India lower than China in English proficiency ?


Now, this information has definitely taken me by surprise – Isn’t India known globally for its large English speaking population ? Infact, that is one of the main reasons why IT services has seen such tremendous growth in India over past decade or so.

However, when I came across recently released EF EPI [Education First – English Proficiency Index], I was literally stunned. According to the EF EPI rankings, India is ranked lower than China in English Proficiency. While China ranks at 29th, India is ranked at 30th in the world for English language proficiency!


What is even more surprising is that countries like South Korea and Japan are ranked much higher than India. Among all the Asian countries, Malaysia ranks the highest and is even amongst the Top 10 most English proficient countries in the world. I had visited Japan (ranked 14th) few months back and I was in Tokyo. In my nearly 4 day stay, the biggest hurdle I faced was English. I just could not converse with any locals in English…at all!

On the contrary, if you visit any city or large town in India, you will always find people who know English – even if it is broken (with a real big Indian accent!).

If you go through the entire report of EF EPI – you will find no real reasoning for why India ranks so low in proficiency. Here is what the report says:

Asia’s English proficiency scores show that reputations are not always accurate. Take for example the nearly equivalent scores of China and India. Despite its British colonial legacy and reputation as an English-speaking nation, India is today no more proficient in English than rapidly improving China.

Indeed, although it is very difficult to measure the number of people who speak English in each country because of different definitions of proficiency, the British Council estimated in 2010 that India had anywhere between 55 and 350 million English speakers while a report published by Cambridge University Press estimates that China has 250 to 350 million English learners.

It appears that China is poised to surpass India in the number of English speakers in the coming years, if it has not already done so.

We always take such surveys and reports with a pinch of salt. Although the numbers are never accurate, they do tend to give the general representation of ground realities. However, this report seems to give the consensus is opposite direction (atleast, that what my personal opinion is).

The report also gives very vague idea of what methodology was used – The report simply says:

The index uses a unique set of test data from over two million adults who took free online English tests over a period of three years.

My take is – India probably has the most number of proficient English speaking people in Asia. There are many simple points which can prove that. Take for example the number of English Dailies in India and number of people who consume it. In Japan, you will not find more than 3-4 English dailies. I am not too sure of China, but I doubt if people read English dailies there. While in India, we have probably 15 – 20 major English Newspapers. Similarly, how many English TV channels does China or Japan have? We in India probably have more than 100 !

So, what is your take? Do you agree with the findings of the report ?

  1. Abhishek says

    This is ridiculous becoz in India priority is given to english language, whereas in china everything is written in mandarin.And in india every subject is studied in english ,most chinese can’t even understand english.we indians are way better english speakers than any other asian country

  2. Altaf Rahman says

    When you are confused about a situation and do not know the conclusion, you look for clues and slowly make the picture. In this case there are no clues too (to explain why Chinese are ahead of Indians). So we have to make a theory and try to validate it by some inputs.

    All above theories are weak. What Silver tongue said looks more logical. May be the participants are all Students of EF and the motive of EF to entie more elite Chinese students.

    However what still intrigues me is the fact that there are 2 million participants in the testy which by any standard is a very wide base to judge. So the chance for bias is clearly very remote. Still I go with Silver Tongue logic.

  3. Silver Tongue says

    If the test takers were “self-selected and only those either wanting to learn English or curious about their English skills” then they were really “not guaranteed to be representative of a country as a whole”. [quoted from the EF EPI report, page 20]

    Seemingly, the respondents to this survey were “all students” of EF, from around the world. The result of this survey is clearly biased. A very enticing marketing strategy to attract more “elite” Chinese students to take English training at EF.

    So surprising that Philippines, in which English is an official language, is not included in the list of proficiency ranking. Is it because there is no EF branch in the Philippines?

  4. Altaf Rahman says

    During the last 18 years, I travelled and lived in 10 countries, both in Gulf and South East Asea. As an Engineer, our office atmosphere in all the countries is compulsorily english speaking whether the locals like it or not.
    While saying that I am no authority on how much each national is proficient in english, from what ever little of my experiance of dealing with so many nationalities I would like to write the following.
    Indians may be quantitatively the largest english speaking nation on earth. But the quality of english is very poor. Except for a few Indians who come from good convents and schools, most of them (almost 95%) speak an accent which is instantly recognised as Hinglish. Even those convent educated Indians have a slight accent though their english may be grametically impeccable.

    Now coming to Arabs, the gulf governments thanks to their oil billions send their children to US, Europe to get educated. How much they learn in science and technology or medicine is a different issue but their english proficinecy is next only to UK nationals. Even for those who can not go to US, Europe, the Gulf countries have established International schools like American International School, British International school adn hire white colored US UK nationals to teach there. Kids studying there are more english oriented.

    So no need for anybody to be surprised when Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or any Arab national is more proficient in english than an Indian. They are far better than us. Almost 75% of all english speaking Arabs I came across have studied in US or Europe.

    Now what I too can not gulp down is the fact that how China is more proficient than India.

    I have come across many Chinese business executives (some times Chairmen, MDs) who while coming to us bring their own translators and through transaltors we communicate. I have a friend who spends atleast 20 days a month in China, HK for importing every thing into India. Last night I spoke to him about this issue. He too confirmed that almost all of Chinese businessmen communicate through translators.

    The only reasoning that I can guess is that as China recognized the importance of English and may have established US, British International schools and may have hired US, UK nationals to teach their kids and the new generation may be more proficinet in englsih.

    And may be the Indians who took part in the test may have come from a school under the tree, while most of those Chinese who took the test may be from elite schools.

    May be its only a one of incident in the tests, or may be as the above readers said, may be its a propaganda to create compititiveness among Indian and Chinese in english proficiency.

    Still I say what I reasoned above is only hypothetical.

    Just my two paisa :)

    1. Ravi says

      I’ve interacted with the so called professional translators from Beijing & Tianjin and even their english were touchy at best. There is no way even 5 million Mainland Chinese proficient in English when the best translators can’t understand Outsourcing and Management System.

  5. liju philip says

    hk maybe because of the british influence…but taiwan, china, korea and saudi arabia have better english proficiency than India? lol

    good joke.

  6. Shebeeb says

    I think survey was based on proficiency of english speaking people in india than the number of people who know english.

    1. Arun Prabhudesai says

      Shebeeb, that means you are saying that Chinese are more proficient in English than we are ? is that right ?

      1. Shebeeb says

        Yes, of course. It’s true that only less people know english in china, but those who know are very fluent and they have bettter accent.
        It is like “putting maximum eggs in a single bucket than increasing the number of buckets by spreading the eggs”.

  7. Ravi says

    Looks like China’s propaganda through outsourced agencies are makeing waves. Probably Indian media should start countering these Chinese propaganda like these.

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