Nearshore Americas
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The Nearshore English Evolution: Chile’s Slow Upward Momentum

Whether you’re a Nearshore IT services vendor or a BPO provider, a high proficiency with the English language within your team is essential for successful business with the United States. English levels vary across all countries in Latin America, but as Nearshore becomes a stronger industry, so too must the bilingual talent pool.

In the first of a new series of spotlight articles on the evolution of English, we take a look at Chile, which has long been known as an underdog in the region due to the “elitist” stigma and high costs associated with studying the language — a perception that is still suffered today.

Slow Growth at A Governmental Level

In recent years, a large emphasis has been placed on English language development in Chile by the government and private sector. While it ranked 36th on the last EF English Proficiency index, the country has seen some success with its English Opens Doors Program (EODP), which was established in 2003 and is still going strong today.

There has also been an investment in developing English skills at a young age to support innovation within the country, with more hours in school dedicated to English learning, and organizations, such as the Production Development Corporation (CORFO), dedicating funds to send students to English-speaking countries for immersion studies.

“We’re not struggling to find English talent, but it’s not necessarily easy either” – Pablo Rossel Estay, Senior Vice President and Country Manager at CGS Chile

“We’re not struggling to find English talent, but it’s not necessarily easy either,” said Pablo Rossel Estay, Senior Vice President and Country Manager at CGS Chile. “Since 2014, the government of Chile has made it a priority to increase the English-speaking talent pool. The efforts we’ve seen are more dedicated funding to programs and a shift in education, helping to grow this pool. It may be slower than we want, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.”

Considering it takes years to develop English skills in young students, and years more for them to be eligible to work, are these initiatives too little, too late?

For Estay, his main takeaway is that Chile is moving forward as a country in terms of English language capabilities, albeit slowly. “Chile is well-known for its technology capabilities, but we are considered mid-range in our English-speaking skills compared with other Latin American and European countries,” he said. “However, we’re into the process of changing that.”

Costs are Still too High

According to a study by the British Council, 55% of non-learners said it was too expensive to study English, while 33% said there was no access to government-funded programs. Even so, 82% of non-learners said they would study English to improve their employment prospects.

There are numerous private English providers in Chile, but generally only upper- and middle-class students have the means to enroll at such schools. It’s likely that the country’s recent education reforms will change how language is administered, as some of the new policies place pressure on private schools to reduce costs. Along with the EODP, we could see the language accelerate faster in the next few years.

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However, with a focus on primary school English only becoming stronger around three years ago, and as long as English language learning in Chile continues to be tied to income, class, and occupation, the country is unlikely to develop a fast enough pace to keep up with Nearshore demand.

Check out other countries in this Nearshore English Evolution series by clicking here. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic, so please join the conversation in the comments below. 

Matt Kendall

During his 2+ years as Chief Editor at Nearshore Americas, Matt Kendall operated at the heart of both the Nearshore BPO and IT services industries, reporting on the most impactful stories and trends in the sector.

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