Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Strong Case for English Proficiency in North Africa

Middle East Online

The language is necessary to be able to reap the benefits of internet-based knowledge and to take part in global research and innovation, stresses Oussama Romdhani.

"Better mastery of the English language is sorely needed in North Africa so as to meet many of the region’s critical challenges. Recent global studies show that English language proficiency is still lagging in this region. According to the latest edition of the English Proficiency Index, put out by the Swiss-based organisation, Education First, English language proficiency in the North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt ranks at levels varying only between ‘low’ and ‘very low’ levels. Libya, in fact, takes the lowest rank among the 54 nations assessed in the survey.
Other results revealed by a 2012-report prepared by Euromonitor International, show that English is spoken by 14 per cent of the population in Morocco, 13 per cent in Tunisia and 7 per cent in Algeria. In the three countries, there is still reliance on French as the main foreign language (the level of proficiency in French varies between 60 to 70 per cent of the population). But even in Egypt, where French is not the second language, English is not spoken by more than 35 per cent of the population..."

"For the Maghreb countries, where trade is essentially with Europe, this is a strategic issue. English is today spoken in Europe at a higher level of proficiency than any other region of the world. It is also more spoken among the 25-35 young professional Europeans than any other age-group. If Maghreb countries are serious about being competitive in Europe, today and tomorrow, they cannot ignore the English language factor..."

"To be better equipped to deal with the joblessness problem, which affects about 40 per cent of their 19-to-25 year-old populations; North African countries need value-added economic activities. These include IT, software development, and service-related occupations of consulting and travel and tourism, where English proficiency is important. “English is necessary to compete with the broader tourism market in the Mediterranean region. Also, all the new markets in Eastern Europe require English,” says Jerry Sorkin, President of Tunis-USA, a Philadelphia-based travel company. English is necessary to be able to reap the benefits of internet-based knowledge and to take part in global research and innovation. In 2011, half of the pages on the internet were in English. Countries in North Africa with the lowest rate of internet penetration are the same with the lowest rates of English language proficiency.
English is also necessary to facilitate the access of Maghrebi job-seekers to outside employment possibilities, whether in Europe, North America or even in the Arab Gulf countries. The same applies to joint-ventures and business opportunities. A very telling indicator of the importance of English language proficiency in employment is the listing of English proficiency as a hiring requirement in newspaper job ads. English as “a second language” is required in 92 per cent of jobs advertised in Morocco and 54 per cent in Tunisia. English language proficiency guarantees a better income. In Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, the salary gap between employees who are fluent in English and those who are not, varies between 7 per cent and 10 per cent. In Egypt, where 98 per cent of the job ads require “English as first language; the salary gap between those who speak English and those who don’t, reaches as high as 70 to 80 per cent..."

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