Three Critical Communication Gaps Could Impact Global Business Success

International corporations seeking global growth need to acknowledge three critical gaps concerning English-language proficiency to continue being competitive. The three gaps related to priority, proficiency and assessment are analyzed in a recent whitepaper, “Falling Through the Cracks: Potential Pitfalls Along the Road to English-Language Proficiency.” The paper presents findings from a survey of 749 senior professionals in 13 countries and was conducted by Educational Testing Service (ETS) and Ipsos Public Affairs.

The priority gap relates to the priority placed on English-language skills in the workplace. Findings indicate that 78 percent of companies agree that there is a reported need for English-speaking employees in the workforce. However, only 62 percent of companies actively encourage their workers to be proficient in English.

The priority gap, or the difference between the reported need and the demonstrated priority placed on meeting that need, is 16 percentage points. If the priority a business places on English-language proficiency lags behind the need for English speakers, businesses will increasingly fall behind competitors for whom English proficiency is a higher priority. If companies want to do more than keep up, they will need to place more internal emphasis on improving English skills. Companies that acknowledge this need, but see no reason to address it, may find themselves unable to keep up with the challenges of operating in a global environment.

The proficiency gap is defined by the difference between perceptions of the importance of English in the workplace and the actual English-proficiency level of employees. Findings show that while nearly nine out of 10 respondents say English-language proficiency is important, only two-thirds think their employees’ English-language proficiency is adequate.

The 22 percentage point difference means that nearly a quarter of the companies surveyed indicate that adequacy of English-language skills among employees trails the level of importance. The existence of this proficiency gap may signal a warning that many companies are ill-prepared for increasing globalization; communication challenges may obstruct business growth and insufficient English proficiency may actually make it more difficult for companies to fully integrate into the global business community.

The assessment gap can be defined as the difference between companies that assess English-proficiency at the completion of training programs and those that do not. Findings indicate that although two-thirds of the HR professionals surveyed said their companies provide formal English-language proficiency training for employees, only 24 percent train and then assess participants at the completion of the program. The existence of an assessment gap could lead to non-proficient employees being placed in situations where English proficiency is required and assumed, based on completion of a training program — and this could cause miscommunications, delays brought on by misunderstanding or even loss of business

The three gaps provide insight into corporate commitments to develop skills required to thrive in the global business community. As the gaps continue to widen and time continues to pass, it will be more difficult for these companies to address these concerns. Bridging these gaps today will allow companies to truly use English-language skills among their employees as enablers of global communication. Ultimately, the ability to communicate globally will help position businesses to compete and thrive in the global economy over the long term.

The full whitepaper can be downloaded from Additional supplements related to specific countries and industries will be released later this year.