Nobody beats the Dutch - not only did all of them have absolutely perfect English, they even spoke with American accents Don't know about that....the Norgies and Swede's (heck - all Scandinavians) are damn good too.
That's true. They also have an interesting mix of speaking with entirely American pronunciation but with British vocabulary and grammar.
I forgot to mention what is perhaps the single most important thing in all of this: whether a country tends to dub or subtitle American movies and TV shows.
Interesting....while I remember communication/conversation being taught/practiced in school (both high school and college), it certainly wasn't "emphasized" - more of an occasional thing. I do find this interesting though, because you have things from both ends.
Of course both are important if one wishes to be truly proficient in another language. On the other hand, unless one has a specific job that requires obtaining higher level information in another language, basic conversational proficiency is much more likely to be useful. The problem I ran into a lot is this is the exact opposite of conventional wisdom about teaching in the former USSR. When I'd tutor people I'd usually start out with going through their regular homework with them. Very often it would consists of pages of exercises over obscure and advanced grammatical concepts (seldom used tenses, complex conditional sentences, etc.). After working through that, I'd try to just chat for a few minutes and not get anywhere. A simple "Tell me what you did last weekend" was impossible. I'd then repeat the question in Russian, and then they could answer with a few memorized phrases.
With American learners of Spanish, one is FAR more likely to use Spanish in basic communication with an Hispanic who speaks no or limited English. I use it every time that I go grocery shopping since the Mexican Market is almost have the price of the regular grocery store
So to not teach a communicative approach seems crazy to me. Even with German or French it is the same thing; most internationally oriented companies use English as their operating language anyway so using either will likely be in an informal conversation setting.
Yup - sure noticed this too. While I was taking my German classes purely as electives, I did take a couple of Upper Division classes and several of the students still didn't speak that well. Too much English used. It's like a banging the head against the well method - you just need to tough it out and take the pain in your head for a little while.
It really is embarrassing when you think about it - many universities in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia offer regular courses in English (many entire majors are English only even), and we can't even offer an upper division German course entirely in German here.