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10 September 2011
As previously promised... we are releasing the average English vocabulary levels per-country, for non-native speakers. Please keep in mind, this is not scientific in the slightest, but rather just for fun.
First, the map and ranking:
It is clear that the real "winner" here is Northern Europe: the first four places are Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. After that, Europe as a whole has a relatively strong showing, along with Mexico, Argentina, Israel, Chile, and Indonesia.
But, what does this chart really mean? Besides being based normally on the vocabulary test results, there are three limits placed on the data:
Non-native. It is based on speakers self-identified as non-native speakers only, so an American living in China should not affect the data for China.
No English as an official language. We have not included results for countries where English is one of the official languages. This means no US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Philippines, or Singapore. While many of these countries had high numbers of respondents who self-identified as non-native English speakers, comparison with other countries would not be very meaningful.
At least 300 respondents. Less than this, and the data for the country is really not very meaningful at all. (Interestingly, China, Iran and Russia are by far our largest participants, with over 60,000 test-takers each. Next comes Ukraine at 23,000, and then Germany at 12,000.)
And then, there are two big caveats to keep in mind:
Internet participation. It is based only on people who took the survey, without any kind of scientific control, or guarantee that the participants are representative of the overall population as a whole. In fact, they almost surely aren't, since Internet users tend to be better educated and fall into particular age groups. Strictly speaking, this means the comparative data is totally useless, because it is theoretically possible that, for example, the test was popular among top students in Denmark, and among low-performing students in Iran. Such an extreme example is probably not the case, but whether participation in a particular country came via an article on a high-brow news site, or was spread by a particular group of people on a certain social network, could certainly have an influence.
IP addresses. Countries were calculated automatically from the IP addresses of test-takers. These are mostly accurate, but not perfect. Some respondents also provided their nationality in the survey. Many countries show self-reported nationalities and IP addresses matching up over 95% of the time, while other countries have a somewhat lower rate. So country identification, while good, is not absolutely perfect.
So have fun with the rankings, but don't take them too seriously. And if you have further interest, check out the EF English Proficiency Index, which shows very similar results which come from a completely different survey, and also has a PDF report with interesting profiles of English usage in a number of countries.
“One forgets words as one forgets names. One's vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.”
— Evelyn Waugh
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