, develop and retain skilled workers, Portugal and South Africa are out of the trend.

The two countries, even with a high proficiency in the English language and unlike the rest of the group that leads this ranking, are below the line of correlation concerning the ability to attract and retain qualified workers. Portugal is behind countries such as Japan, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Estonia, or France.

Another correlation found by EF EPI is between English proficiency and ease of doing business, as well as speaking English and a range of logistics-related indicators. A lingua franca lowers transaction costs across borders; the more widely English is adopted, the more savings it generates. Although there is evidence that the pace of globalization is slowing, international trade is a significant portion of the world economy, with exports making up around 20% of the world’s economic output.

For economies around the world, higher English proficiency correlates with a higher gross domestic product, higher net income, and higher productivity. The complex relationship between language skills and economic growth—with greater wealth facilitating more English training, and English skills helping economies stay competitive— highlights the role that English can play in broader schemes for economic growth.

However, also in this field, Portugal does not follow the trend. Looking at productivity per hour, Portugal is behind countries like Italy or Spain.

Concerning the correlation between English proficiency and the publication of scientific articles, Portugal is performing really well. The most recent data suggests that 60% of the articles in the Nature Index were international collaborations, a greater proportion than ever. It is not surprising to find a strong correlation between a country's English proficiency and the number of scientific and technical articles per capita, as well as its investment in Research and Development, in terms of capital and human resources.

For Constança Oliveira e Sousa, Country Manager for EF Portugal, “today, scientists and engineers simply cannot afford to miss out on global innovation because of language barriers, and it is not just researchers who need to access new ideas”. “In every field, professionals need to stay abreast of international best practices. For companies, too, a culture of English proficiency makes it possible to tap pools of talent and expertise that, just a few years ago, would have been out of reach”.


Key findings of the EF EPI 2020 include:

  • The network effect of English has never been stronger. The more people use English, the more useful it becomes for individuals, businesses and countries to access resources and opportunities.
  • Although Europe’s English proficiency is consistently strong, 27 out of 33 countries improved their proficiency since last year.
  • People aged 26 to 30 have the highest English proficiency worldwide, but adults over 40 score better than 18-20 year olds, underlining the role of universities and workplaces in developing English skills.
  • Government, education, and healthcare sectors scored at the bottom of the industry ranking. Competition in the private sector is driving companies to select for English proficiency and invest in developing English skills more aggressively, leaving the public sector underskilled by comparison.


The EF EPI report is available for download at 


About EF Education First 

EF Education First is an international education company that focuses on language, travel, cultural exchange, and academics. Founded in 1965, EF's mission is "opening the world through education." EF is the Official Language Training Partner for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.


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