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Learning English to a Latin beat - Iatefl special

Camp followers: Students at an English language immersion camp in Ibagué as a part of the Colombia Bilingüe Programme (Courtesy: Colombian ministry of education)


This regional round-up from Andrea Pérez shows how Latin America is boosting its English language learning by focusing on teachers

Using a variety of programmes and initiatives, most Latin American countries are boosting English language learning among schools and universities. Colombia Bilingüe stands out as the biggest project in the region.



The Colombia Bilingüe 2014–18 programme was launched in 2015 to improve the level of English proficiency in Colombia. One of the most recent steps taken by the ministry of education has been to bring in more native-speaker English teachers to the country. The last group of over 400 native English language teachers arrived in January. They work together with 13,000 Colombian English language teachers in schools across the country. With the help of this recent intake, more than 176,000 students are set to benefit, according to the ministry.

Another step forward was the launch of the Colombia Bilingüe English Kit, an English language learning methodological tool. Some 22,000 kits have been distributed to teachers, schools, universities and public libraries, with the government aiming to reach 3.5 million students and 15,300 English language teachers in 13,000 schools. Colombia Bilingüe, which is part of the national bilingual programme launched in 2004, aims to raise the number of students reaching B1 level on the CEFR from 2 per cent to 8 per cent by 2018, and those reaching A2 from 7 per cent to 35 per cent.


This country leads in Latin American English proficiency, according to the Argentinian La Nación newspaper. Since 2006 learning a foreign language has been compulsory in Argentinian schools and English is the most common choice, more popular than even indigenous languages. The British Council estimates that around 8.8 million people are learning English in public and private education, higher education, private language schools and self-access courses.


Inspired by the policies of countries such as Argentina and Colombia, last year Peru launched the Inglés, Puertas al Mundo project (English, Doors to the World), a six-year English language national programme lasting until 2021. As part of this initiative, the government has set itself a target for this year to equip 280,000 teachers with dual language skills. Arequipa, Peru’s second city, has been chosen as the flagship municipality for achieving bilingualism.

According to the British Council, one of the most common ways to fund studying English in Peru is through scholarships. The government offers a wide range of grants, the best known are Pronobec and Beca. Pronobec is a national grants programme which helps students with limited resources to study in the UK, while Beca is aimed at postgraduate students wishing to study abroad.


At the start of this year Augusto Espinosa Andrade, Ecuador’s minister of education, unveiled the It’s Time to Teach programme, which aims to hire either native English speakers or teachers with a minimum English level of B2 as language teachers. According to the ministry, the project’s main objective is to strengthen English language knowledge and teaching methodologies in public-sector schools and to ensure that students reach an adequate English language proficiency level.

The country seeks to increase the number of teachers with a B2 level of English. According to the British Council, the greatest barriers to learning English are the high costs of study and lack of access to government-funded programmes. As in most Latin American countries, the quality of Ecuador’s English language training tends to be better quality in private schools.