USES – An examination of differences and similarities in English language proficiency from a Swedish and European perspective

Research project
Inactive research
Project period
2006 - 2008
Project owner
The Department of Education and Special Education, University of Gothenburg

The Swedish Research Council

Short description

The USES Project performed in-depth analyses of data from an international study of knowledge of, and attitudes to English among students in the final year of compulsory school in eight European countries – Assessment of English.

Variability in language proficiency and attitudes was analysed on the basis of both Swedish and European data. To some extent, trends in relation to a smaller but similar study carried out in 1996 in three of the eight countries were also attended to. Different methods, ranging from descriptive statistical approaches to advanced multivariate, multilevel techniques, and performance oriented linguistic analyses sometimes contrastive in nature, were applied to treat the data from a quantitative as well as a qualitative angle.

About the project

Large-scale comparative surveys of foreign language proficiency had been sparse over the years, in contrast to frequent studies of, for example, first language, mathematics and science. However, in 2002, a survey of English at the end of compulsory school was conducted in eight European countries, generating an impressive body of data, so far explored only to a very limited extent. Based on these data, the USES project aimed at analysing variability in language proficiency, attitudes and language habits.

Different studies focused on:

(a) immigrant background and cross-linguistic influence in the learning of English as a foreign language,

(b) strategies used by low and high achievers when solving difficult questions, and

(c) pupils’ performance and attitudes with respect to differences and similarities in patterns within and between countries.

The emphasis was on the Swedish data per se as well as on comparisons with results from the other participating countries. In this, contributions from English instruction as well as from exposure to English in society were considered. Similarities as well as differences at the individual, educational and societal levels were explored, based on a wealth of background variables. Taking a collaborative approach when illuminating the research questions from different angles showed very profitable, with linguistic and didactic performance analyses alongside advanced statistical analyses using structural equation modelling techniques.




Bonnet, G. (Ed.) (2004). The assessment of pupils’ skills in English in eight European countries 2002.

Erickson, G. (2005). English - Here and There and Everywhere: A study of competencies and attitudes in eight European countries. I Granath, S., Miliander, J. & Wennö, E. (eds.), The Power of Words. Studies in Honour of Moira Linnarud (s. 45–54). Karlstad: Karlstads Universitet.

Erickson, G., Åberg-Bengtsson, L. & Gustafsson, J-E. (2015). Dimensions of test performance in English as a foreign language in different European settings: a two-level confirmatory factor analytical approach. Educational Research and Evaluation, 21(3), 188-208.

Ohlander, S. (2009). Swedish vs. Non-Swedish: Immigrant background and cross-linguistic influence in the learning of English as a foreign language. Moderna Språk 103(1), 12-43.

Skolverket (2004). Engelska i åtta europeiska länder - en undersökning av ungdomars kunskaper och uppfattningar. (Rapport 242). Författare: Gudrun Erickson.

Velling Pedersen, D. (2009). Trying to get it right. I Språk och lärande. Rapport från ASLA:s höstsymposium, Stockholm, 7-8 november, 2008. Stockholm: Association Suédoise de Linguistique Appliquée (ASLA).

Åberg-Bengtsson, L. (2008). Patterns in English Language Proficiency: Some Differences and Similarities between Seven European Countries. Paper presented at European Conference on Educational Research, ECER 2008, Gothenburg, Sweden.

Åberg-Bengtsson, L., Erickson, G., Gustafsson, J-E., Ohlander, S. & Velling Pedersen, D. (2008). Similarities and differences in EFL proficiency – a multifaceted analytic approach. Presentation at the 5th Annual Conference of EALTA (European Association for Language Testing and Assessment); Athens, Greece.

Project members