English is the most widely spoken language in the world with nearly 1.5 million speakers. The role of English as the language of tourism in many places and the fact that it serves as the de facto universal language of science are some of the reasons so much of the world learns English as a foreign language.
In Europe, a continent where many countries are in close proximity to each other, there are many different national languages. Only two of these countries, the UK and Ireland, are home to a majority of native English speakers, but the language is found throughout the continent.
English is a common language Europeans from different countries can use to communicate with each other and is a lingua franca of European Union (EU) institutions.
In this post, we’ll look at which English-speaking countries in Europe have the highest levels of English proficiency. The color-coded map below shows the different levels of English in countries across Europe.
The EF English Proficiency Index (EPI)
The EF English Proficiency Index (EPI) is a comprehensive report of English proficiency in countries around the world. The results come from online surveys performed in 111 countries and regions. A higher EPI score means a higher overall level of English proficiency.
EPI Score: 661
World Ranking: 1
Not only does the Netherlands have the highest level of English proficiency in Europe, but it also has the highest EPI score of the 111 countries ranked worldwide.
The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, which is the most similar major language to English. This similarity and the resulting relative ease with which Dutch speakers can learn English may be partly responsible for the high level of English proficiency in the Netherlands.
The similarity between Dutch and English likely doesn’t tell the whole story of English proficiency in the Netherlands. For instance, Dutch is categorized as a Category I language by the US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) along with Spanish, French, and Italian — three languages that rank much lower for English proficiency. Languages in this category are most similar to English.
Additional reasons the Dutch are so good at English are that the economy is highly involved in international trade, it’s taught in early education, and foreign-language media is subtitled instead of dubbed. Many foreign businesses are headquartered in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, many of which do business in English.
There are also many higher education programs in the Netherlands that are taught partially or entirely in English.
EPI Score: 628
World Ranking: 3
Austria has the second-highest English proficiency in Europe and the third-highest in the world. The official language in Austria is German, and the variety spoken in the country is referred to as Austrian German, which is slightly different from Standard German although they are mutually intelligible.
As with English and Dutch, German is a Germanic language, and its similarity with English may mean that Austrian learners of English may have an easier time than native Albanian speakers, for example, though it’s worth noting that the FSI considers German a Category II language.
English language education plays an important role in the Austrian education system, and this is certainly one of the reasons English proficiency is so high in the country. The study of a modern foreign language is required as early as primary school, and this is often English.
Austria’s location in the center of Europe, bordering eight countries, may contribute to the importance of English. As is the case in many countries on this list, English proficiency in Austria is higher among young adults than in other age groups. Therefore, visitors to places like Vienna, the capital of Austria, especially in hotels, stores, restaurants, and other tourist hubs, should find it easy to communicate using English.
EPI Score: 627
World Ranking: 4
Number three on this list of top English-speaking countries in Europe is Norway, a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. It has an EPI score of 627, which is just one below Austria. The official national languages of Norway are Norwegian and Sami.
One of the reasons English proficiency is so high in Norway is that it has been a mandatory subject in the country’s primary schools since the 1960s. Around 90% of Norwegians speak at least some English, and this is in part because of the education system.
Norwegians that were born after World War II are generally much more likely to be proficient in English than older generations who may not have had as much exposure to the language. Populations in rural areas may also speak less English than those in cities.
The large tourism industry in Norway and its participation in the global market are also contributors to the high level of English spoken in the country. Tourists visiting Norway should generally be able to navigate the country successfully using only English.
EPI Score: 625
World Ranking: 5
Another Scandinavian country with many proficient English speakers is Denmark. Although the only official language of Denmark is Danish, 86% of the population spoke English as a foreign language in 2012, and that percentage has likely grown.
Learning foreign languages is part of the culture in Denmark, and many children have begun learning English as a foreign language even before starting primary school. The fact that English is spoken in the tourism industry and in many business and education environments in Denmark also contributes to widespread English proficiency.
Tourists visiting Denmark should be able to get around speaking English in most situations, especially in areas with a high number of international visitors such as Copenhagen, the country’s capital.
There are also several minority languages spoken in Denmark, and these include Faroese, German, and Greenlandic.
EPI Score: 620
World Ranking: 6
The capital of Belgium is the de facto capital of the European Union and home to many international organizations, including the headquarters for NATO. As a center of international cooperation, it should be no surprise that Belgium ranks among the most English-proficient nations in Europe.
