The economy of language: Saudi Arabia's young workers pivot to English
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The economy of language: Saudi Arabia’s young workers pivot to English

The economy of language: Saudi Arabia’s young workers pivot to English

Recent survey results show a direct link between English language skills and higher salaries in the kingdom

Gulf Business

As Saudi Arabia strides towards realising its ambitious Vision 2030 objectives, the role of the English language in driving economic diversification, fostering innovation, and ensuring seamless global integration is undeniably pivotal.

Pearson’s English Skills Report, a new piece of research into the impact of English on people’s careers and lives, reveals that a significant percentage of Saudi Arabia’s workforce operates in an English-speaking environment, underscoring the importance  of the language for people’s jobs and career development.

Indeed, greater English proficiency is associated by many with higher salaries. 93 per cent of the workforce in Saudi Arabia[i] see English proficiency as having an impact on earning potential. Among survey respondents, those with advanced English earn an average salary significantly higher (SAR279,000) than their less proficient peers (SAR147,000)[ii].

Saudi Arabia currently ranks 108th on the EF Proficiency Index (out of a total of 113 countries worldwide). This ranking points to an urgent need for substantial improvement in the English language education of Saudi nationals.

In alignment with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is positioned to spearhead targeted initiatives to uplift its English proficiency, thereby bolstering its potential to compete in a global economy. These initiatives herald a crucial turning point for educational reform and investments aimed at augmenting English proficiency will be pivotal for ensuring global economic success, enhancing international collaborations, and accessing a rich and diverse pool of talent within the kingdom.

Impact of English on job prospects

According to the new survey results, 39 per cent of employees don’t feel they left formal education with a good enough level of English for the workplace and 90 per cent feel their job would be easier if they had better English skills. They cite an over-emphasis on grammar and not enough opportunities to practice English in the classroom as reasons for not achieving a better level.

Despite these sobering statistics, only 44 per cent of companies in Saudi Arabia are currently offering their employees language training[iii].

This gap further underlines the urgent need for both government and corporate sectors to prioritise language education in order to ensure the future economic success of the kingdom. With recent developments in technology impacting the world of work, over half (56 per cent) of Saudis are worried about losing their jobs to AI. Many see English as a skill that will enable them to future-proof their careers, either as a way to keep up with technological advances or to broaden their skill set.

As the digital economy expands, mastery in English not only carves new paths for Saudi businesses to innovate and compete, but also enhances their global standing. It enables cross-border partnerships, attracts foreign investment, and unlocks access to cutting-edge technological advancements.

The integration of English language training programmes within workforce development strategies is paramount for maximizing employee retention, engagement, and productivity. Employers in Saudi Arabia who offer English language training see a significant increase in job satisfaction among their employees, [iv]with 56 per cent of employees in companies that offer language training reporting high job satisfaction compared to 38 per cent in companies that do not.

The focus on English goes beyond mere skill enhancement, unlocking the collective potential of the nation’s workforce and acting as a catalyst for sustainable development, economic diversification, and global integration.

By equipping its workforce for the future through focused language education, Saudi Arabia is positioning itself as a competitive, innovative force on the international stage. The commitment to language training and educational reform is not just a strategic investment in the nation’s most valuable asset—its people—but also a clear pathway to achieving the ambitious goals of Vision 2030, marking a new era of innovation, growth, and sustainability for the kingdom.


[i] Pearson Global English Skills Report, March 2024, indicating that while 80 per cent of global respondents see a direct correlation between English proficiency and earning potential, this perception increases to 93 per cent among Saudi respondents, with 55 per cent learning English for roles offering higher salaries, underscoring English’s role in professional advancement and higher income opportunities.

[ii] Pearson Global English Skills Report, March 2024, highlighting the average annual salary for individuals with low English proficiency is 147,000 SAR, in contrast to 279,000 SAR for those with advanced proficiency. Additionally, only 11 per cent of respondents with limited English proficiency earn over SAR300,000 annually, compared to 42 per cent of those with high proficiency, highlighting the substantial financial advantages of English mastery.

[iii] Pearson Global English Skills Report, March 2024, revealing only 44 per cent of companies in Saudi Arabia provide language upskilling—surpassing the global average but remaining below half.

[iv] Pearson Global English Skills Report, March 2024, showcasing a significant satisfaction gap between employees at companies offering language training (56 per cent very satisfied) versus those without (38 per cent very satisfied), underscoring the importance of language training in employee retention and satisfaction strategies.

The author is Senior Director of GSE and ELL at Pearson.

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