Thanks to its robust technology infrastructure and native Spanish speakers, Peru has always been a strong hub for Spanish-language services. While this has produced many benefits for the call center and BPO sector, a lack of English speakers has also hindered companies from attacking the United States market.
While most of the contact center companies – such as Teleperformance and Atento – are operating in Peru to serve predominantly Spanish-speaking clients in Latin America, some software and IT services players are finding a decent mix of technical ability and English language skills.
IT services company Belatrix Software, for example, is not hindered by any lack of talent, growing to 240 people in Lima, up from less than 100 three years ago.
“Everyone in our Peru office has English as a skill and we provide internal lessons to those that want to improve,” said Charles Green, Director of Thought Leadership at Belatrix Software, himself based in Peru.
“Character wise, people tend to be slightly more reserved here. When giving a group presentation, for example, this reservation can be a challenge for the people who are listening. In comparison, Argentinians display much more openness and tend to have more exuberance.”
Green also highlighted that the Peruvian accent tends to be very neutral, even when speaking Spanish, which makes their English easier for natives to understand.
Education and Economic Hurdles
In 2014, Peru’s president at the time, Ollanta Humala, stressed the importance of bilingual education, highlighting that English needed to be the priority second language. He set a goal of achieving bilingualism by 2021, allocating funds to meet this goal. So, how is this ambition coming along?
One of the country’s biggest issues is a shortage of English teachers. This is expected to become worse as the government increases the weekly hours of English learning in secondary schools. To alleviate this, the government sending Peruvian teachers overseas to foreign institutions to both train them and attract native speakers to Peru.
According to the British Council, 57% of Peruvian English learners study English in secondary school, while 46% learn during undergraduate study and 41% attend private language schools. Today, many of Peru’s universities also require that students learn a second language in order to graduate.
“Education is also a major motivating factor for language learning: 44% learned English because it was mandatory in secondary school and 40% learned because they needed it for university,” the British Council states in its English in Peru report.
However, while interest in learning the language is high, income inequality is still the biggest deterrent for studying English, as is the case with many other Nearshore nations. Until the government can address this in the country’s public schools, the wealthy will continue to be the primary learners.
Foreign Influx of Speakers
One interesting factor that is likely to speed up the adoption of English in Peru is the large increase in tourism.
According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics and Information (INEI), the country saw a 13% increase in foreigners arriving in 2016, 26.4% of which were from the US. This was backed up by Ricardo Martinez, a Mexican reporter based in Peru, who said that “There has been an increase in expats and Americans in Lima, which will lead to a necessity for locals to develop the language, over time.”
In fact, the number of visitors to Peru has increased from 1 million to 3 million per year, confirming that there is more exposure to the English language than ever before. In the popular tourist cities of Arequipa, Cuzco and Lima, this is creating advantages for the locals that speak English.
Despite the country’s education reforms and huge increase in tourism, Peru is still primarily a Spanish-language hotspot for the BPO industry. While some ITO firms are finding the talent they need, it will still be some time before the country can provide the scale required for Nearshore contact center operations to thrive in the US market.
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