Who’s Better at English? Swedes or 6-Year-Olds?
Ever go to plan a vacation (somewhere … anywhere but here!) and wonder where your English will be of the most use?
Of course, I’d advocate learning at least some, if not a significant amount, of any local tongue. But let’s face it: learning all of the world’s estimated 6,500 languages is hard. Like, really hard.
So what countries speak English the best?
This blog post from The Economist highlights a new study that examines the fluency of foreign English speakers.
According to the post:
EF Education First, an English-teaching company, compiled the biggest ever internationally comparable sample of English learners: some 2m people took identical tests online in 44 countries. The top five performers were Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The bottom five were Panama, Colombia, Thailand, Turkey and Kazakhstan. Among regions, Latin America fared worst. (No African country had enough takers to make the lists’s threshold for the minimum number of participants.)
The post, which is fairly short and contains lots of other intriguing tidbits about the whys and hows of foreign fluency.
But one thing in particular caught my eye:
Starting young, while it seems a good idea, may not pay off: children between eight and 12 learn foreign languages faster than younger ones, so each class hour on English is better spent on a 10-year-old than on a six-year-old.
All right. I guess I can buy that, especially from a financial standpoint, but I would like to point something out.
Even though children may be able to learn more quickly at a later age, it still may be a good idea to start a second language younger so that by age 10, they’re already working with a good foundation and can grow from there.
An often-cited study by K.A. Ericsson and A.C. Lehmann shows that expertise in almost any field requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
If older children really soak up languages better than their younger brothers and sisters, think how much more and how quickly a ten-year-old would learn if he’d already had four years of instruction.