Is English proficiency such a big deal for Brazil IT?

Following this blog post by my colleague Karl Flinders, I asked a few experts and IT buyers here at the Brasscom summit in Brazil about the issue of fluency in English.

One of the key areas of focus for Brazilian IT trade body Brasscom is to ensure that It workforce is equipped to meet future demand and that includes improving English language skills.

The association’s president Antonio Gil said improving ‘technical English’ is a priority when it comes to increasing Brazil’s market share in the IT industry, but the long-term goal is to get people ‘learning English from the kindergarten.’

While most buyers I have spoken to at the event agree that improving English language skills is a must, they also agree that key people on the supplier side such as account and project managers, as well as analysts, all speak English fluently or at a passable level.

“[Lack of fluency in English in Brazil] has its challenges, but it depends on the service you are buying. For example, when it comes to negotiating contracts this may make things difficult, but somehow we get through it,” said Julia Santos, head of worldwide strategic outsourcing at Johnson & Johnson.

The point that language can become more of an issue in other areas of outsourcing than IT is echoed by Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, offshoring director at the National Outsourcing Association in the UK. 

“There is no English-language BPO here, no call centres, no customer service agents. Brazil is focused far more on specialist IT areas, such as open source development. Of course, English is needed for relationship management with clients, but most IT professionals in Brazil do speak English well enough to handle the clients of IT projects,” said Kobayashi-Hillary.

The real difference that Brazil gives in relationship management is flexibility. Would you rather deal with a project manager who speaks English 90% fluently and is helpful, proactive, and ready to go the extra mile for your programme, or a project manager who is 100% fluent in English yet spends project meetings reminding you which Service Level Agreements need revision?”

“It’s this Brazilian attitude to customer service in IT projects that will help them succeed globally, not vague ambitions to speak English so they can man call centres for IT help desks.”