In Europe, only Poland and Hungary have improved their English skills more than Spain in the last six years. Photo: François Nascimbeni/AFP
Spain may like to beat itself up about its poor level of English but the country is now one of many around the world which are slowly improving their skills in the language of Shakespeare, the study shows.
The third EF English Proficiency Index, released on Wednesday, shows Spain is now in 23rd place among 60 non-Anglophone countries.
This puts Spain squarely in the 'Moderate Proficiency' bracket alongside countries such as Argentina and Japan.
And while the Iberian nation remains behind many parts of Europe, the country has made giant strides. Average test scores have climbed by 4.5 percent, the report by English teaching conglomerate EF shows.
In Europe, only Poland and Hungary have improved their English more than Spain during the past six years.
In the 2007 and 2009 EF reports, Spain was at the very bottom of the European table for English proficiency.
Now the country is nine places ahead of Italy (in 32nd place) and 12 spots above neighbouring France.
The EF report argues Spain's improvement has two main causes: changes in the national school curriculum and the economic crisis.
Current education reforms make English a key school subject alongside maths and Spanish, while there has also been an explosion in the number of bilingual schools around the country.
Spain's bilingual schools program was first piloted 15 years ago. Now there 300 primary schools and 91 secondary schools involved.
Students at these schools spend 30 percent of the school day in English classes.
While there are concerns that Spain's primary school English teachers may not have an adequate level of English, EF argues this is all part a shift in Spain from English as "an admirable skill" to "a basic one".
The other key factor is Spain's economic crisis, with many people now learning English to improve their job prospects.
"There is still a great deal to do, but Spain appears to be well on its way to embracing English as a necessary skill in a globalized world," EF said in its report.
A spokesperson for EF in Spain told The Local the company would provide more detailed analysis of the Spanish results in a separate report in January.
The top seven countries, judged to have a 'very high proficiency' for English, are Sweden, followed by Norway, the Netherlands, Estonia, Denmark, Austria and Finland.
The results are drawn from English tests taken by 750,000 students worldwide in 2012.