6. Czech Republic
Despite its many tourists and ideal location in the heart of Europe, the Czech Republic doesn’t fare well in European terms for English proficiency. Only 27% of the population can hold a conversation, which ranks it not much higher than its Central European neighbour Hungary. Czech is a Western Slavic language which is very similar to Polish and Slovakian, and has cross-overs with Russian, Bulgarian, Croatian and all other Slavic languages. It is also one of the most musical of the Slavic tongues, so learning the odd phrase could be a special memento of your next trip to Prague.
You may know this country from Buzzfeed articles about mistranslated signs. English really doesn’t get you far in China. With its population at nearly 1 billion and growing, Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly spoken language in the world, and with its influence growing both in Asia and worldwide, many have no need to learn English any time soon. Learning to write might initially send many seasoned polyglots running, but as the writing is similar to Japanese, it’s like a buy-one-get-one-free scenario.
Surprisingly, given its enormous tourism industry, at eighth is Spain. Only 22% of Spaniards can hold an English conversation, placing it barely above Hungary in the EU. Apart from Castilian Spanish, there are three other Spanish languages: Basque, Catalan and Galician, with high levels of bilingualism in all these communities. As a world language, learning Spanish will enable you to speak to over 400 million people in 20 different countries, with more and more learning it as a second language too.
The hosts of the next World Cup, and the largest country on Earth, post-Soviet Russia remains a place where speaking English goes down like an ice lolly in December. Despite over 90% of Russians studying English at school, barely 10% can speak it as adults, so unless you want to face the full force of Russia’s unofficial and monolingual police force – its armies of retired babushkas, or grannies – you’d better get to grips with some phrases before you rush to see the white nights over St Petersburg. Russian is a world language with 260 million speakers worldwide, and is undoubtedly the lingua franca of nearly all ex-Soviet countries. In some it even receives preference over English in schools.
Perhaps another surprise, but finally in this country of 60 million people only a third can hold a conversation in English. Languages just aren’t a priority in Italian schools, so many live their lives without ever uttering a full sentence of “the global language”. Many find Italian to be one of the most beautiful languages in the world, and Italians will go to any length to help you speak it properly, with big smiles and ice creams awaiting you when you do. As a Romance language, knowing Italian will help you enormously with others like Spanish and French, which, as this list shows, might also come in handy in a world where English is not as useful as you might think.