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The key to a world of opportunities

How does English shape both our professional and personal lives? Pearson’s Mike Mayor explores the impact of English around the world.

In today’s interconnected world, effective cross-border communication is more crucial than ever. A new report from Pearson highlights the pivotal role played by English proficiency in accessing career opportunities and personal growth. How English empowers your tomorrow highlights a significant gap between the demand for strong English language skills and the current state of English language training as part of both formal education and in the workplace.

Why English matters for careers

The research, conducted in five countries – Japan, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the US – reveals a strong consensus among survey respondents when asked about the importance of English for their careers. Among them, 85% believe that proficiency in English has an impact on professional opportunities, rising to almost nine in 10 who believe that its importance will continue over the next five years. This sentiment is particularly pronounced among younger generations, with 92% of Gen Z and Millennials predicting its continued significance.

Despite this widespread recognition of the value of English, however, the report also identifies a critical skills gap. People are leaving formal education without the English skills they need in the workplace. As a result, 90% of employees expressed a desire for their employers to provide additional language training, to support them in acquiring the skills they need for work, but only a third currently have access to such programs. Further, 72% said they would find their job easier if they had better English skills. All of which indicates that organisations are missing a trick when it comes to increasing productivity, motivating employees and developing high functioning teams. A failure to invest in their workforce’s language skills could be having a direct impact on their ability to operate effectively as part of the global economy.

Why English matters for personal development

The benefits of strong English proficiency extend far beyond the world of work. Nearly 80% of respondents consider English to be important in their personal lives. The findings reflect the power of English as an enabler when it comes to connecting with others, fostering new friendships, and boosting confidence. English gives access to a wider range of entertainment and sources of information, especially online. It opens up study options and makes it easier to travel and discover new countries and cultures. The report even cites instances where English proficiency empowers individuals to increase their presence on social media, a significant platform for communication and self-expression in today’s world.

Social media and English-speaking entertainment are not only motivators for learning English but are also forms of media that people are using to improve their English. With only one in three employers providing language training, and financial considerations blocking many from online or face-to-face tutoring, the study found that around a third of respondents use social media, online games and English-speaking entertainment as ways to upskill their language proficiency. For Gen Z especially, watching movies and TV in English emerged as key when it comes to language learning. These findings highlight the power of informal learning methods and the increasing role technology is playing in language acquisition today.

The education gap

While social media and entertainment certainly have a role to play, the report emphasises the need for a systematic review of English language learning as part of formal education systems around the world. Whilst the survey respondents had spent an average of just over six years studying English, the research reveals a disconnect between what is taught in schools and the skills needed in the workplace. Around 55% of respondents felt that their formal education hadn’t adequately prepared them with the necessary English level and skills needed once they joined the workforce. They cited too much focus on grammar and vocabulary instead of practical applications like conversation and real-world communication skills as the main reasons for not achieving the level of English needed for their work.

A call to action

Pearson’s Impact of English report paints a clear picture: strong English language proficiency is a powerful tool for both personal and professional success. However, in order to bridge the current skills gap, a number of actions need to be taken by the different stakeholders:

  • Educators: educational institutions need to move away from a grammar-heavy approach and focus on developing real-world communication skills, such as creating opportunities for students to use English in the classroom, with greater emphasis on the productive skills of speaking and writing.
  • Employers: employers looking to build productive teams and foster staff engagement need to incorporate English language training into their learning and development strategy.
  • Learners: EdTech, such as adaptive learning platforms, mobile apps, and online resources, mean that learners can now take ownership of their own learning, personalise their approach and focus on areas where they need the most improvement.

In a globalised economy, the ability to communicate effectively in English is no longer a luxury but a necessity. By recognising the importance of English proficiency, investing in quality language training, and embracing new learning methods, individuals and organisations can unlock a world of opportunity. By working together, we can empower the workforce to thrive in a global environment, fostering better career prospects, personal growth, and stronger communication across borders.

Image courtesy of Library
Mike Mayor
Mike Mayor
Mike Mayor is Senior Director, Global Scale of English at Pearson. Mike joined Pearson in 2003 and headed up the Longman dictionaries list until his move to the Global Scale of English in 2013. Mike has a BA (Hons) in French Language and Literature and a Masters in English and Applied Linguistics from Cambridge University.
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