BIRD GEI: Research reveals panorama of English language acquisition in Brazil from 2003 to 2012

BIRD GEI | Consultoria e Gestão de Idiomas is releasing its 8th Research Productivity in Language Acquisition in the Brazilian market.

We follow the annual performance indicators and results of approximately 3,000 employees sponsored by several companies, mapping and quantifying the progress and productivity of students. In the current research, which covers results from 2003 to 2012, we used the indicators from a universe of 7,957 language proficiency diagnostics of professionals who work in the financial sector. We chose this industry because it is one of the most competitive and globalized, where English is essential.

The assessments of language proficiency were performed on demand, at the company or remotely, both in Brazil and other Latin American countries, and consists of four tests: grammar/vocabulary, listening comprehension, writing and oral interview. These tests, developed by a multidisciplinary team, in accordance with the concept “think globally, act locally”, respect cultural factors peculiar to Brazilian candidates and evaluate the language proficiency in all respects and in all contexts: personal, professional, cultural and social. BIRD GEI follows the pattern of the European Council for languages, adapted for the Brazilian market. Developed through a process of scientific research, the “Common European Framework of Reference: Learning, Teaching, Assessment” provides a practical tool to describe the levels of proficiency required by existing standards, tests and examinations in order to facilitate comparison between different qualification systems.

There has always been a discrepancy between receptive and productive skills. In 2003, for example, the average grade in listening was 2.44 percentage points higher than in the oral interview. The language production is directly related to practice time and exposure to the language and the standard group classes with many students per class significantly decreases the time for actual practice in the classroom (STT – Student Talking Time). Moreover, the reception of English content is higher, due to the learning methodologies and because, there is no denying, Brazil has become a global country. Exposure to publications, magazines, TV, cinema, among others, is increasingly higher.


What is striking is that the gap between receptive and productive skills have increased significantly over the years. If we compare listening to the oral interview in 2012, the gap is of 23.04 points (an increase of 844% in ten years). This is an average and there are cases where the difference hits 50 points, usually students who took several courses in recent years, increased exposure receptive, but still can not communicate. The difference is considered acceptable and is a direct result of the paradigm of group classes and low exposure to the language, characteristics of the Brazilian market, even taking into account the increasing need for effective production, that is, communication.

With respect to productive skills, the score in writing fell sharply from 47.36 in 2003 to 35.75 in 2012. Increasingly, professionals write less. Many linguists agree that writing is more difficult than oral communication. In fact, writing is the direct result of other skills and, thus, the drop is worrisome. One of the purposes of writing up to the intermediate level is to provide students with the consolidation of the content in the classroom. In reference to the oral interview, only 597 candidates of the total 7,597, or 7.5% of the sample, scored higher than 80% which is precisely the minimum proficiency required by companies in their selection processes to this ability in question.

The average proficiency declined from 51.63% in 2003 to 44.4% in 2012 after peaking in 2006. Indeed, after 2006 we see a systematically decrease in all skills and a general recovery since 2011. When considering the proficiency of the last 10 years we have an average of 48.58%. The highest average in 2006 compared to lowest in 2011 was of 14.85 points and if we compare the entire period from 2003 to 2012, the decline was of 7.23 points.

Perhaps the most important question of the research is why the drop in proficiency and skills from 2006 to 2011, even more because there is a belief that generations X and Y should be much better prepared in languages . For now we have no studies to explain the aforementioned results because of the so many implications of the learning process of each student in question. We can only speculate:

• In the 3rd survey conducted in 2007 we had already detected that 40% of students did not reach minimum goals of learning. At the time we raised the question of the sponsoring companies not adopting strategic management models and therefore no qualitative criteria. Language acquisition was considered a benefit and the ROI was not measured. A more proactive HR role, in fact, had an important impact on the results, as shown in the 4th research.

• In the 7th survey, conducted in 2011, it showed that the average proficiency of candidates beginning their careers in 2002 (Generation X) was higher than the average of those who were entering the labor market (Generation Y) in 2011.

• The point is that, as was already been detected in our first survey, the study of languages seems to be more focused on receptive skills, whether because of the format of classes (large groups), whether due to lack of innovation in the educational system or because the real contexts of communication are beyond the classroom. Thus, educational institutions still have a challenge to make the connection between the real context and the classroom.

• There was a positive change in methodologies. Although global, they now have regionalized versions, according to the culture and characteristics of each country.

• To achieve success in learning a second language depends more on how students take their course and their commitment to learning. Becoming aware of this fact has important implications, because it puts the student as the protagonist of their own learning and the HR as an essential partner in the regulation and support of employees who receive this investment.

In 2011, Brazil was at the 31st position in the world ranking of English proficiency according to research by EF, one of the largest language schools network in the world. In 2012 we plunged to the 46th position. According to the 2012 survey “English Business Index report”, undertaken by GlobalEnglish, Brazil has an unsatisfactory index of proficiency in English in comparison with other countries of the world. The report shows Brazil is well below the world average proficiency, already considered unsatisfactory: 4.46 on a scale of 1 to 10 (equivalent to the 44.6% in our scale in which we our result was of 44.4% for the same period). This translates into a workforce that understands the basic information, but can not understand presentations, take a leadership role in business discussions or perform complex tasks.

BSC-l Balanced Scorecard for Languages
BIRD GEI developed the first Balanced Scorecard for languages for the Brazilian market. Initially used as a model for assessment and performance in business, the BSC-l enabled the development of a strategic management methodology in T&D. In addition to fulfilling its mission of evaluation and performance, the BSC-l has enabled corporations to make decisions and manage information more accurately because they gain competitive advantage, add value, maximize investments, redefine and realign their goals in language development. It was through the BSC-l, used in all surveys, that BIRD GEI has managed to show the market performance indicators that serve as benchmark.

BIRD GEI | Consultoria e Gestão de Idiomas is a company that specializes in management solutions and strategic tools to ensure that organizations and professionals focus on executing their strategies in training, development and language training.


Tel. 55 11 3862 1421


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