Proficiency in English key to career growth in Southeast Asia

As the world enters a new decade in the shadow of the pandemic, optimism endures about the role Southeast Asia will play in the global economic recovery.

Driving this revival will be the millions of new jobs created in the services sector – which includes industries such as business process outsourcing, travel and tourism, hospitality, education and healthcare – as well as the region’s burgeoning digital economy.

And English is the key that the region’s youth can use to access these opportunities and build a successful career for themselves.

Why employers seek English language proficiency

In an increasingly globalised world, where nearly two billion people speak the language at varying levels of proficiency, English has become the lingua franca for conducting business. Even several governments across ASEAN recognise English as one of their official languages. Unsurprisingly, most multinational corporations operating in the region require their employees to be fluent in the language.

As Simon Young, Pearson Asia’s BTEC Portfolio Manager, notes: “English has become a key skill for communicating in business in any role. So, in countries such as [those in Southeast Asia] 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.”

English is also essential to master the top transferable skills of the 21st century – teamwork and collaboration, negotiation skills and digital literacy, to name a few – that have come to be seen as necessary to help individuals become more attractive and valuable to employers and climb up the ranks in a modern, fast-evolving workplace.

Consider teamwork and collaboration: Employees who are fluent in English can become valued members of a global team thanks to their ability to communicate well with colleagues and managers, and negotiate effectively with clients and other stakeholders. These skills give them a natural edge over others less adept in the language when being considered for a new job or promotion.

Other transferable skills, such as digital literacy and data analytics, also require the knowledge of English, which is the most commonly used language on the internet - where most of this information resides.

What type of English should learners focus on?

While few doubt the need for fluency in English when it comes to employability and career progression, it’s important to understand that there are different aspects of the language that learners must focus on depending on their chosen professions and career goals.

Academic English is ideal for teaching and the world of research where scholars are required to author essays and papers presenting cogent arguments about their area of expertise. Business English, as the name suggests, is better suited for the corporate environment, enabling you to compose official emails, draft reports and deliver presentations. Real-world English is for communicating socially with everyone around you, including colleagues, bosses and business partners as well as friends and family.

The key question for learners to consider, according to Dr Tran Huong Quynh, Head of English Linguistics Division, Faculty of English at Hanoi National University of Education, is: “Do you need English for your jobs, or for socialising and communicating daily after work? Because each of these skills focuses on one aspect of English that allows learners need to use English appropriately in different settings.”