Nov 192015

Proficiency in English is widely seen as an ever-more-essential skill in our increasingly-internationalized and business-oriented world. Many Mexicans have acquired excellent English, whether from education, family connections or residence abroad. It therefore comes as something of a shock to study the latest English Proficiency Index, put out by the Toronto-based organization,  Education First (EF).

Education First modestly describes itself as “The World Leader in International Education”. (This claim is rather grandiose, given that the International Baccalaureate, for one, is far larger and much better known in educational circles worldwide).

The 2015 edition of EF’s English Proficiency Index (EPI) “ranks 70 countries and territories based on test data from more than 910,000 adults who took our online English tests in 2014. This edition continues to track the evolution of English proficiency, looking back over the past eight years of EF EPI data.”

EF categorizes the level of English proficiency in different places as “very high”, “high”, “moderate”, “low” or “very low”.

English proficiency in Mexico

English proficiency in Mexico (grey = moderate; yellow = low; orange = very low). Credit: EF EPI, 2015

Strangely, Mexico does not do well on this index. According to EF, no state or city in Mexico performs beyond the “moderate” level (colored grey on the map). From the map, it appears that there is, in this context as in many others, something of a north-south divide in Mexico, with southern states under-performing in comparison with northern states.

The highest-scoring cities for English proficiency are Monterrey (53.59) and Mexico City (53.03), both classed as “moderate”, followed by Hermosillo (52.36), Tijuana (51.27), Guadalajara (50.52), Ciudad Juárez (49.35), and Mexicali (48.51), all classed as “low”. At the bottom end of proficiency, Puebla (47.84), Cancún (47.14), and Oaxaca (44.61) are all in the “very low” category.

EF recognizes that the people taking its tests are “self-selected and not guaranteed to be representative of the country as a whole. Only those people either wanting to learn English or curious about their English skills will participate in one of these tests. This could skew scores lower or higher than those of the general population.” On the other hand, it also claims that, “The EF English Proficiency Index is increasingly cited as an authoritative data source by journalists, educators, elected officials, and business leaders.”

That may be so, but given the EPI methodology and EF’s overblown claims of being “The World Leader in International Education”, perhaps we should take these results with a grain of salt ~ of which Mexico has lots!

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  3 Responses to “The spatial distribution of English proficiency in Mexico”

  1. This map makes no sense. A lot of the orange sections are in areas where there are a lot of resorts as well as permanent expats. Mexicans in these areas usually speak English very well.

  2. I’m certainly not disagreeing with you! The study’s methodology has to be taken into account. I would guess that there is actually is something of a north-south divide in the level of English proficiency across Mexico (assuming a study based on a genuinely random sampling of individuals), with higher levels closer to the USA, and with some outliers of higher proficiency in and around resort areas. Maybe some reader knows of a better study about the patterns of English proficiency in Mexico? If so, then please let us know!

  3. There are clusters of English proficiency growing from private universities in major cities. Taking Monterrey as an example there are about 14.000 students at Tec de Monterrey and 8,000 at UdeM who all have to achieve 500 on the paper Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) in order to graduate. So that’s about 4,000+ students a year in a city of 4,000,000- And that’s about as good as it gets.
    There are Mojados with a vocabulary of a couple of hundred words and no grammar but the main problem is that there are NO English teachers who can actually speak English. The pay is so poor that anyone who can speak English can find better employment .. and so mojados are often the teachers. My kids are at an expensive “bi-lingual” school and are able to help the teachers out quite a bit!
    In almost 20 years here I have not met many Mexicans who have improved on their adolescent English after graduating.

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