Latin America notes large numbers of extreme poverty across its population. In 2021, extreme poverty hit 86 million, under the pressures of COVID-19. This is a 5 million increase from 2020 — the Social Panorama of Latin America report highlights that this is a setback equivalent to 27 years. English learning in Latin America could help reduce poverty across the region by opening up more economic opportunities.
English Learning in Latin America
According to the English Proficiency Index, “Latin America is the region [with] the lowest levels of English” as of 2020. Low English proficiency rates stem from a “low quality of language teaching programs in public education and the difficulties in accessing alternative training” as a result of the scarcity of language training institutions and the expensive costs of such programs.
According to the index, some of the Latin American countries with the lowest rates of English proficiency are Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Mexico. In Mexico, less than 10% of schools have English as part of the education curriculum. Furthermore, in 2015, Latin America lagged 2.5 years behind Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations in schooling development.
The Importance of English Skills
According to the report “Work in Progress: English Teaching and Teachers in Latin America, “Many, if not most, English teachers in Latin America lack either the necessary English skills, the necessary pedagogical skills, or both, to be effective educators in the classroom.” Yet, most Latin American countries do not have programs in place to ensure English educators receive the training necessary for high-quality English education.
The Inter-American Dialogue highlights that one of the top “21st-century skills for most countries in [Latin America] is English language proficiency.” It says further, “English proficiency is increasingly necessary for business and international communication and, in that regard, linked with prospects for economic competitiveness and growth in the global economy.”
Learning English in Latin America offers many new opportunities, sources of revenue and securities. There are clear benefits to learning and speaking more than one language. In particular, English speaking skills open up a greater range of job opportunities. On top of this, English is commonly used as “a trade language or diplomatic language.” In fields such as tourism, science and computers, English is the dominant language.
Opportunities in and out of Latin America
Firstly, tourism is booming in Latin America, bringing significant income to the region. Considering the proximity of the United States and Canada to Mexico, it is no surprise that Mexico is a popular destination for tourists from these English-speaking countries.
In 2019 alone, 55 million U.S. citizens traveled to Latin America. Speaking English would likely enable locals in Latin America to do business more effectively in the tourism market. Locals could conduct tours in English or provide translation services.
English is growing as the language of choice for international business and trade, known as “business English.” As much as 80% of jobs offered in Latin America require proficiency in English. Considering only 20% of professionals in Latin America can speak English, a lack of English proficiency is concerning for labor markets. As international commerce expands, if Latin America wants to draw in more money and attain greater job security and revenue, it needs to promote greater education in English. This will persuade more multinational corporations to relocate to Latin America or hire individuals within Latin America.
Lastly, speaking English provides individuals with the opportunity to apply for jobs in countries that offer better wages and job security. The minimum wage in Mexico is 172 pesos for one day of work, which converts to around $8 a day.
The Positives of the Pandemic: Education, Policies and Technology
The restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in education software that people across the world can access remotely. This expands people’s access to opportunities for English learning. With the added pressure on governments to provide online services for schooling, in Latin America, there are now 12 million adults accessing online education, UNESCO says.
Many Latin American countries are recognizing the importance of providing English language learning opportunities. Costa Rica has made English learning compulsory and launched an initiative in 2018 where teachers across the country enter into English learning courses.
Following the increased pressures of COVID-19, resulting in about a third of Latin America living below the extreme poverty line as of May 2021, English learning in Latin America appears to offer a window for many to access new opportunities in a wider job market with higher pay and more security. If Latin America continues to prioritize English learning, this skill could translate to economic growth across the region.
– Reuben Cochrane