Kenyans are the second most fluent English speakers in Africa, according to a ranking by global private language tutor, Education First (EF), a ranking which primes the country to attract foreign investment.
The English Proficiency Index (EPI) by the Switzerland-based company ranks Kenya behind South Africa even though Nairobi still emerged as the highest placed African city.
Globally, Kenya was placed at position 18 while South Africa came in sixth, followed by Nigeria (29) and Ethiopia at 63. The Netherlands is ranked top in competency level.
English, considered the global lingua franca of business, has been adopted in the world as a bridging language to lower transaction costs across borders.
The EF report links English proficiency to innovation, public investment in research and development, number of researchers per a population of one million as well as technicians per capita.
According to the firm, countries with higher ranks in English language skills experience higher labour productivity and stand a higher chance of economic growth compared to others, as language skills help economies to remain competitive by removing the communication barrier.
“Although there is evidence that the pace of globalisation is slowing, international trade is a significant portion of the world economy, with exports making up around 20 percent of the world’s economic output. We consistently find a correlation between ease of doing business and a country’s English proficiency, as well as speaking English and a range of logistics-related indicators,” the report says.
The growth projected from efficiency in the language has also been tied to the services sector where communication is essential and also holds the larger share of economic activities.
“iPhones can be shipped anywhere, accountants cannot,” the report notes. “Language use is tied to a country’s service exports as well as the value added per worker in services. As the complexity and sophistication of economic exchange increases, so does the demand for linguistic competencies.
A growing number of MBA programmes demand fluency in English and a second, sometimes third, language”.
The mastery of English has also been used as one measure of the level of skilled workforce in a country, with EF saying it could increase employability.