Despite being the closest neighbor to the United States, Mexico only positioned as a median average nation for English ability in Latin America, and has obvious skill variations across the country.
At rank 43 on the EF English Proficiency Index 2016, (its lowest ranking in five years) the country is number 7 out of 14 Latin America countries in the rankings, sandwiched between Chile and Peru (rank 42 and 45, respectively).
Luis Castro, CEO of QS2 Point, a Mexico-based software developer, stresses that while there is a higher level of English in the North, such as in Monterrey, there is still a major requirement to improve English in the South of Mexico. This encompasses any states south of San Luis Potosi, which also includes Mexico City.
“This is likely a result of the cultural influence, and the higher probability of having family across the border,” he said. “In competing with other countries for Nearshore services, it would be a good idea to tackle the problem up front with new, experimental programs, as they can show clients they can trust in a company’s overall development of the language,” said Castro.
Example of a Progressive Program
QS2 Point’s own experiment is a voluntary, one-on-one program that tests and measures if coaching actually works. Sessions are split into two one-hour blocks for participating employees each week. Each block consists of 15-20 minutes of speaking practice and 45 minutes of coaching.
Using the classifications of “critical”, “important”, or “desirable”, skills like phonetics, grammar, and syntax are checked and placed into a graph visualization, allowing the company to track the defects in language ability across the talent pool, pinpointing who and what needs improvement.
“Of course, the definitive proof of the program’s success is if the customer notices it,” said Castro. “We have the data that shows success, but the perceivable changes ultimately need to be noticed by the customers.”
Candidates Up-selling Skills
When Castro first entered the company, he realized that some existing employees didn’t have the best level of English, but it was still at a good enough level to work with customers. However, he still notices that candidates aren’t always upfront about the true scale of their ability.
“When we receive CVs, we often notice that candidates will put an “80%” skill measure of their English ability, but that is always relative to where they come from and how they actually measure it,” said Castro. “The trick is to always perform interviews in English, as you can tell immediately if they have had good contact with the language or not.”
The Mexican government is looking to curb this trend, with the country’s Education Secretary, Aurelio Nuño, explaining in March that he predicts every school will have an English teacher by 2027, with a more long-term goal of having all teachers fluent in the language. Under his new plan, English classes would be provided for students from elementary through high school.
“We are facing a very big credibility problem,” Nuño told reporters in March. “For almost 20 years, parents have heard about English and computers, and no plan has worked. The first step is that [kids] are bilingual. If we do that, we will be halfway down the road.”
Ambitious, considering the country’s lack of teachers. Not to mention that it might be difficult to produce fluent speakers with just a couple of lessons per week.
When you also factor in that the country will have a new administration in 2018, which is almost guaranteed to shuffle education policies around, Mexican Nearshore companies should focus on their own English language initiatives in order to generate stronger US ties.
Read about other countries in this series by clicking on the links below: