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Why it’s game on in Brazil: the build-up to 2014 and 2016

By Michael Houten

The initial euphoria and outpouring of national pride at securing the World Cup in 2014 (and the Olympics in 2016) has gradually been replaced in Brazil by fears over whether the country will be ready in time for these two huge events. Readiness takes various forms.


One is organisational capacity. Over £12 billion has already been invested in infrastructure – airports, hotels, roads and football stadiums – and reports of delays and scandals over these projects appear in the news almost every week.


Another type of readiness will be the country’s ability to deal with large numbers of tourists different from normal visitors to Brazil. Over 600,000 tourists are expected for the World Cup, and many of these will expect to communicate in English. Half of the current tourists come from other Latin American countries, with 30 per cent from Argentina. However, large numbers of fans from European countries such as Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom are expected in 2014.

While research shows that the number of speakers of English is around 5 per cent of the Brazilian population, this is nearly all concentrated in the top socio-economic classes, who learn it in private schools or language institutions. In the past English was not a priority in state education, with no national curriculum for English before the age of twelve. This is changing in some states and cities, and Rio de Janeiro has introduced English in schools from the age of six.

The immediate English need is for front-line hospitality, travel and security services. Outside the bigger cities and expensive hotels the level of English is not good in these professions, and the World Cup will take place in twelve cities across this huge country. 

To support these services we at the British Council have created a suite of short English courses for hotel and catering staff, taxi drivers, journalists and the police, which can be delivered online, blended or face-to-face.

The police course in particular is generating interest, with authorities realising that they will need to deal sensitively with large crowds of foreign fans. At the moment we are negotiating with security authorities in the state of Pernambuco to train over 6,000 officers, who will receive a combination of security and English language training, both in Brazil and the UK. At the core of this is capacity-building for the forces’ own teachers of English.

So can these major events provide a kick-start to English language learning? In the short term there will be a boost in the number of jobs needing English and an incentive for those already in hospitality and related areas.

The British Council Brazil has seen this in our sport projects, Premier Skills (a partnership with the Barclays Premier League) and Try Rugby (a partnership with Aviva Premiership), which work with at-risk youngsters in deprived communities. Responding to demand from the youngsters themselves, their parents and their community leaders, we are introducing English components into these projects. Research in Brazil carried out by Euromonitor which will be published later this year shows that command of English can bring a significant increase in earning potential across many occupations. 

Much is made of legacy after major sporting occasions. Cynthia Garcia, language services manager for the Rio 2016 Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and responsible for the translation and interpretation services, believes that there will be an English language legacy. She is asking the British Council, along with other cultural institutes, to help train the 1,500 interpreter volunteers she needs. 

The eyes of the world will be on Brazil in 2014 and again in 2016. Over three billion watched the last World Cup in South Africa, and a minimum of 20,000 journalists and 400 TV crews are expected for 2014. Outside the well-known clichés, Brazil has a rich, varied and fascinating story to tell the world. And it will probably need to do this in English.

Michael Houten works for the British Council Brazil, and is based in Rio de Janeiro