English Proficiency is Improving in Latin America Except Among Younger People

In a panorama where English is emerging as a global lingua franca, Latin America presents a mosaic of proficiency levels, reflecting various educational policies, cultural exchanges, and socioeconomic factors. 

Woman in front of a board in a classroom

Photo: Pexels

LatinAmerican Post 

Central America has shown the most significant improvement in English proficiency over the last decade. South America has also seen steady progress. However, Mexico has faced a notable decline in proficiency, contributing to an overall decline among 18- to 20-year-olds since 2015.

English holds unparalleled sway in global communication, serving as the primary conduit for international discourse in business, science, and culture. With over 1.452 billion speakers worldwide, its influence spans continents, embedding itself into the fabric of daily life far beyond its native shores. However, this global embrace of English unfolds unevenly across the globe, with Latin America’s relationship with the language painting a complex portrait of disparities and ambitions.

The Proficiency Landscape

The EF English Proficiency Index, a comprehensive survey by the international language training company EF, offers a lens into the state of English language skills worldwide, including an in-depth look at Latin America. The study, encompassing 2.1 million participants across 111 countries, reveals a region grappling with linguistic challenges and opportunities. The report shows that Latin America is a region in flux. Central America’s level has improved more than any other region over the past decade at an average pace of 6 points yearly. South America has also improved steadily. On the other hand, Mexico has seen a significant decline, and both Mexico and Argentina are drivers of the worldwide drop among 18–20-year-olds since 2015. The region saw a larger-than-average erosion in youth English proficiency during the pandemic, which has not yet recovered.

The latest EF English Proficiency Index paints a detailed picture of English proficiency across Latin America, revealing a wide range of skills and highlighting areas for potential growth. Argentina leads the region, ranked 28th globally with a score of 560, showcasing its residents’ relatively high level of English understanding despite the country’s educational challenges. This is particularly notable in a region where English can unlock significant opportunities for international business, tourism, and education.

Following Argentina, Honduras (31st globally, score of 544) and Costa Rica (38th globally, score of 534) demonstrate commendable proficiency levels, suggesting robust language education systems or cultural predispositions favoring English acquisition. Uruguay (39th, 533) and Bolivia (41st, 532) closely trail, indicating a middle tier of countries with moderate proficiency that could serve as a foundation for further educational emphasis on English.

Cuba (43rd, 531) and Paraguay (45th, 530) reflect the broader trend of medium proficiency across the region, pointing to language learning resources and initiatives, albeit with room for improvement. This trend continues with El Salvador (50th, 524), Peru (51st, 521), and Chile (52nd, 518), showcasing a critical mass of Latin American countries poised at the brink of significantly enhancing their global engagement through improved English proficiency.

Guatemala (53rd, 515), the Dominican Republic (55th, 512), and Venezuela (56th, 508), round out the medium proficiency category, emphasizing the widespread nature of English as a second language across diverse Latin American contexts. Nicaragua (62nd, 503), Brazil (70th, 487), and Panama (71st, 486) fall into the lower proficiency band, highlighting challenges and underscoring the need for targeted language education reforms.

Colombia (75th, 480), Ecuador (80th, 467), and Mexico (89th, 451) reveal lower levels of English proficiency, illustrating significant barriers to language acquisition, possibly rooted in educational policy, access to quality resources, or broader socioeconomic factors. Haiti (98th, 421), with the lowest proficiency in the region, underscores the profound impact of systemic educational weaknesses on language learning outcomes.

Understanding the Discrepancies

The variation in English proficiency across Latin America can be attributed to numerous factors, including the quality of public education, the availability of language learning resources, and the socioeconomic divide determining access to private education or extracurricular language training. Argentina’s relatively high ranking, juxtaposed with its criticized public education system, suggests that factors beyond formal schooling, such as private tutoring or cultural exposure, significantly influence English proficiency.

Conversely, Mexico’s proximity to the English-speaking United States has yet to translate into higher proficiency levels, indicating that geographical adjacency alone does not guarantee enhanced language skills. This points to the critical role of educational policies and cultural exchange programs in fostering language proficiency.

English and Economic Advancements in Latin America

In the tapestry of global communication, English emerges as a linguistic tool and a cornerstone of modern economic, innovative, and social landscapes. The EF English Proficiency Index reveals a vivid picture of English proficiency across Latin America, shedding light on the region’s position within these global dynamics.

The correlation between English proficiency and economic metrics in Latin America underscores a nuanced reality. While basic measures of wealth and trade align with English skills, the intricate indicators of financial health—balance, productivity, and potential—reveal a stronger bond. In essence, English proficiency in countries like Argentina, leading the region with a score of 560, doesn’t directly elevate wages or boost trade. Yet, it signifies a more efficient, globally attuned workforce capable of propelling economies forward.

Historically, academic and innovative progress has thrived on exchanging ideas across linguistic boundaries. With English’s ascension as the global lingua franca, its role in fostering innovation has become increasingly evident. Nations like Costa Rica and Uruguay, with scores of 534 and 533, respectively, exemplify how proficiency facilitates participation in the global dialogue, accelerating the pace of discovery and innovation. This linguistic unity is essential for collaborative research that drives forward global progress.

The disparities in English proficiency among industries reflect hiring practices and investment in language training. Surprisingly, this variance persists even in sectors with high levels of international integration, suggesting a missed opportunity for government and nonprofit sectors to equip their workforce with essential skills for global engagement. Countries with medium proficiency levels, such as Chile (518) and Guatemala (515), illustrate the potential benefits of enhancing English education within the professional sphere.

Societal Impacts and Opportunities

For individuals in Latin America, English proficiency is more than a skill—it’s a gateway to a world of opportunities. It broadens access to information, education, and the global labor market, potentially leading to higher salaries and greater societal mobility. Yet, the uneven access to quality English instruction mirrors broader educational inequalities, perpetuating cycles of injustice. Addressing these disparities is crucial for unlocking the full potential of societies across the region.

English is not merely a language of the present but a vital key to the future. It enables Latin Americans to engage with global communities, understand diverse perspectives, and contribute to addressing universal challenges like climate change. The shared language fosters international solidarity and cooperation, which is essential for navigating the complexities of the 21st century.

Also read: Will the right be able to regain power in the elections in Latin America in 2023?

The EF English Proficiency Index’s insights into Latin America’s English skills are a call to action. Enhancing language proficiency is imperative for economic growth and innovation and fostering a more inclusive, equitable society. As countries like Argentina and Honduras lead the way, there’s a clear path forward: investing in language education to empower individuals and transform societies. In the global village, English is the thread that weaves together the tapestry of human endeavor, making it an invaluable asset for Latin America’s journey toward a brighter, more interconnected future.

Improving English proficiency in Latin America requires a multifaceted approach, addressing systemic educational challenges and promoting cultural exchanges that enhance language exposure. Governments, academic institutions, and international partners must collaborate to develop accessible language learning programs that reach beyond the urban middle and upper classes, targeting underserved communities where the impact can be most profound.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button