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
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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.

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    Building the right skilling pedagogies

    When it comes to top talent challenges among global workforces, the lack of communication and collaboration as an essential part of teams remains an important challenge. Over 45% of companies today state this as a pivotal barrier. Another 47% of companies stated the difficulty in reskilling remains concerning.

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    Having the right learning pedagogies that enable tracking and impactful, new-age interventions targeted to improve communication skills is the need of the hour. The study found that the ability to work cohesively in a global work sett­ing depended crucially on how easily different teams can communicate with each other.

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    Those who focus on building the right communication and collaboration capabilities within their global workforces today stand bett­er prepared to tackle business challenges and drive productivity.

    Investing in the right learning pedagogies and addressing communication concerns thus have a direct impact on how productive global workforces are. The new skilling agenda of focusing on communication and collaboration is today driven by a need to channel diverse workforces to tackle business uncertainty.

    A defining factor of how companies ensure a productive future is by building the right hiring and learning capabilities that address the new skilling agenda.

    To find out more about this study, download the full report here.

    Pearson works with over 2,000 leading enterprises around the world, helping them to diagnose skills gaps, identify learning pathways and interventions, and mobilize their workforces through verifiable skill credentials.