Billions of people around the globe are desperately trying to learn English – not simply for self-improvement, but as an economic necessity. It’s easy to take for granted being born in a country where people speak the lingua franca of global business, but for people in emerging economies such as China, Russia and Brazil, where English isn’t the official language, good English is a critical tool, which people rightly believe will help them tap into new opportunities at home and abroad.
Why should global business leaders care about people learning English in other parts of the world?
Research shows a direct correlation between the English skills of a population and the economic performance of the country. Indicators like gross national income and gross domestic product go up. In our latest edition of the EF English Proficiency Index, the largest ranking of English skills by country, we found that in almost every one of the60 countries and territories surveyed, a rise in English proficiency was connected with a rise in per capita income. And on an individual level, recruiters and human resources managers around the world report that job seekers with exceptional English skills compared to their country’s average earned 30 to 50 percent higher salaries.
The interaction between English proficiency and gross national income per capita is a virtuous cycle: With improved English skills come higher salaries, which in turn give governments and individuals more money to invest in language training. On a microlevel, better English skills allow individuals to apply for better jobs and raise their standards of living.
This is one explanation for why Northern European countries are always out front in the EF English Proficiency Index, with Sweden taking the top spot for the last two years. Given their small size and export-driven economies, the leaders of these nations understand that good English is a critical component of their continued economic success.
But it’s not just income that improves. So does quality of life. We also found a correlation between English proficiency and the Human Development Index, a measure of education, life expectancy, literacy and standard of living. Countries with low or very low English proficiency display variable levels of development. But no country with moderate or high proficiency falls below the HDI’s “very high human development” ranking.
+ Which countries are aggressively improving their English proficiency in an effort to attract businesses like mine?
+ As we think about expanding globally, where will my existing, native English-speaking employees find it easiest to relocate?
Business leaders who understand which nations are positioning themselves for a smoother entry into the global marketplace will have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. Your company needs to know how the center of English language aptitude is shifting. Because knowing English isn’t just a luxury – it’s the sine qua non of global business today.
(Christopher McCormick is senior vice president for academic affairs at EF Education First and head of the EF Research Network.)