The recently released English Proficiency Index (EPI) from English First (EF) reveals that English Proficiency in Latin America remains low. This is particularly important as most countries in the region see English as a catalyst for economic development, and policymakers have made education reforms a top priority.
EF’s index ranks 70 world countries and territories ‑ fourteen of them in Latin American ‑ according to their English language proficiency. The regional leader, Argentina, ranks 15th place in the world and is the only country in the region considered to have a high proficiency level. Second place, the Dominican Republic, is 24th in the world and earns only “moderate” proficiency. The other 12 countries in the region fall into the low and very low proficiency categories. The region’s top-five is rounded out by Peru (35th), Chile (36th) and Ecuador (38th). Here is an overview of some of the region’s current initiatives:
- Despite its relatively low results, Chile is a top performer in the region on most international education assessments. Its “English Opens Doors” program was among the earliest language training initiatives in Latin America, recruiting and training over 2,000 volunteer-teachers, hosting full-immersion camps and supporting professional development for local educators. Its work is clearly incomplete, however, and President Bachelet, re-elected in 2014, tasked the program to reach a thousand schools and raise the number of speakers.
- Although Panama missed the top five, the country showed an impressive index improvement, jumping from 56th place in 2013 to its present 48th. Its current efforts includes local and overseas teacher training, additional lessons in English for elementary students and after-school classes for secondary schoolers. It hopes to produce 10,000 bilingual teachers and 260,000 bilingual students over the next four years.
- Mexican adults remain low-proficiency users, despite the country’s economic and social ties to neighboring US. The government launched an initiative in 2014 aiming to send 100,000 students to the US for short-term intensive courses by 2018.
- Brazil has launched several programs to improve English skills in recent years and the results have been encouraging. Its “Languages without Borders” program, for example, prepares students for graduate studies abroad and includes English and seven additional foreign languages. Nevertheless, it has yet to expand the number of competent speakers in the workforce.
In sum, then, these efforts illustrate that the governments of the region recognize English as the primary international language and there the need to strengthen English education systems in order to provide their citizens with opportunities in the global economy.