Decline in English Language Proficiency Among Young People


A Closer Look at the Factors Contributing to the Decreasing Language Skills Among the Youth

A disconcerting global trend emerges as the 2023 EF English Proficiency Index (EPI) indicates a decline in English language proficiency among young people. The annual index, which assesses English proficiency worldwide, draws on test results from 2.2 million individuals across 113 countries. Published by EF Education First, a Swiss-based private company, the index reveals a troubling shift in language skills, particularly among the youth.

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Contrary to the positive trajectory seen in working adults, the proficiency of young people, aged 18 to 20, has decreased by 89 points since 2015. While the 2023 index warns against a false sense of stability, attributing it to global averages remaining constant, the reality is that gains in some regions are offset by significant losses in others, according to Kate Bell, the author of the EF EPI.

The COVID-19 pandemic is considered a possible catalyst for the decline, disrupting traditional education and potentially leading to learning loss. However, artificial intelligence (AI) tools are also implicated in the debate on diminishing language skills, sparking diverse opinions among experts.

Kansuke Ikebe, a 21-year-old student from Japan, expressed surprise at the results, emphasizing that English proficiency seemed stable in his university. The EPI report suggests that the impact of COVID-19 on education, coupled with AI tools, might have contributed to the decline in language learning.

The report raises concerns about the difficulties faced by countries with diminishing proficiency and inadequately taught English in education systems. Notably, Japan has experienced a nearly 10-year decline in proficiency, with students finding English education impractical and tedious.

A noteworthy gender gap is highlighted in the findings, with the proficiency of women aged 18 to 25 decreasing by 19 points since 2015, compared to a 14-point improvement for men. The report speculates on the gender gap’s connection to international job opportunities and suggests potential societal and educational factors.

Intriguingly, the Middle East sees women outperforming men, with an average score increase of 44 points. The EPI attributes the drop in average scores across high proficiency countries to the pandemic’s impact on traditional learning methods and in-person communication.

The report also explores the influence of AI on language learning. While acknowledging AI’s limitations in providing a deep understanding of new ideas and people, some argue that its development in translation tools could discourage language learning among the youth.

Experts stress the irreplaceable role of schools, teachers, and face-to-face instruction in language learning. The debate over the impact of AI on language acquisition continues, raising questions about the future trajectory of English proficiency among the younger generation.

Gena Bennett, reporting for VOA Learning English, compiled this story using information from EF Education First and other sources. Share your thoughts on your country’s English proficiency and the report’s findings in the Comments Section, on Facebook, or Instagram.

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