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Sunday, 22 Oct 2017

English-language Proficiency: A Touchstone in a Global Marketplace

Learning a second language as part of adult literacy skills

As societies worldwide become increasingly advanced, people are expected not only to maintain but also to improve their literacy skills, which are critical for educational enhancement, as well as for positive personal, social, and professional outcomes.

Literacy skills encompass those needed for reading, writing, spelling and comprehension, plus an awareness of the sounds of language and the relationship between letters and sounds.  But they also include the underlying skills that successful readers use to achieve higher levels of literacy; the skills and knowledge needed to understand and use information found in newspapers, magazines, forms, manuals, schedules, charts and graphs; the ability to use, apply, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas; the ability to use digital technologies to function in a knowledge-based society; the ability to recognize and understand the different sources of information; and, of course, the ability to use a second language.

Advantages of being proficient in a second language

The importance of learning a second language is not limited to personal, social or educational outcomes. According to some studies (Marcos, 1998), learning a second language provides a better understanding of one’s own language and culture. It also enhances students’ thinking, creativity, and cognitive, analytical and social development compared to monolingual children. These studies also show that when students learn a second language they tend to do better than those who are monolingual on both verbal and nonverbal test of intelligence. The students’ academic skills are enhanced when learning a second language. Students' academic skills in mathematics, writing, and reading are enhanced when learning a second language. On the individual level, although learning a second language can be difficult, it increases learners’ feeling of self worth pushing them forward mentally as well as academically as they venture out of their comfort zones.

Being proficient in a second language also helps people adapt more easily to a different culture, and the ability to communicate with those who speak other languages can be conducive to the overall achievement of career goals. It certainly becomes a valuable asset during a job search, as it can open up employment opportunities worldwide.

In times of economic uncertainty, competition for jobs increases and higher education institutions and employers seek individuals with the best credentials and skills. A university degree is no longer a guarantee of a good job as unemployment affects all levels of society. The ability to speak a second language can mean the difference between employment and unemployment, between moving forward and stagnating in one's career, between success and failure.

English as the world’s second language

English has become the world’s second most frequently used language, the lingua franca of the modern era. While English is not an official language in many countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a second language around the world. Even some linguists, such as David Graddol, believe that the English language is no longer the exclusive cultural property of “native English speakers," but rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it continues to grow. English has become an international language used by people from different geographic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds to communicate and do business with each other and the need for English-language proficiency in the global workplace and the need for English-language skills certification, such as the TOEIC® tests, has grown significantly over the past decades.

Today, there are almost two billion English-language speakers around the world. As companies compete internationally, they need employees who can effectively communicate with colleagues in other countries. Global organizations, businesses and government agencies need workers who can represent them to customers and clients around the world. English is the international language of business, the language of information technology, the language of finance, healthcare, transportation and energy and English-language skills are essential for those working in academic, scientific and artistic environments.

English-language proficiency does make the difference

In this globalized multicultural world, where English is the international language of communication, an English-language proficiency certification can make all the difference. Performing well on an internationally recognized measure of English-language skills such as the TOEIC® tests provides you with a wider range of employment opportunities, since an increasing number of jobs today require candidates to interact with people who speak other languages. Interviews for such jobs are usually conducted in English and interviewers quickly make judgments and place great importance on first impressions. Poor English-language skills reduce your chances of getting such jobs, whereas being proficient in English can provide a good first impression and that means an increased chance of getting the position.

Of course, prospective employers will also examine the candidate’s academic and professional background to find out if the person is suitable for the position. However, we know that in order to be successful in the workplace, we need more than just a good education and a recognized, accredited degree. We also need a good dose of things that cannot be taught in a classroom: passion, determination, devotion, confidence, integrity and perseverance, as well as creativity and imagination, a willingness to succeed and sometimes a bit of luck.

English-language proficiency can be an important determining factor in getting a job, earning a higher salary, receiving a promotion and gaining other advantages in the employment market (Roshid and Chowdhury, 2013). For many, English-language proficiency — certified through assessments such as the TOEIC tests — has been a gateway to success in the workplace. It won’t get you all the way there and it won’t guarantee how well you will do over the course of your career, but it will certainly open more doors for you.

To borrow a sports metaphor, we could say that English-language proficiency doesn't guarantee how well you will run the race… but it will get you off to a good start!