Bridging the gap: How to equip English learners with workplace-ready language skills

Pearson Languages
Students in uniform sat at tables in a classroom with a teacher at the front talking to them all.
Reading time: 5 minutes

Educators worldwide are faced with a vital challenge: closing the language education gap between traditional schooling and the practical language requirements of the modern workplace. With English established as the language of international business and in light of our ground-breaking new research, the need for education to address this disparity has never been more critical.

In this blog post, we'll explore why teaching English through a lens of real-world application is necessary, what our research shows about the current gap in language education, and some ideas for how English teachers can integrate employability-focused lessons into their own English teaching curriculum.

Empower your learners with the English skills they need | Pearson Impact of English
Play
Privacy and cookies

By watching, you agree Pearson can share your viewership data for marketing and analytics for one year, revocable by deleting your cookies.

The global language landscape

Almost 20% of the world's population speaks English as a first, second, or additional language, and many use it in their jobs. For many, English proficiency means more than communication alone; it is also tied to career advancement, job opportunities, salary scales and job satisfaction.

Our research shows that a staggering 80% of professionals believe that fluency in English correlates with earning potential, and employees who are confident in their English language skills and abilities often report greater satisfaction with their jobs and income.

A significant barrier to bridging the gap between educational English and workplace-ready skills lies in learners' confidence levels. Many students, despite years of studying the language, feel unprepared and anxious about using English in a professional setting. This lack of confidence can lead to missed opportunities and a reluctance to pursue certain career paths where English proficiency is paramount.

Pearson's research highlights a worrying reality—many feel self-esteem issues due to limited language skills, with 19% saying they felt stupid because of their English.

Belgin ElmasHead of the English Language Teaching Department, TED University, Turkey 

A paradigm shift is crucial for teacher training

"Teacher education must rethink the way it prepares future teachers. Unless teacher training focuses more on the skills needed for real-world communication, the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application is likely to persist, leaving today's learners and tomorrow's workers frustrated with knowing the rules but being unable to use them when they need to communicate."

The education-employment divide

In our report, 54% of English learners said that they did not feel that their formal education had equipped them with adequate English proficiency. The data revealed significant differences between individual countries. For instance, only 17% of learners in Japan felt that their formal education had provided them with a good level of English proficiency, whereas in the US, this figure rose to 64%.

Despite the clear benefits of English proficiency, a considerable divide remains between what students learn in school and the skills needed in the corporate arena.

Only a quarter of learners feel fully equipped to utilize the four key language skills – listening, reading, speaking and writing – in their jobs. Out of all four skills, learners had the least confidence in speaking and writing.

What's more, the anticipated impact of AI on white-collar jobs over the next decade underscores the need for not only English proficiency but also "human skills" such as teamwork, leadership and collaboration—capabilities where proficient English is a key component.

Professional development

These issues are not limited to preparing students for work. It was found that teacher confidence in speaking and writing, along with class size, can also limit the amount of time spent on developing these productive skills. Adequate support for educators and professional development also needs to be a focus in order for students to find success.

Bridging the divide through curriculum innovation

The question, then, is how educators can bridge this gap, ensuring that students are not just learning English but are becoming proficient in its application within a professional context.

Greater focus is needed on speaking practice

Survey participants were asked about their perceived lack of relevant skills in English. The reasons they pointed out were related to the practical use of the language and can be narrowed down to three main factors:

  • Too much focus on grammar and vocabulary
  • Insufficient opportunities to practice English outside the classroom
  • Lack of English conversation practice in the classroom 

Employers face a skills gap in speaking and writing. Unfortunately, education systems don't focus enough resources on developing these skills.

Educational strategies for teachers

Here are a few suggestions for incorporating more skills-based learning to better meet today's language learners' needs.

Focus on functional language

Highlight English that students can use in real-life scenarios, particularly in professional contexts; Role-play exercises (e.g., job interviews, email writing) can make learning more relevant and engaging. For example, check out our Global Scale of English (GSE) learning objectives, which integrate these kinds of scenarios.

Integrate technology and gamification

Leverage the appeal of online resources and games to motivate students and provide opportunities for practice beyond the classroom, mirroring the preferences of your learners. Many language learners now incorporate some form of social media into their study routines. This trend underscores the growing importance of digital platforms in facilitating not only language learning but also cultural immersion.

Foster communication skills

Place a stronger emphasis on speaking and listening exercises to build confidence in these areas. Encourage debates, presentations and group discussions. Our language learning app Mondly by Pearson puts 560 minutes of speaking practice in your learners' pockets, supplementing your teaching with even more opportunities to use English inside and outside of the classroom.

