Research & Thought Leadership

The value of English in the modern workplace

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Do you remember how long it took you to learn a new language? Whether you started from an early age or as an adult, you probably remember investing a lot of time – if not years – into reaching your desired fluency level.

English is one of the widest spoken languages in the world. It can be a common misconception that learning English as a second language is quick and easy, with plenty of tips and tricks out there that promise speedy success. The reality is much different. An adult who does not speak English as a first language will need at least 600 hours of high-quality instruction and 600 hours of speaking practice to have enough mastery of English for the average workplace.

In today’s fast-paced globalized world, there’s no question that English proficiency is an investment that brings plenty of rewards. Learning to speak English can open the door to better job opportunities, personal and professional growth and give access to the world’s shared knowledge.

All the way from the C-suite to the middle managers and junior staff, those who speak English have broader contact with their peers and better access to the best minds and ideas in their field. Companies that adopt English as their official language can attract diverse talent and therefore access ideas around the world which allow them to be more innovative and earn more revenue than less diverse competitors. Which is why English is the language of innovation.

Throughout the years, we’ve seen a rapid change in the ways we exchange information, collaborate across borders and changes in the modern workplace. It’s no coincidence that at the same time, the value of English proficiency is rapidly increasing.

The 21st century particularly, has seen an unprecedented exchange of information and ideas across borders. As global English skills improve and the costs of travel and communication decline, that exchange will only speed up.

This not only affects professionals that need to stay abreast of international best practices but companies too. A culture of English proficiency makes it possible to tap into pools of talent and expertise that, just a few years ago, would have been out of reach.

Tools for online collaboration as well as physical conferences or TED talks are only getting better enabling more frequent and casual communication between employees in different locations. But all this needs to be done in one same language, English.

Consequently, modern workplaces are evolving rapidly leading to a greater demand for employee re-education and re-skilling. English is critical to access these new learnings and is critical for adaptability. As the world of work changes, a fundamental cultural shift towards lifelong learning is both necessary and inevitable.

Recent research by the McKinsey Global Institute finds that nearly two-thirds of jobs include a substantial share of tasks that could be automated. When jobs shrink, professionals will need to transition into new positions and therefore, additional skills such as English proficiency will be critical for adaptability.

The divide between English and non-English speakers and jobs that require the language will only grow larger.

Moreover, organizations today operate with high levels of collaboration and are therefore facing an urgent need to improve their employees’ English to optimize the information flow throughout the organization.

The latest edition of the EF EPI – English Proficiency Index – has shown a gap of more than three points in every region between the English proficiency scores of managers and those of their colleagues in executive and staff positions.

Managers tend to interact with their colleagues and clients overseas more regularly than junior staff, so they get more practice speaking English. Additionally, because English skills are at a premium, those who have them are often promoted to managerial positions.

Executives and leadership, though, tend to be older, and many came of age in a business climate where English skills were less valued. Junior staff is yet to continue developing their professional skills.

Building English proficiency across all seniority levels would allow companies to share information more quickly across their organizations, and to access more diverse pools of talent. And even though there’s not a “quick and easy” way to learn English, it’s an investment worth the attention.

In conclusion, English proficiency has never been higher and therefore, it’s becoming a crucial skill to remain competitive. Professionals need to connect with colleagues and customers, yet many of them are being left behind.

Organizations are encouraged to test the entire workforce to identify strategic weaknesses in English and close the gap between current and target English proficiency levels.

Here at EF, we help some of the world’s fastest-growing companies to test, educate and develop people to their greatest potential through our company and role-specific English programs ensuring their proficiency standards are being met.

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