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Why are the Swiss getting worse at speaking English?

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Why are the Swiss getting worse at speaking English?
Photo: Depositphotos
15:48 CET+01:00
Swiss command of the English language is continuing to decline, according to a worldwide report that ranks diff the ability of different nationalities to speak the language of Shakespeare. Here's how the Switzerland compares.

The report, released on Monday, shows that Switzerland has fallen to 19th on the global rankings, down from 15th in 2018 and 12th in 2017. 

One of the reasons for Switzerland sliding down the list may be that more and more countries are being included year after year, although this year’s points tally of 60.23 is lower than 2018’s 61.77.

A total of 100 countries were included on the list, up from 88 in 2018 and 32 in 2017. Holland came out on top, overtaking Sweden for first place. 

READ: Switzerland's 2018 ranking

Where do the Swiss speak English best?

This may not be news to anyone who’s spent much time in Switzerland’s different linguistic regions, but German-speaking Switzerland significantly outranks French and Italian-speaking Switzerland when it comes to English ability. 

With a score of 63.52, Zurich ranks as the region with the best English, roughly the same as Germany and Austria. The two cantons with the worst English are the Italian-speaking region of Ticino and the French-speaking Geneva. 

Image: Education First

Swiss men buck the trend

Another finding was that men are gradually catching up to women when it comes to English proficiency worldwide and across Europe - although the figures from Switzerland suggest that this began a long time ago. 

While across Europe and the globe women tend to have a better command of English, the opposite is true in Switzerland.

Swiss men rank half a point higher for English than Swiss women. 

Image: Education First

With four national languages, why aren't the Swiss doing better? 

One of the major reasons for Switzerland having a lower level of English the country's significant linguistic diversity. While this does prep the Swiss for learning English generally, it's often superseded by the requirement to learn another language. 

As Sue Wood, the President of the English Teachers Association of Switzerland, told The Local previously.

“There are four national languages here, and while English is the first foreign language taught in many cantons, there is also a requirement for primary school children to learn another national language," she said. 

Swiss students all are required to learn two foreign languages, with the requirement that at least one of them is a national language. 

Wood told The Local that while Switzerland may be sliding down the rankings now, improvements were on the horizon. 

"Switzerland has invested a lot in English teaching in the last ten to 15 years. The newer teachers coming through now have had full in-depth teacher training and we are now waiting to see the results," she said. 

The best - and the rest?

Switzerland is considered to be in the second tier of countries according to their ESL skills, with a ranking of ‘High’. Other countries in the ‘High’ bracket included Romania, Argentina and the Philippines. 

As could probably be expected, countries in the north of Europe were among the best in the world for their ESL (English as a Second Language) skills. 

The Netherlands topped the poll, taking first place from Sweden. Norway and Denmark came third and fourth respectively. 

The top bracket - ‘Very High’ - included 14 countries, 12 of which are in Europe. South Africa and Singapore were the only non-European countries to make the top tier. 

Switzerland’s low ranking may be somewhat surprising - particularly considering neighbouring Germany and Austria were in the top tier - but the Swiss still rank higher than a number of larger European nations. 

France, Spain and Italy all rank in the third tier as having a ‘Moderate’ comprehension of English. 

The report

The report was compiled by Education First, an international education company founded in Sweden but ironically now headquartered in Lucerne.

The study is compiled by more than 2.3 million tests which take place across the globe - a 77 percent increase from 2018. 

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