The Importance of English in the Global Workplace


By Mohammad Kousha, Executive Director– ETS and Trina Duke, Senior Assessment Specialist – ETS, TOEIC

Advances in technology, including vastly improved telecommunications and the rapid expansion of online resources, have cemented the unique role of English as an international language. Even where nonnative speakers of English outnumber native speakers, English is most often used as an efficient means to communicate. Furthermore, in the global workplace, English has become an essential communication tool in conducting business transactions.

In Peru, as in other countries around the world, emphasis has sometimes been on isolated language skills, rather than on learning how to communicate in a comprehensive manner.

Good communication, of course, involves both give and take—or in the words of language experts—both productive and receptive language skills. Today, language-teaching approaches focus on building the learner’s ability to engage in real-life situations and tasks in the target language. The English speaker must be able to both take a phone call and answer the speaker; to write an e-mail and understand the reply; to conduct research and recommend a course of action; in short, to integrate listening, reading, speaking and writing, in any combination, in order to communicate successfully. It is time for us to look more closely at the day-to-day needs of our English-language learners—the need to understand and use English in everyday activities, to carry out routine social interactions, and to develop career-related communication skills. Here are some examples:

  • A customer writes an e-mail to ask about a company’s services; a company employee responds in another e-mail. Each person is writing and reading in English.
  • A multinational company posts an employment advertisement online. The resulting interview is carried out by video conference in English. The people in the interview are listening and speaking in English.
  • Research personnel read studies, conduct interviews, write reports and give presentations—all in English—to other employees in the company.
  • Matters of shared projects are discussed by colleagues in different locations or countries in a teleconference call. With many people contributing, the callers take notes for later reference. All four English language skills (listening, speaking, writing, and reading) are used.

In some cases, the situation may require only two language skills—one receptive (listening or reading) and one productive (speaking or writing). In most others, the English user must integrate all four skills of speaking, listening, writing and reading. Only rarely are skills used in isolation.

Assessment both of and for learning can actively contribute to improved proficiency in English language use. Language schools and prospective employers should understand that the relationship between language learning and language assessment is reciprocal—a two-way street. Formal and informal assessment in the classroom helps learners to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and to set goals for further study.

Standardized tests provide valuable feedback to both teacher and learner, directing the course of learning in and outside of the classroom. The scoring criteria of a well-designed language test can be invaluable tools in defining learning goals. Students who prepare for a test through the use of real-world tasks and by exposing themselves to English in their everyday lives are at the same time preparing themselves to use English in the real world.

Many multinational companies already seek candidates with proficiency in the language skills that are necessary for the job. Direct assessments of ability in all four skill areas allow these companies to ensure that employees can listen as well as speak and read as well as write. Assessment of the language skills needed in the global workplace, and the use of test information to further the proficiency of language learners, will help to ensure our continued success in communicating positively with colleagues around the world. Good English, in short, will mean good business results.