South Americans give learning English a high priority, new research shows

by Ray Clancy on August 17, 2015

Expats often struggle to learn a new language when they move to a new country, but research shows how important English is wherever you are based.

Non English speaking people in Latin America want to learn the language, as they see it as an important driver to find the best jobs, according to new research by the British Council.

southAMERICAflags200For non-English speakers in all seven of the countries surveyed, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina, improved employment prospects were recognized as the main motivation to learn English.

On average, 75% of respondents gave this as the main reason that they would be encouraged to learn the language with the lowest percentage in Ecuador at 59% and highest in both Chile and Brazil at 82%. The second most important reason for learning English in most countries was the opportunity to travel abroad, which 50% said 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% of respondents stated that it was important or extremely important for the owner, proprietor, chief executive, director or managing director of an organization to speak English, and 79% felt the same about general management.

This was largely echoed by employers in all of the countries surveyed, with between 75% and 90% of employers surveyed in each country agreeing with the statement that “English is important for the growth and progress of my organization.”

“English 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,” said Allan Taggart, the British Council’s director English in the Americas. “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.”

The research also found that in Argentina most provinces promote the learning of English over other languages and 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.

In Brazil there is a positive correlation between level of education and English as well as higher incomes and English learning and Brazilian English speakers are more confident in their reading abilities as compared to their writing and speaking skills.

Chilean employers largely feel that English is essential for management level staff, and 48% feel that it is an essential skill in general. To achieve its goals for teaching English across the country, the Mexican government needs to recruit and train over 80,000 additional English teachers. While in Peru bilingual education is a priority with the government setting a goal of achieving bilingualism, with English as the priority language, by 2021.

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