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ENGLISH, ECONOMICS, AND QUALITY OF LIFE

THE CHANGING ROLE OF ENGLISH

English spread as a language of international trade and diplomacy first under the British Empire, and then during the postwar economic expansion of the United States. In many countries, English has replaced French as an indicator of the well-educated upper class.

Globalization, urbanization, and the rise of the Internet have dramatically changed the role of English in the past 20 years. Today, English proficiency is less associated with the elite, and it is not as closely tied to the United States or the United Kingdom as it once was. Instead, English is becoming a basic skill for the entire global workforce, in the same way that literacy has transformed in the last two centuries from an elite privilege into a basic requirement for informed citizenship. On the individual level, English has the potential to generate opportunities, strengthen employability, and expand horizons.

A VIRTUOUS CYCLE

The interaction between English proficiency and Adjusted Net National Income per capita (Graph A) seems to be a virtuous cycle. An improvement in English proficiency is tied to a rise in salaries, which may in turn lead governments and individuals to invest more in English training. In many countries, higher English proficiency correlates with a lower unemployment rate among young people. As such, English is key to a country’s economic development.

ENGLISH FACILITATES BUSINESS

Countries and companies that wish to attract foreign investments and trade, as well as stimulate entrepreneurial growth, have recognized the importance of English for creating a business-friendly environment. An increasing number of companies headquartered in non-English-speaking countries (e.g., Rakuten, Renault, and Samsung) have adopted English as their corporate language.

Indices of quality of life, such as the Human Development Index (Graph B), also correlate positively with the EF EPI. The Human Development Index measures education attainment, life expectancy, literacy, and standards of living. A few countries have low or moderate English proficiency and high levels of development. However, all High and Very High Proficiency countries are rated “Very High Human Development” on the HDI.

ENGLISH AS A VITAL SKILL

The evidence presented in this report shows that English is a core skill today. As such, it should be taught and tested at a level equivalent to native language reading and math skills. Considering the increased importance of English over the last 20 years, a strong working knowledge of the language will be even more important when today's youth enter the workforce.

GRAPH A: ENGLISH AND INCOME

Adjusted Net National Income per capita (Constant 2005 USD) EF EPI Score Source: World Bank, 2014

GRAPH B: ENGLISH AND QUALITY OF LIFE

Human Development Index (HDI) EF EPI Score Source: United Nations Human Development Report, 2015

INDIVIDUAL EARNING POWER AND ENGLISH

This infographic shows the average Adjusted Net National Income per capita of the countries in each EF EPI proficiency band. The data reveals a clear relationship between English skills and individual earning power.

Proficiency:

  • Very High
  • High
  • Moderate
  • Low
  • Very Low
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