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English in Latin America Improves During Pandemic


A new study shows that Latin America saw an improvement in English proficiency during the pandemic. It was more than 70% who experienced fluency growth during 2020.

Investors and companies interested in entering the region will find this news particularly interesting. Latin America has a higher level of English, making it more attractive for business.

A Biz Latin Hub graphic showing English levels in Latin America based on the 2021 EPI from EF
English Proficiency Levels in Latin America and The Caribbean

According to the report, Bolivia emerged as the number two performer, jumping from the first place spot in the region. 2021 edition of the English Proficiency Index (EPI)Education First International (EF) published the following today: 

Kate Bell (lead author) said the publication was prompted by a noticeable rise in Latin Americans seeking English proficiency tests.

“The psychology of why people decide to test their English isn’t obvious, but if people are looking for work, considering a job change, actively studying English, or planning to start a course, they are more likely to test their English as part of that process,” she told Biz Latin Hub by email.

The 2021 EPI was created using test data that has been collected from approximately two million test takers who have taken the EF Standard English Test, or one of the EF English placement tests throughout 2020. It uses an 800-point scale.

The new report shows that Bolivia saw an increase of 20 points in English proficiency in the 2020-2021 editions. This leapfrogged Paraguay, Chile, Costa Rica and Cuba to take second place in Latin America.

SEE ALSO 5 Advantages of Doing Business in Bolivia

That places them behind Argentina, the only country in the region to register a “high” level of English despite being one of five out of 19 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean to witness a slight decline in proficiency since the previous study. Proficiency was not affected by the other nations.

Other notable improvements were seen in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, and Uruguay, which all moved from “low” to “moderate” English levels, while Colombia moved from “very low” to “low”.

Non-traditional markets drive improvement

In the 2021 EPI, one of the most striking trends in English proficiency in Latin America is that five of the countries experiencing declines in proficiency score are also countries which are usually associated with high proficiency levels in English. 

A Biz Latin Hub graphic related to English in Latin America showing historic results in Mexico and Central America
El Salvador has experienced significant improvement in English proficiency

They include Argentina (ten-point drop), Costa Rica (seven-point drop), Panama (8 point), Chile (7 point) and Mexico (4 point). These improvements can be seen in countries where English proficiency is not common.

While many might expect Mexico to do well because of its cultural and proximity to the United States of America, it is important to note that the North American country registered an EPI score significantly lower than the rest of Central America.

Based on a comparison of annual EPIs — with pre-2020 scores adjusted to adhere to the 800-point scale introduced last year — another notable pattern to emerge from Central America is the significant and consistent increase in proficiency seen in El Salvador over recent years — with the country now boasting the second-highest score in Central America.

According to Bell, El Salvador is the “perfect demonstration” of a trend seen in levels of English in Latin America and elsewhere in the world, whereby adults in their 30s are driving improvements in overall proficiency as they seek new professional opportunities by improving their English. 

“A lot of the blame for poor English gets laid at the feet of school systems. This data shows that workplaces (and employers) are powerful drivers of English language acquisition,” Bell wrote.

SEE ALSO Starting a Business in El Salvador: 4 Considerations

Another notable trend highlighted by Bell is the fact that underlying Mexico’s overall decline in English proficiency over recent years is a growing disparity between states. Bell claims that the gap in proficiency between states with the highest and lowest performance has increased.

Bell emphasizes that it is an opportunity for weaker states to learn from others who have experienced proficiency growth.

“If I were trying to determine which factors are most important to improving English proficiency in Mexico, I’d look at the states with positive proficiency trends and copy what they’re doing,” she wrote.

English for Latin America: Regional improvement 

There were mixed results for Mexico and Central America with three out of seven countries experiencing declines. However, all the Andean regions of South America (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) experienced an improvement in English proficiency since the last EPI.

A Biz Latin Hub graphic related to English in Latin America showing historic results in the Andean region
English proficiency increased in all Andean nations

This saw Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru maintain their recent patterns of improved proficiency, while Colombia, Venezuela, and Venezuela both rebounded from the five-year declines. 

The improvement in Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina in the Southern Cone region, which includes Argentina, Brazil.

In the case of the latter, while the improvement was a modest three points, in combination with Chile’s decline, it saw Paraguay move into second place in the region.

SEE ALSO Paraguay Trademark Office Database: Get a Free Search

Another notable trend that was evident in the EPI’s latest edition is the increase in English Latin America scores. This compares to the three-point global average.

This is despite Haiti being included in EPI 2021 Edition for the first-time and having the lowest regional score. Haiti’s removal would mean that the average Latin America score and Caribbean score rose 16 points over last year.

This is a positive sign of an improvement in English language proficiency in Latin America. It will bring good news for investors who come from English-speaking nations or are used to conducting business in English.

Biz Latin Hub will help you to do business in Latin America

Biz Latin Hub has multilingual corporate support teams based in 16 Latin American and Caribbean markets. They are available to assist you in expanding and doing business in that region.

Our comprehensive portfolio includes company formation, accounting & taxation, corporate legal services, due diligence, hiring & PEOWe can help you with visa processing and passport application.

Whether you are planning entry into a new market or are already active in the region, we help investors bridge the cultural and linguistic barriers they encounter, meaning that you don’t have to base your choices on where you will find the best spoken English in Latin America.

Contact us todayFind out how we can help you do business.

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Key services offered by BLH including legal services, accounting & taxation, hiring & PEO, due diligence, tax advisory, and visa processing
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