Portugal was rated the 12th country in the world most proficient in English speaking, among 100 non-native English language countries. The country is among the 14 countries ranked as having a “very high” proficiency, on a scale with five levels (very high, high, moderate, low and very low). The EF English Proficiency Index was elaborated by EF Education First, a renowned international education company.
An outlier among the trends
The 14 countries with “very high” efficiency are Northern and Central European countries (Scandinavia, Benelux, German-speaking countries, Poland) and former British colonies (Singapore, South Africa). Portugal and Croatia are the two outliers in the table. The Portuguese case could be even more surprising, given that the Spanish neighbours were rated as having only “moderate” efficiency.
A historical reason for the proficiency
Apart from education efforts and the natural Portuguese curiosity about what is foreign, there is a historical reason setting Portugal so apart from Spain. In Portugal, people watch English language media and content (TV series, movies, etc.) with subtitles, unlike Spain and many countries. Dubbing is reserved only for cartoons for children, assuming they can’t read well.
During the Estado Novo dictatorship (1933-1974), after the Second World War, there was a surge of interest in American cinema. To protect the national filming industry, the government ordered that foreign movies had mandatorily to be subtitled. Alphabetization rates were low, and the authorities expected that this way, the public would rely more on national cinema.
The subtitles became a habit and did not vanish with the democratization process. Today, most Portuguese know at least a minimum of English words, due to the effort of reading subtitles and listening to the original voices. For the younger generations, it is even easier as they watch a lot of English content from Youtube, Twitch and other online platforms.
Foreigners can communicate everywhere
If you’re the kind of person who is aiming to learn a new language for the sake and the pleasure of it, don’t worry. Older generations have still difficulties to come to grips with English, and they’ll welcome your effort. But if you’re looking to a place with a “language safety net”, don’t look further: in Portugal, there’s always a proficient English speaker around the corner.