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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Danes are ‘world’s second-best’ speakers of English as a foreign language

A new annual ranking has judged Danes to be the world’s second-best speakers of English as a second language.

Danes are 'world’s second-best' speakers of English as a foreign language
Photo: ActionVance on Unsplash

The newest edition of the annual English Proficiency Index (EPI) from global language training company Education First (EF) ranked Denmark second out of 100 countries that don't have English as a national language. 

That’s an improvement from last year, when Denmark was fourth, and means it has overtaken Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway (now fourth and fifth respectively) on the list. Finland is ranked third, but Iceland, another Nordic country known for its natives’ high standard of English, is not included in the analysis.

“The countries with the highest English proficiency in Europe are clustered in Scandinavia. School systems in these countries employ several key strategies, including an early focus on communication skills, daily exposure to English both in and outside the classroom, and career-specific language instruction in the final years of study, whether that is vocational school or university,” the report states.

This year's index was again topped by The Netherlands.

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It appears Denmark has done well to slightly improve its position on the list, as the index authors found that the rest of the world is slowing catching up with those countries who have the highest proficiency levels.

“The worldwide, population-weighted average English proficiency score remained stable, but 26 countries’ scores improved significantly (meaning they gained more than 20 points), while only seven experienced significant declines,” the report summary notes.

The high scores of Denmark and the other countries near the top of the list are also a good reflection on those societies, EF writes.

“There is an increasingly clear relationship between a society’s connectedness to the world and the level of social and political equality experienced by its citizens,” the summary states.

“Closed societies turn inwards and nurture rigid hierarchies. Open societies look outwards. They are flatter, fairer places. English, as a medium of international connectivity, correlates well with measures of both equality and engagement with the outside world,” it continues.

A total of twelve countries were ranked in the ‘very high proficiency’ category, the highest level. Ten of the 12 are in Europe. The full top 12 is as follows:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Denmark
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Norway
  6. Austria
  7. Portugal
  8. Germany
  9. Belgium
  10. Singapore
  11. Luxembourg
  12. South Africa

'Very high' proficiency is defined by EF as the ability to carry out complex, nuanced tasks in English, such as negotiating a contract with a native English-speaker, reading advanced texts with ease, and using nuanced and appropriate language in social situations.

The report is based on a comparison of English skills measured by testing 2.2 million people who took EF’s English tests in 2019. The full EPI report can be read here

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For members

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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