How to improve your students’ English skills from good to better to best

12/12/2022 - 19:50

EF just published their English Proficiency Index ( Belgium ranked number 6, which is certainly something to be proud of! Nonetheless we can learn from the recommendations included in the report. Catherine Miller wrote a blog post for BELTA about what we as teachers can take from this report, and how to improve our teaching based on some of the specific recommendations in the report.

How to improve your students’ English skills from good to better to best

by Catherine Miller

Belgium is in the top five countries with the best English in Europe, and number six worldwide according to the 2022 EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI). With Belgium ranking so close to the top, we can assume that English teaching is on track. But is there room for improvement?

Overall Belgium has ‘Very High’ English proficiency. When we dig into the data we see some variation in English skills across regions and age groups. Belgium’s 18 to 20 year olds, for example, are lagging behind other Belgian adults. However, even in this cohort there is still a ‘High’ level of English proficiency.

It is understandable that in Belgium we are seeing English skills progress with age, but as the report points out, “Adults are the drivers of rising English proficiency in Europe, undermining the commonly held belief that people learn most of their English in school.”

The findings point to the fact that, while we can improve the level of English for school-leavers, English proficiency is a question of life-long learning and education at all ages. The 2022 EF EPI report includes a number of recommendations for companies, governments, education authorities and institutions, teachers and individuals. English proficiency in Belgium is a consideration for all these parties and we need to work together to progress Belgium’s English skill level.

What can we do as teachers to improve our students’ English skills?
Let’s look at a few of the recommendations specifically for English language teachers:

• Teach English using a communication based methodology.
Gone are the days of learning vocabulary by heart. It’s now standard in Belgium to use a communicative approach where language is taught in context with the aim of producing real and meaningful communication. This is probably nothing new for you. But, if you want to ensure that you are applying this teaching style consistently, you can review lesson plans with the communicative approach in mind. Update any lessons or activities that rely more on memorisation or that have little relevance to your students’ communication needs.

• Reward successful acts of communication rather than focusing on mistakes.
Feedback is fundamental to language learning, but as outlined in a recent BELTA webinar, feedback given insensitively to students can in fact have a negative influence on the learning process. In deciding when and how to give feedback, we can also choose to focus on positive feedback that recognises successful communication. Try recording one of your lessons and audit your feedback style to identify opportunities where you can provide feedback differently.

• Engage students outside the classroom with English-language media and encourage them to share their favorites.
Using a communicative approach to teaching includes the use of authentic materials. Today that unavoidably includes social (as well as traditional) media. Inviting students to use these materials outside the classroom creates further opportunities for real communication, which leads nicely onto the next recommendation…

• Give students frequent opportunities to speak English through activities like English clubs, theme days, classroom twinning, school trips, and guest speakers
The EF EPI 2022 report suggests that one of the reasons older adults have stronger English skills than younger adults is due to increased exposure to English and learning in the workplace. Engaging students with opportunities to speak English beyond formal instruction is a way of mirroring workplace exposure to English. Working with colleagues can help in identifying opportunities of this type for your students.

• Provide a forum for teachers to share best practices and get advice about teaching English effectively.
If you’re already reading this blog, I don’t need to tell you about the relevance on BELTA. We are lucky in Belgium to have an association that supports professional development of English language teachers. As we already have this forum in place, the question for us here is about how we can engage with it. Can you write a post for the BELTA Blog? Do you have a proposal for the 2023 BELTA Day?

So now it’s over to you. Do any of these recommendation resonate with you? Can you use them as a starting to point to reflect on your teaching and the development of your students’ English skills? For us as teachers the EF EPI is an opportunity for us to consider the findings, reflect on our lessons and our students’ needs, discuss with colleagues and share our ideas to continue improving English proficiency in this country.

The full report of the 2022 EF EPI is available for download at and the Belgian fact sheet is available at


Catherine is a CELTA qualified English teacher and freelance writer. Originally from Australia, she lives in Antwerp with her partner and two children.