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English at Work: a global analysis of language skills in the workplace



Planet English

English is spoken at some level by 1.75 billion people worldwide – roughly a quarter of the world’s population. That's a lot of consumers businessess want to talk to.

Today when English is used, the vast majority are non-native speakers (over 1.3 billion people). It’s become almost everyone’s second language.

It’s the only major world language to have more people – far more – use it as a second rather than a native first language. This is no truer than in business.

English at Work

English is the language of international business, so increasingly it is just as important for businesses in native and non-native English-speaking countries. An estimated 85% of international organizations use English as one of their working languages.

However, despite the ever-increasing prevalence of English in the workplace, there has been relatively little in-depth research into the English language skills required by employers in different industries and countries around the world.

What level of English do employers need? Are there English language skills gaps? Do employees with a higher level of English receive enhanced benefits? How do different countries and industries compare?


First Worldwide Analysis

Cambridge English, in collaboration with QS, have researched the first global overview of English language skills at work. Their findings are based on data from over 5,300 employers in 38 countries.

Their English at Work survey shows that English language skills are important for over 95% of employers in many countries where English is not an official language. Analysis of responses from these companies showed:

  • In every industry, there is a gap between the English language skills required at work and the English skills that employees have​

  • Across all company sizes there is at least a 40% skills gap.


What Skills Do Companies Want?

While employers say it is important to have some proficiency in all four language skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening), there are some clear preferences.

The most important language skill cited is reading (in 12 industries), followed by speaking (in eight industries).

Reading in English is essential for maintaining professional knowledge, as it is the language most often used in international journals, contracts and instructions. Speaking tends to be the most important skill in service industries such as Travel, Leisure and Hospitality, where social interaction is a big part of the job.


Rakuten – A Business Case Study

In 2010, Rakuten’s CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, mandated that English would be the Japanese company’s official language – a change that effected some 7,100 Japanese employees.


His goal was to make Rakuten a top internet services retailer...and a global corporation.

Today the “English mandate” has allowed Rakuten to create a powerful organization. Three out of the six senior executives in the engineering organization aren’t Japanese as the company aggressively seeks the best talent from around the globe.

Half of Rakuten’s Japanese employees can now adequately engage in English communications and 25% of them communicate in English to foreign partners and subsidiaries on a regular basis. Click the image to learn more.

Want to know more?

You can download an Executive Summary at the bottom of this page. For the full report, go here.

About the Author


I’m the Managing Director at Vantage Siam, an authorized Cambridge English Exam Centre and management training firm.

We offer English language training via blended learning to both students and professionals in Thailand.

Vantage TEFL Certification also provides American Accredited TEFL training programs in Bangkok.


Executive Summary



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