· British Council research in seven Latin American countries shows improved employment prospects act as the main driver to learn English amongst non-English speakers across the region;
· English is valued by employers, particularly for employees in high-level roles;
· Cost is a main barrier to learning English.
Employment acts as the main driver to learn English in Latin America, new research by the British Council has shown.
The ‘English in Latin America’ research revealed that for non-English speakers in all seven of the countries surveyed (Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina), improved employment prospects were recognised as the main motivation to learn English. On average, 75 per cent of respondents recognised this as the main reason that they would be encouraged to learn the language with the lowest percentage in Ecuador (59%) and highest in both Chile and Brazil (82%). In most countries, this was followed by the opportunity to travel abroad which on average saw half of respondents (50%) stating that this would inspire them to learn English.
The main barrier to learning English was cost with non-learners across six of the seven countries stating that the main reason they would be discouraged to take up the language is that it was too expensive to study. The only country where this wasn’t the case was Ecuador in which a lack of access to government-funded programmes was seen as the main barrier.
In general, English was valued by employers, particularly for employees in high level positions such as management and directors. In Argentina, for example, 90 per cent of respondents stated that it was important or extremely important for the owner, proprietor, CEO, director or Managing Director of an organisation to speak English, and 79 per cent felt the same about general management. This was largely echoed by employers in all of the countries surveyed with between 75 and 90 per cent of employers surveyed in each country agreeing with the statement that ‘English is important for the growth and progress of my organisation’.
Commenting on the research, Allan Taggart, British Council Director English in the Americas, said: “The English language is truly a global language and as language acquisition around the world is increasingly being seen as a skill for personal development, governments are implementing English language policies in order to boost their country's competitiveness in the international marketplace.
“While many Latin American countries are united in their efforts to improve the English language levels of their overall populations, the manner in which this challenge is being tackled differs. This new research aims to examine the existing policies and goals, as well as the factors unique to each country that contribute to the current state of English language learning in order to inform policy and programme development going forward.”
Some other key findings from the research in each country are:
• In practice, most provinces promote the learning of English over other languages;
• English is viewed as a tool for greater employability; however, English learners also feel that the greatest value in learning English is in being able to communicate with more people.
• There is a positive correlation between level of education and English as well as higher incomes and English learning;
• Brazilian English speakers are more confident in their reading abilities as compared to their writing and speaking skills.
• There is a general positive correlation between English language ability and education attainment, private schooling and household income;
• Chilean employers largely feel that English is essential for management-level staff, and 48 per cent feel that it is an essential skill in general.
• There is a direct correlation between English language proficiency and educational attainment, private schooling, income and occupation;
• Most respondents (59%) and employers (54%) believe that English skills improve employability, but just eight per cent of English learners report that English is necessary for their job.
• Ecuador’s English language policy currently aims to have English as an optional language from Grade 2 and a mandatory language from Grade 8;
• Most employers (78%) feel that English is an essential skill for managers, directors and C-level staff.
• The value of the linguistic capital gained by English competence in Mexico is estimated at around US$27 billion each year via growth in the services sector;
• To achieve its goals for teaching English across the country the Mexican government needs to recruit and train over 80,000 additional English teachers.
• In 2014, President Ollanta Humala announced that bilingual education was a priority and set the goal of achieving bilingualism, with English as the priority language, by 2021;
• More than three quarters of surveyed employers (78%) believe that English is an essential skill for managerial staff, while a similar share (77%) feel that English is essential for Peru’s growth and progress.
Setting out comparative analyses of national English language policy and priorities in each of the seven countries, the ‘English in Latin America’ research examines the English learning environment, business and trade alongside attitudes towards English language learning and factors shaping demand for English in each country. The research is the first of its kind to be released and aims to support policy and programme development across Latin America.