Today, engineers all over the world are increasingly working within global environments. With 67 countries declaring English as their official language, it has become the most common language spoken by engineering professionals and students. It is also the most commonly spoken language within international supply chains. Many college programs expect engineering students to be proficient in English. In many cases, it may be difficult for an engineering professional to excel in their career without fluency in English. Additionally, engineering companies that lack English-fluent workers may struggle to compete in a global business environment.
College Engineering Programs Often Require Students to Have Proficiency in English
Many top college engineering programs in the United States and the United Kingdom require students to have more than a basic understanding of English.
“Students taking engineering courses in the US need a high level of English proficiency covering a variety of aspects, including listening, speaking, reading, and writing,” Steve Arar, a PhD graduate in microelectronics, told All About Circuits (AAC).
In fact, a large number of universities require applicants to take standardized tests to prove English proficiency as part of their admissions process, because lectures and educational materials, including papers, textbooks, and webinars, are usually in English. Fluency is important for their understanding of the material and may also better prepare students who decide to pursue careers in English-speaking organizations.
English Proficiency is Usually Necessary for Engineers to Excel at Work
“Electrical engineering is an international field, and it depends upon an increasingly extensive collection of specialized terminology that exists primarily in English,” Robert Keim, All About Circuits’s Director of Engineering, told AAC. “Proficiency in English opens the door to a more diverse and satisfying collection of educational and professional opportunities.”
An engineering professional can be a master in their field, but if they struggle with English, they will likely find themselves lagging behind their peers, according to Michael Skapinker of the Financial Times. “You can be a top-class engineer and be held back by an inability to speak the global business language,” he wrote.
Technical professionals who struggle with the nuances of English may also struggle to communicate their ideas effectively through presentations and public speaking, which are usually necessary to climb the organizational ladder.
“On a more practical level, it is essential to develop the habit of speaking more slowly, pronouncing words carefully, and using simple, straightforward vocabulary and sentence structures,” Keim told AAC. “Many people do not realize how difficult it is for language learners to understand ‘normal’ speech produced by native speakers. Both speaker and listener must actively attempt to facilitate successful, comfortable communication.”
English-Fluent Workers Help Organizations Compete in the Global Market
Organizations that employee English-proficient workers tend to see big financial benefits. While proficiency in the language fluctuates across different-sized businesses, companies with $10–$60 billion USD worth of sales, on average, employ people with higher English proficiency scores than those making under $10 billion or over $60 billion.
According to Arar, when employees based in different countries can all speak a common tongue, they can more easily communicate and share knowledge, leaving them with more time to concentrate on their technical work.
Additionally, certain aspects of English vocabulary make technical concepts easier for international teams to communicate. “We might occasionally observe that a word in a particular language explains a technical concept better than the corresponding English terminology,” says Arar.
“However, in general, I believe that the English language includes a wealth of vocabulary and has powerful grammatical structures,” he added. “These two features can make technical communications clear and concise.”
Improve English Language Proficiency
Coming soon to IEEE Xplore and the IEEE Learning Network, IEEE English for Technical Professionals is an online learning program that uses real-life interactive scenarios to provide non-native English speakers with a working knowledge of English techniques and vocabulary that are essential for today’s technical workplace. Designed to help learners master essential English skills, this mobile-friendly program is ideal for both working professionals, as well as students who are preparing to enter the field.
Fadelli, Ingrid. (20 March 2020). Is English Still the Universal Language of Electrical Engineering? All About Circuits.
Smith, Emma. (16 January 2020). Degree programs for engineers looking to work in global development. Devex.
Skapinker, Michael. (11 November 2019). Non-English speakers are shut out of the top jobs. Financial Times.
Burma, Peter and Tran, Minh. (21 November 2016). Rating the English Proficiency of Countries and Industries Around the World. Harvard Business Review.