Despite a fairly average English proficiency ranking, Brazil’s culture, history, and education system still seem to hold it back. Even so, the services industry is expected to be a key driver of growth for the language as the country climbs out of economic downturn.
“From an IT proficiency level, Brazil has been growing well,” said Herlon Faria, Business Head at Wipro Brazil and Argentina. “Today, while at a different scale to Europe or the United States, you can find literally any IT services in Brazil. However, when it comes to conversational English there is still a hurdle to overcome. The ability to jump deep into a subject with spoken English is something that will still need to develop.”
Faria believes that programmers have stronger reading and writing abilities due to their experience with coding in English and studying English textbooks. “If the US requires services from any vendor, they have to deal with them in English, which forces the new generation of services providers to embed English into their operations,” he said.
Ranking and Local Ability
Relatively unchanged since last year’s rank of 38, Brazil now sits at rank 40 out of the 72 countries listed on the EF English Proficiency Index 2016, just behind Costa Rica (38) and ahead of Chile (42).
Surprisingly, the Federal District and Rio Grande do Sul are listed as the strongest provinces for English aptitude, ahead of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janiero, while Rio Grande do Norte, Amazon, and Mato Grosso pick up the slack.
Brasília, Sao Paulo, and Campinas all have a medium level of English ability from a city perspective, while all other major cities are listed as having low ability.
In the case of Wipro Brazil, the company has 1,400 people spread across 3 delivery locations in the country, 70-80% of whom speak English. This level of bilingualism is vital for the company due to its Indian heritage and multinational clients, so it first searches for English-speaking profiles when sourcing talent.
“In the last ten years, the new generation of service providers and employees are much more concerned about having proficiency in a second language, especially English,” said Faria. “Though the country has grown a lot in bilingual skills and is on the right track to export more services, the pace of this knowledge development is still an issue and there is a lot more to develop.”
Education and Population
As with many other Latin American countries, the level of English education correlates with higher incomes. According to the British Council, the autonomy granted by Brazil’s Federal Constitution to schools and universities also acts as a barrier to change. “While the teaching of foreign languages is now part of the curricular framework, limited teaching hours and a lack of qualified teachers impede progress,” writes the institute.
The country’s English without Borders program, part of the larger Idiomas sem Fronteiras (Languages without Borders), came into fruition after Science without Borders uncovered the lack of English language proficiency at the tertiary level.
While many young people believe that English should be part of their personal growth, the language is considered a luxury by some and an extracurricular activity by others. People generally prioritize basic education first, followed by higher education and then English.
“It’s not that common to take English university courses in Brazil, but some courses and books at an MBA level are written and tested in English,” said Faria. “Even when this is the case, the students and teachers will speak in Portuguese instead of English, which is the opposite approach to those in India, where the English levels are stronger.”
Clearly, Brazil has a ways to go in developing its bilingual culture, but if the increased demand from the US can help the services industry climb out of the recent lull, we could see English rise up the priority chain.
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