One common challenge for multinational companies is to create cohesion within culturally diverse workforces. English serves as a bridge that connects employees across countries and cultures, weaving networks for innovation.
The information technology sector relies on international communication. According to a 2014 survey by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the top 10 programming languages in the world are all English-based. Two of these, Python and Ruby, were created by nonnative English speakers.
Countries with better English skills tend to produce more high-technology exports (Graph C) and invest more in research and development in fields such as aerospace, computers, pharmaceuticals, scientific instruments, and electrical machinery. English is also critical to science and engineering. Countries with higher English proficiency have more researchers and technicians per capita, as well as larger expenditures for research and development (Graph D).
There are clear reasons why countries with strong English proficiency tend to thrive in the innovation sector. English skills allow innovators to read primary scientific research, form international collaborations, bring in talent from overseas, and participate in conferences. English proficiency expands the number of connections innovators can make with the ideas and people they need to generate original work.
By a wide margin, researchers in the United States publish the most scientific papers every year, and the United Kingdom ranks third in publication numbers, after China. However, despite its publication volume, Chinese research accounts for only 4% of global citations in science publications, compared to 30% for the U.S. and 8% for the U.K. This disparity indicates that Chinese research is less integrated into the global knowledge economy.
Countries with low English proficiency also demonstrate unusually low levels of international collaboration on research. In 2015, only 21% of scientific papers published in China included an international collaborator, compared to more than half in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Sweden. This inability to access the research published by others and to contribute to international innovation is a significant challenge for countries lacking English skills.
English correlates with a number of innovation measures from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, suggesting that English is a key factor for innovation. This infographic shows that countries with higher English proficiency spend more on research and development and have more researchers and technicians per capita.
The EF English Proficiency Index for Schools
The EF English Proficiency Index for Companies (EF EPI-c) is an evaluation of global workforce English skills.
Participate in the next EF EPI report by taking the EF SET – the world's first free standardized English test.