English in the school system
Since 1996, Brazilian schools have been required to offer a foreign language to all students starting in the 5th grade. Which foreign language to teach is chosen by the community and the vast majority of them choose English. A second foreign language must be offered as an elective class. Brazilians study a foreign language for a total of 8 years, for 3 hours per week on average.
The Brazilian educational system is highly diverse in quality and resources. Teachers with the best qualifications and training are often employed by expensive private schools, but the average teacher salary is low in public schools. This makes it hard to recruit highly qualified teachers for the public system.
To develop their children’s language skills, parents from middle and upper class families often rely on private schools and after-school tutoring. However, a 2010 survey by Pnad, the National Survey of Households, found that 85% of Brazilian children receive all of their formal educational training in public school. This creates a division between those who can afford tutoring and therefore speak a second language, and those who cannot.
In order to enter most post-secondary education programs, students in Brazil must pass a standardized exam which includes testing of foreign language skills. In 2010 the average score for high school graduates on the English section of the exam was 524 out of 1,000.
In 2007, language school chains enrolled over 2 million students including both children and adults. The country has recently increased development of partnerships with universities in English speaking countries, and, in 2009, sent 16% more students to degree programs in the US than in the previous year.
English at Work
The Brazilian economy is booming and Brazilian purchasing power has grown immensely in the last five years. Its major trading partners are currently China and the US, but trade with the EU and Latin America are very significant as well. With an eye on Brazil’s development, many multinational companies have opened local offices in the past decade, increasing the demand for white collar workers who can speak English.
Management positions in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are increasingly demanding high English proficiency and to a lesser but growing extent, Spanish. The biggest national recruitment agencies stated in a recent report that English is becoming compulsory for white collar workers and is much more highly valued than the number of years of experience. They also confirmed that speaking two or three foreign languages improves chances of finding employment and results in a better salary.
As a result, Brazilian adults are studying English and other languages more than ever before. From 2005 to 2009, there was an increase of 234% in the number of Brazilians who studied abroad, all study programs considered, from high school to Business language courses.