Belgium is a multicultural nation, something that is evident in the fact that it has three official languages: Dutch (Flemish), French, and German. These languages are spoken in the different regions of Belgium, of which cities in the Flanders region have higher levels of English proficiency than those in Wallonia.
Children in Belgium often begin learning English in school at an early age, which adds to the level of English spoken across the country. The highest concentrations of English speakers in Belgium are in urban areas.
EPI Score: 618
World Ranking: 7
Sweden is located in Northern Europe, between Norway and Finland. Its national official language is Swedish, though a very large portion of its population also speaks English as a foreign language. As a general trend, English proficiency is higher in the southern, more populated parts of the country than in the north.
Consistently ranking highly on the EPI scale, Sweden had the highest EPI score in the world in 2018, and it’s been in the top ten for more than a decade. Many people in Sweden start learning English at a young age and are exposed to English-language media throughout their lives, both of which contribute to English proficiency.
Sweden is well connected to many other countries through tourism, the European Union, international business, and exports like IKEA and Spotify, and this is another reason it’s beneficial to speak English as a Swede because Swedish isn’t spoken by many people outside of the country.
EPI Score: 615
World Ranking: 8
Finland has two official national languages — Finnish and Swedish — but there are also a lot of English speakers in the country. In fact, around 90% of the country’s residents between 18 and 64 years of age claimed to have some proficiency in English in 2017.
English is not a mandatory subject for all children in primary school in Finland, but studying foreign languages is required, and English is often the language of choice. This education in addition to the consumption of English-language media leads to Finland’s relatively high levels of English proficiency.
As Helsinki, the capital of Finland, tries to attract skilled foreign labor, the city’s mayor has even proposed that the city declare itself an English-language city. This is because Finnish is notorious for being a difficult language to learn and could potentially scare foreign workers away.
EPI Score: 614
World Ranking: 9
According to its EPI score, English proficiency in Portugal has been steadily increasing over the past decade. The country ranked in the “Very High” proficiency level for the first time four years ago and has held on to the ranking every year since.
Portugal is one of the most visited countries in the world, and this may help contribute to its high English proficiency score. The tourism industry in Portugal is thriving, and much of the business in this sector happens in English.
As is the case in many countries, English proficiency in Portugal is generally higher in cities than in rural areas. The northern city of Porto in Portugal has some of the country’s best English speakers, but the smaller city of Braga scored higher on the EPI in 2022.
EPI Score: 613
World Ranking: 10
The ninth-highest English proficiency in Europe for 2022 belongs to Germany, which ranks 10th globally. Germany is in the “Very High” proficiency category and has been included in such for the past five years. The highest-ranking city in Germany for English proficiency was Karlsruhe in 2022.
English usage is increasingly common in international businesses operating in Germany, a trend that is visible in countries across the continent. In a bid to attract more skilled foreign workers, one of Germany’s governing parties has even suggested that English should become the country’s second official language.
Germany’s population also enjoys traveling abroad, accounting for far more outbound overnight trips than any other EU nation in 2019. This affinity for travel may also be partly responsible for cementing English-language learning in German culture since English is such an international language.
Foreign language education is also compulsory in secondary schools throughout Germany, and English is one of the most popular choices.
EPI Score: 612
World Ranking: 11
English is widely spoken in Croatia, earning it the 10th-highest EPI score in Europe. The official national language in Croatia is Croatian, though nearly 80% of the population reportedly also speaks a foreign language.
The increasing importance of English in the fields of business, tourism, and global communication has placed higher significance on English language education in countries like Croatia, where English is commonly taught in schools. Other popular foreign languages in Croatian secondary schools are German and Italian.
Other factors increasing the demand for English proficiency in Croatia have been a rise in tourist arrivals to the country and its integration into the EU in 2013. The country also saw a significant rise in tourism since becoming part of the Schengen Area in 2023.
EPI Score: 600
World Ranking: 13
Polish is the official national language in Poland and is spoken as a native language by the vast majority of the country’s residents. English is also widely spoken in Poland, especially in urban centers and by the younger population. The Polish cities with the highest EPI score in 2022 are Wroclaw, Krakow, and Poznan.
