Global Business English Skills Declining

IT leaders concerned about the language barrier when sending work overseas may not feel any better after seeing a new analysis of language placement test scores. Latin American countries, in particular, lag in the ability to understand and communicate basic business information in English.

By Stephanie Overby
Thu, April 05, 2012

CIO — The language barrier has always been a concern for IT leaders sending corporate technology projects and support overseas. And the issue may not be abating, according to the results of an online business English placement test recently given to 108,000 employees around the world.

GlobalEnglish—a Brisbane, Calif.-based provider of on-demand English language instruction to customers including Cisco, Procter & Gamble and GM—analyzed the results of testing done at 216 companies in 76 countries over the course of the last year. The test for non-native English speakers assesses not only knowledge of the language itself, but also language application across different media from email to phone, language use in different contexts such as presentations or sales meetings, and understanding of nuance and complexity in business situations.

Workers Understand Only Basic Information

Based on a scale of one to ten—with one indicating an ability to read and communicate using only simple questions and statements and ten representing an ability to communicate and collaborate in the workplace like a native English speaker—the average test score was 4.15, down 7 percent from 4.46 the previous year.

That translates to a population of workers who, on average, can understand basic information on the telephone or in person, but cannot comprehend most business presentations or take a leadership role in business discussions or perform relatively complex tasks, according to the scoring system.

Nearly four out of 10 of the global workers were ranked as business English beginners, meaning that they can't understand or communicate basic information during virtual or in-person meetings, read or write professional emails in English, or deal with complexity and rapid change. The majority of global workers (60.5 percent) from the represented countries scored between a 4.0 and 7.0—just below the intermediate level, indicating an inability to take an active role in business discussions or perform tasks such as presentation development and customer negotiations.

"It is likely that the 2012 [average] score is lower partially because more and more companies are being thrust into the global market at the early stages of their strategic efforts to advance their [fluency] so they can reach business goals," says Alex Lowrie, senior director of strategic account management for GlobalEnglish. " This increases both the number of companies and countries represented." However, Lowrie points out, the results from the most fluent 20 companies in the index actually increased, from a range of 5.25 to 7.54 in 2011 to 5.76 to 7.61 in 2012.

Philippines Tops the List

Continue Reading

Our Commenting Policies