Incorporate industry-specific vocabulary

Customize lesson plans and courses to include terminology related to various fields, from IT to marketing, so students develop a specialized lexicon that will benefit them in the workplace. The GSE Toolkit can help you find topic-related vocabulary and give you helpful tips on when to teach it.

Brush up on your own English language skills

Keeping your own English skills fresh and well-practiced is important to ensure you're teaching your learners to a good standard. Look into courses and professional development, such as our free course to improve your teaching with the Global Scale of English.

Partnerships with companies

Partnerships between educational institutions and businesses can provide students with valuable insights into the workplace and the specific language skills required.

Such collaborations can take the form of guest lectures, classes, internships (for older and adult students), or mentorship programs, offering students first-hand experience of the professional environment.

Engagement with authentic materials and resources

Encourage the use of authentic materials in the classroom, such as business English journals, podcasts, news articles and blog posts. This not only enriches vocabulary but also acquaints learners with the language's contextual nuances, preparing them for real-world communication challenges.

Offer access to testing and certification

Provide your students with information and access to language testing platforms and resources, such as the Pearson English International Certificate for valuable certification in the job market while continuing with an effective, connected learning program.

Encourage continuous learning

Recommend flexible options for continued language development, like the Pearson Connected English Learning Program or Mondly by Pearson, which cater to different learning styles and schedules. Also remember to use the GSE as a helpful tool for your lessons.

The future of English teaching

By reorienting our educational strategies to close the language gap, we empower students not just to succeed academically but to thrive professionally. It's a commitment to lifelong learning that begins in the classroom and extends into every facet of their working lives.

Employers and educational institutions must collaborate to ensure that language proficiency is aligned with industry and student needs. By doing this, you as English teachers and educators both enhance the employability of graduates and contribute to a more interconnected and understanding global community.

Letizia Cinganotto, Professor at the University for Foreigners of Perugia, Italy, says:

"In our interconnected world teachers and educators need to consider innovative teaching trajectories that actively shape the evolving role of English, in order to guide learners to face the challenges of the knowledge society and to travel the global world in a lifelong fascinating journey."

For teachers looking to make a tangible difference in their students' futures, the task is clear: teach English not just as a subject, but as a versatile tool for global opportunity.

Take the next step

Curious to learn more about how to implement these changes in your classroom or educational institution? Read the full report here.

Discover in-depth insights and further information that can help bridge the educational-employment language gap.

Don't miss out on this valuable resource – click through to start transforming the way the English language is taught and applied in the modern workplace.

Harness the power of the Global Scale of English today

The world is constantly evolving, as are the global workplace demands. Arm your students with the English proficiency they need to excel in their careers by integrating the GSE into your curriculum. With a detailed framework and a wealth of resources at your disposal, the GSE offers an unparalleled tool for assessing and improving English language skills in a targeted, efficient manner.

Don't miss the opportunity to make a real difference in your students' professional futures. Explore the Global Scale of English now and start the journey towards bridging the educational-employment language gap. Together, we can prepare learners not just for the exams, but for the world.

More blogs from Pearson

  • A woman walking around outdoors with a camera

    The benefits of taking part in foreign exchange programs

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    If you are a student or one considering a gap year, the option of foreign exchange programs may have crossed your mind or been mentioned to you. More and more young people are taking advantage of exchange programs and reaping the transformative benefits that come with it.

    Let's have a look at some of the reasons why taking part in an exchange program can be a life-changing experience and how it can help you more than you think.

    What is a foreign exchange program?

    A foreign exchange program is an educational initiative where students have the opportunity to study abroad and immerse themselves in a different culture for a specified period, typically ranging from a few weeks to an entire academic year. These programs facilitate cultural exchange by allowing students to attend foreign schools or universities, live with host families or in dormitories, and engage in activities that foster intercultural understanding and personal growth.

    The primary aim of a foreign exchange program is to provide students with a global perspective, enhance their language skills, and expose them to different educational systems and cultural practices. By stepping out of their comfort zones, students can develop independence, adaptability and a deeper appreciation for diversity.

    What are the benefits of a foreign exchange program?

    1. Cultural immersion and global perspective

    Embracing diversity

    One of the most immediate benefits of an exchange program is the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture. Experiencing new customs, traditions and ways of life firsthand fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of global diversity. This cultural immersion helps break down stereotypes and broadens your worldview, making you more open-minded and adaptable.

    Develop cultural understanding

    Living in a foreign country teaches you how to navigate and respect different cultural norms and practices. This cultural competence is increasingly valued in our interconnected world, enhancing your ability to work effectively in diverse environments and making you a more attractive candidate in the global job market.