Studying a foreign language is mandatory in the Polish education system, and English is the most commonly studied language, followed by German, Spanish, French, Latin, and Russian.
Poland’s participation in the EU and the Schengen Area, along with increasing foreign investment have made English an invaluable skill for Polish residents interested in better career opportunities. Strong international ties also make English proficiency highly useful.
Another reason English proficiency has been on the rise in Poland is the increasing availability of resources for learning English. These come in the form of online courses, in-person language schools, and more.
EPI Score: 598
World Ranking: 14
The location of Greece in Southern Europe’s Mediterranean Region is one of the reasons its a hugely popular country for visiting tourists. Although the only official language in Greece is Greek, visitors generally don’t have much trouble navigating the country if they speak English.
In a report published by the European Commission, 51% of people in Greece claimed they were proficient enough in English to have a conversation. The report also indicated that 99% of Greeks speak the national language as their mother tongue and that the most common reason for studying a foreign language was to improve domestic job prospects.
In addition to a strong tourism industry that incentivizes learning English, it is a compulsory subject taught in the Greek education system, starting in primary school.
EPI Score: 597
World Ranking: 15
Slovakia earned an EPI score of 597 in 2022, its best score to date. It ranked five places higher than it did in 2021 and represents a general trend of higher English proficiency in the country over the past decade.
Foreign language education is compulsory in Slovakia, and English is the most common foreign language in the country. English was made a compulsory subject in 2015, but concerns have been raised over students’ proficiency in other languages.
Slovakia became a member of the EU in 2009, and this integration with other European countries has made English an invaluable tool of communication in international business and tourism. The Slovakian capital of Bratislava has the highest levels of English in the country.
EPI Score: 596
World Ranking: 16
In 2022, Luxembourg was the richest country in the world by GDP per capita. This wealthy country is located between Belgium, Germany, and France and has three official languages: Luxembourgish, German, and French.
The population of Luxembourg is largely multilingual, and according to a 2018 study, 98% of the population spoke French, 80% spoke English, and 78% spoke German. While French is the most commonly spoken language in the country, English functions as the lingua franca of the robust international community.
Overall, the combination of a multicultural atmosphere, the presence of international organizations and businesses, and the country’s role as a global financial center all contribute to Luxembourg’s spot at number 14 on this list of English-speaking countries in Europe.
EPI Score: 595
World Ranking: 17
The only official language in Romania is Romanian, but English proficiency has been improving across the country in recent history. The study of a foreign language is compulsory in the Romanian education system, and the study of English is required in most situations.
Romania has been a part of the EU since 2007, and this integration with other European countries has made English an important means of communication. A growing number of multinational companies in Romania has also contributed to an atmosphere in which English ability is highly beneficial.
Younger populations in Romania are more likely to be proficient in English than older groups, as are those in more urban areas. Bucharest had an EPI score of 609 in 2022.
More English Speaking Countries in Europe
Of the 35 European countries included on the EPI list, 11 were categorized as “Very High Proficiency,” 12 were considered “High Proficiency,” and ten scored as “Moderate Proficiency. Turkey was the only country to be labeled as “Low Proficiency,” and Azerbaijan was the only country to fall into the “Very Low Proficiency” category.
With the exception of Portugal, the highest-scoring countries on the continent are located in Central and Northern Europe.
Despite receiving more tourists than many other European countries, France, Spain, and Italy all received scores of “Moderate Proficiency,” coming in at 24, 25, and 26 for Europe.
English Speaking Countries Around the World
Which continent speaks the best English?
According to the EPI, the continent with the most proficient English speakers is Europe. In fact, 17 out of the top 20 countries on the EPI list are in Europe.
Non-European countries in the top 20 are Singapore (2), South Africa (12), and Kenya (20).
It’s worth remembering this doesn’t take into account countries with a majority of native English speakers such as Australia, Canada, or the United States.
Which county has the most non-native English speakers?
India has the highest number of non-native English speakers in the world. The history of British colonial rule in India has given English an important status in the country, and it is still spoken by many today.
India’s population of more than 1.4 billion means it has more English speakers than any other country.
How many English-speaking countries are there?
Which countries speak the least English?
According to the EPI, the countries with the lowest English proficiency in 2022 were Libya, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Laos.
Many of the countries that scored lowest on the EPI are located in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.