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British Council: English vital for MENA

New research conducted on behalf of the British Council shows that English language skills are vital for economic development in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with speakers of English earning up to three times as much as non-English speakers.

The number of English speakers is set to grow 5%-7% a year across most of the region through to 2016The number of English speakers is set to grow 5%-7% a year across most of the region through to 2016

Salary gaps between speakers and non-speakers ranges from 5% in Tunisia to 200% in Baghdad

The report, carried out in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morrocco, Tunisia and Yemen by global research organisation Euromonitor International, also reveals a connection between improving English language learning and easing social unrest.

The report reveals a connection between improving English language learning and easing social unrest

“Improving economic growth is clearly the main reason for [improving English education], but reducing unemployment as a means of securing political stability in the wake of the Arab Spring is also an imperative for many of these countries,” it states.

The report suggests English can improve people’s social status and engagement in social networks on the internet, and is increasingly sought after by the region’s private sector – particularly in industries such as IT, telecoms and finance.

Not surprisingly, the salary gap between similarly-skilled individuals with and without English is considerable, ranging from 5% in Tunisia to 75% in Egypt and even 200% for some workers in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

There is also a clear link between unemployment and fluency. Yemen and Iraq were found to have the weakest English levels due to poor education and political instability. Both also had the highest levels of unemployment at 18.3% and 19% respectively.

“This research shows there’s no doubt that English really can change lives for people in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Nic Humphries, the British Council’s director of English in the MENA region. “The ability to communicate in English provides access to opportunities in every facet of life – whether that’s connecting with the outside world through international social media, or getting a better job.”

The British Council, which wants to see 20 million learners of English in MENA by 2015, said that the number of English speakers would grow 5%-7% a year across most of the region through to 2016. However, it said that the private academies that offered the highest quality English education would remain beyond the means of the majority.

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