The world speaks English. It’s estimated that almost 2 billion people speak English across the globe, making English the largest language by number of speakers and the third largest language by number of native speakers. In addition to this, English is the world’s most studied language.
Given the fast-changing world of work, the soft skill of communication – the ability to collaborate effectively across cultures, borders and languages – is increasingly sought-after. Part of this skill is a confident grasp of English, which is now the dominant global medium of communication, says Simon Young, Pearson’s BTEC Portfolio Manager in Asia. Simon says now that supply chains and customer bases are truly global, multinationals have identified English language proficiency as a key skill.
“It seems that English has become a key skill for communicating in business in any role. So, in countries such as Thailand, where you might see a strong local workforce, the interaction with other divisions does require a strong ability to communicate in English. English has become the global communication medium.”
In addition to skills in demand for global businesses, governments in Thailand and Vietnam have crafted policies over the past decade that are built on targets to raise English language proficiency of workforce entrants.
These efforts help to attract increased investment into their economies – by mandating such policies, the Thai and Vietnamese governments see the value of language learning as global employers do, and that’s as a key ingredient for professional success.
As the world becomes ever-more connected and borders less important to global business, an increasing number of workers are seeing English as crucial to their career development – as many as nine in 10 global employees consider it important, according to Pearson research. Less than one in 10, however, feel that their English language ability is adequate for the role they have. This is a crucial skill gap to address given that English language proficiency is also key to honing a host of other soft skills, too.
Stuart Connor, Pearson Asia’s Qualifications & Assessment Director, notes that English language skills underpin many of the soft skill competencies that employers are looking for, especially as it relates to personal and social capabilities, such as collaboration, networking and empathy.
While employees see English language proficiency as key to career progression, Stuart says there’s work to be done – and benefits to be had – for the next wave of workers in terms of shoring up their English language skills.
"In a survey Pearson undertook in 2015 with 26,000 multinational employees, around 92% said they considered English as important to their career progression, yet only 7% believed they could communicate effectively in English at work, which is a significant gap.
“Language skills alone will not make someone employable, but someone is far more likely to be employable if they have language skills, as it supports the development of many of the other skills needed to be employable. When employers talk about soft skill gaps, such as communication and collaboration, having an additional language can be extremely helpful. If you’re Vietnamese or Thai, and if you can speak English, you are ticking a multitude of soft skill boxes, too.”