    2. Language proficiency

    Enhanced language skills

    For language learners, an exchange program is an opportunity to achieve fluency. Experiencing a language firsthand is one of the best ways to learn a new language. Being surrounded by fluent speakers provides constant practice and exposure, accelerating your language acquisition in ways that classroom learning alone cannot match. You'll develop better pronunciation, expand your vocabulary and gain confidence in your speaking abilities.

    Real-world communication

    Using a new language in everyday situations—whether it's ordering food, asking for directions, or making new friends—helps solidify your language skills in a practical context. This real-world communication practice is invaluable, ensuring that your language proficiency extends beyond textbooks and exams to actual, meaningful interactions.

    3. Academic and professional growth

    Academic enrichment

    Exchange programs often provide access to unique academic resources and teaching methods that differ from those in your home country. Exposure to new perspectives and approaches can deepen your understanding of your field of study and inspire new areas of interest. Additionally, studying abroad can enhance your academic credentials, making your CV stand out to future employers or academic institutions.

    Career opportunities

    Experience abroad signals to employers that you possess qualities like independence, adaptability and cross-cultural communication skills. These attributes are highly sought after in today’s job market. Moreover, the networking opportunities during your exchange can open doors to international internships, job placements and collaborations that might not have been available otherwise.

    4. Personal development

    Building independence and resilience

    Living away from home in a completely new environment challenges you to become more self-reliant and adaptable. You'll develop problem-solving skills, resilience and the ability to thrive outside of your comfort zone. These experiences build character and prepare you for future challenges, both personally and professionally.

    Forming lifelong connections

    The friendships and connections you make during your exchange program can last a lifetime. You'll meet people from various backgrounds, creating a global network of peers and mentors. These relationships can provide support, inspiration and opportunities long after your exchange program ends.

    Boosting confidence

    Successfully navigating life in a foreign country, mastering a new language, and achieving academic success abroad can significantly boost your confidence. This newfound self-assurance can positively impact all areas of your life, giving you the courage to pursue further opportunities and take on new challenges.

    5. Engaging with the local community

    Volunteer and community projects

    Many exchange programs encourage participants to engage with their host communities through volunteer work or community projects. This engagement allows you to give back to your host country, gain a deeper understanding of local issues, and develop a sense of global citizenship. It's a rewarding experience that fosters empathy and reinforces the importance of contributing to the wider world.

    Gaining valuable work experience

    Participating in volunteer and community projects during your exchange program can provide significant work experience that is highly attractive to future employers. These projects often involve teamwork, problem-solving and project management, all of which are essential skills in any professional setting.

    By contributing to local initiatives, you can demonstrate your ability to adapt to new environments, work with diverse teams, and handle responsibility. Furthermore, these experiences can fill gaps in your CV, showcasing your proactive approach to skill-building and community involvement. Engaging in meaningful projects not only supports your personal growth but also highlights your commitment to making a positive impact, a quality greatly valued in any career field.

    Where can I sign up for exchange programs?

    There are many organizations and programs that offer exchange opportunities for students and language learners. Some popular options include:

    • Study abroad programs through universities or colleges, which often have partnerships with foreign institutions. Check with your institution.
    • Government-sponsored programs such as Fulbright or Erasmus, (depending on your location).
    • Check non-profit organizations in your country, they may also offer exchange programs.

    Conclusion

    Taking part in an exchange program is a life-changing adventure that offers myriad benefits for students and language learners alike. From enhancing language proficiency and cultural awareness to boosting academic and career prospects, the experiences gained through an exchange program are invaluable. By stepping out of your comfort zone and into a new world, you open yourself up to endless possibilities, personal growth and a broader, more inclusive perspective on life.

    If you're a student or language learner considering an exchange program, seize the opportunity. The world awaits, and the benefits are boundless.

  • Friends studying together around one big table

    8 things you should try to avoid when learning English

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    Learning a new language is an exciting and rewarding journey, but it can also come with its fair share of challenges. As English learners, it's important to recognize and overcome the common pitfalls that could hinder your progress. Here, we provide advice and guidance on what not to do to make your English learning experience as smooth and successful as possible.

  • Business people sat at a table together, two of them shaking hands.

    Improving your business English vocabulary for the workplace

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 5 minutes

    So, you’re thinking about brushing up on your business English and learning new business vocabulary. In today’s corporate world, having a good handle on basic business terms and business lingo can really set you apart. It’s not just about sounding smart in meetings or crafting the perfect email, though that’s part of it. It’s about feeling more confident and fitting in seamlessly with your colleagues and clients from around the globe. Plus, knowing the right words and phrases can help you navigate tricky situations, negotiate better deals, and make a great impression on customers.

    Whether you’re attending business meetings, writing emails, or networking with colleagues, a strong grasp of business English vocabulary can set you apart and open doors to new opportunities.

    So, let’s dive in and explore some ways to improve your business English vocabulary.