Did You Know Your Country’s GDP is Linked to its Level of English?

Pascale Chauvot

12 Jan 2016

Speaking one or more foreign languages is a key asset for any employee working in an international context.  But did you know that your country’s GDP is linked to its level of English?

The Value of English

English proficiency is seen by many non-English speaking countries as a mandatory skill for their citizens if they wish to compete on the international stage. Countries such as Singapore, Sweden, Denmark and Luxembourg have led the way in developing the English language competence of their nationals.

Macroeconomic Impact

An improvement in English language proficiency was connected with a rise in income per capita

In a report published in the Harvard Business Review, research has shown a positive correlation between English language skills and strong economic performance. Using the English Language Proficiency Index and with 60 countries and territories surveyed, an improvement in English language proficiency was connected with a rise in income per capita in nearly all of these countries.

The article makes a further point. For countries that invest in improving English language skills, increased revenue from global business allows them to re-invest additional profits into language training. Their example looks to Northern European countries, who do very well trading globally – mostly in English.

Level of English and GDP

Employee Impact

Furthermore, the article points out that employees from countries with excellent English language skills can also expect average salaries 30% to 50% higher than their country peers with poorer language skills.

Quality of Life

English language skills have additional advantages above economic factors. The HBR also notes that quality of life factors are also increased as there is a correlation between English language proficiency and the Human Development Index. This Index measures education levels, life expectancy, literacy and standards of living.

Businesses looking to expand their reach into additional markets, especially those who expect to conduct their global business in English might find it strategic to do a little homework to determine which markets are investing in improving their country’s English language skills or continue to sustain a high level they already enjoy.

Employees from countries with excellent English language skills can also expect average salaries 30% to 50% higher than their country peers with poorer language skills

Other Languages – The Past

Although much of the modern global economy benefits from English language skills, it was not always so. In the past, languages travelled broadly along colonial lines as well as trade routes.

For example, the Swahili language spoken in parts of East Africa, although indigenous, also incorporates many words from Arabic, English, German, French, Portuguese, and Hindi, all representing trade routes that found success in the region.

Other Languages – The Present

Many linguists might suggest that the English language is successful in part because of the ‘colonialisation’ of much of today’s big business, especially from the USA and its linguistic dominance. And for most globalised organisations, this is so.

But if your business concentrates only on specific or regional markets, then an additional business language other than English might be a better solution for these organisations. For example, those organisations whose trade focuses on West Africa or the CIS states might find French or Russian respectively more beneficial than English.

Many linguists might suggest that the English language is successful in part because of the ‘colonialisation’ of much of today’s big business, especially from the USA and its linguistic dominance

Other Languages – The Future

History teaches us that the world changes, with dominant cultures changing places with others over time. Although business English is likely to remain relevant for the life span of most adults’ professional careers, it would be foolish to expect this to be the sole case for generations to come.

Investment in languages such as Mandarin Chinese in particular is seen as a wise move for many countries planning to stay ahead of the economic curve. Those who aren’t may be weakening their future GDP prospects. After all, if language dominance never changes, then we would all be speaking Latin or Greek?



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