On the importance of teaching English

An open letter to the USAID/Georgia Mission Director Peter Wiebler

წერილის ქართული ვერსია იხილეთ აქ

Dear Mr. Wiebler,

A couple of days ago, you published a video on Facebook, asking the Georgian population for advice on the 5-year development strategy in Georgia. How do you help Georgia move closer to that day when it no longer requires foreign aid?

My immediate answer was spreading the English language in the Georgian communities - but I decided against posting a comment as this is a topic that requires careful consideration.

So instead I wrote this letter. It might sound odd to you, but most people do not appreciate the importance of learning the English language. I myself was lucky - my family provided private English tutors. At the university, I was able to read scientific literature in English. Speaking English helped with my general education, too. I often used to watch Ted talks. In 2012, I saw a talk from Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy. I became obsessed with the idea of having access to a resource like that in Georgia, too. So in 2015, we co-founded Educare Georgia and started localizing the platform. Since then, we’ve created 3000+ videos and translated 7 million words into Georgian and today we have more than 50,000 Georgian learners on Khan Academy each month. To make sure that the most vulnerable communities have access to our resources, we also created GiveInternet.org - a platform where anyone can sponsor monthly Internet fees and laptops for high school students in need. To this day, 350 students have been equipped with Internet access, devices and a range of resources and training.

I think of this as just one example of what we can do for ourselves (and our country) when we speak English. But unfortunately, most Georgians do not have that opportunity.

Let’s turn to numbers. I’d like to show you types of data:

  1. How do we know that there’s a lack of English proficiency in Georgia?

  2. What does learning English bring to individuals and to entire communities/countries?

English proficiency in Georgia

Based on the Caucasus Barometer 2017 data, 80% of Georgia’s population does not speak English (graph #1). According to user statistics from net.adjara.com, only 11-12% of users watch films and series in English (graph #2). 

graph #1


graph #2


A study by Education First from 2018 suggest that Georgia ranks as #45 out of 88 countries in terms of English proficiency (graphs #3 & #4). 

graph #3


graph #4


The association of English with other indicators 

Based on the Caucasus Barometer data-set, we calculated the magnitude of the correlation between English proficiency and other indicators. 

English proficiency positively correlates with computer skills (.522), the frequency of Internet use (.503), years spent in formal education (.353), health (.333), current financial state of the household (.234), the will to join the NATO (.198) and happiness (.185) (Table #1).

Table #1

Correlation Coefficient Sig. (2-tailed) N
.333** .000 2309
How happy would you say you are? .185** .000 2310
What is the highest level of education you have achieved to date? .353** .000 2310
To what extent would you support country’s membership in NATO? .198** .000 2310
Ability in computer .522** .000 2310
How often do you use the Internet .503** .000 2299
Current economic situation of your household .234** .000 2310
** = the correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed)

Those who speak English more frequently name ‘searching for information’ as their most frequent online activity than those who don’t speak English (graph #5).

graph #5



Those who speak English more frequently support Georgia’s membership in the EU than those who don’t (graph #6). 

graph #6

Speaking English also relates to the financial state of a community. The higher the English proficiency, the bigger the portion of those who are employed (graph #7) or spend larger amounts per month (graph #8). 

graph #7


graph #8


Those who speak better English also donate more often (graph #9).

graph #9


What do we gain access to when we speak English?

Now let’s talk about what we can research, read or gain once we speak English. 54.4% of websites are in English (graph #10). In Georgian, only 0.02% is accessible (graph #11). 

graph #10


graph #11


A large portion of scientific articles is also in English. Based on UNESCO’s 2014 study, 37,2% of scientific articles were written in countries where English is the official language (graph #12). 20,2% were written in China where half of the articles were written in English (graph #13). 

graph #12


graph #13


How many people can we potentially talk to in English? More than 1 billion. English is the most wide-spread language (as a first and second language) (graph #14).

graph #14


In how many countries can English come handy? 124 (graphs #15 & #16).

graph #15


graph #16


How does English proficiency relate to country-wide indicators?

Now let’s see how English proficiency correlates with country-wide indicators based on a 2018 study by Education First in 88 countries (including Georgia) - (www.ef.edu/epi/). 

English proficiency is positively correlated with productivity (work produced in an hour) (graph #17). It also positively correlates with the Ease of Doing Business Index (graph #18) and Average Gross Income (graph #19). 

graph #17

graph #18


graph #19


The English proficiency in a country positively correlates with key innovation indicators like R&D expenditures and the number of researchers (graph #20). 

graph #20


There’s also a positive correlation between English proficiency and the Human Development Index Scores (graph #21) and the Global Gender Gap Index (graph #22).

graph #21

graph #22


Internet penetration is higher in countries where more people speak English (graph #23).

graph #23


For more data, please visit bit.ly/english_data_v2

The list of statistics or future research on the benefits of increased English proficiency are endless. But let’s go back to your question:

How can USAID help Georgia come closer to a stage in which it no longer needs foreign aid? My team at Educare Georgia and I think that it’s by helping to spread of the English language.  

How? There are several ways in which this can be done:

  1. Support school teachers who teach English. (retraining, raising salaries, enhancing cooperation with foreign colleagues, etc.) I sincerely believe that the only entity that can bring meaningful positive change are the teachers. Here’s why:

    1. They’re already doing it: English is taught at all education levels and it’s obligatory for all school students. 

    2. Education outside school rarely leads to positive changes on a mass scale. Online education, tutoring, etc. are important but insufficient tools.

  2. Teaching English to teachers in all subjects through ESP (English for specific purposes) trainings and teaching students through EAP (English for academic purposes) trainings. 

  3. Supporting informal means of teaching English: book clubs, theater classes, online apps (like Duolingo), etc. 

Teaching and disseminating English and improving the education system are not enough for helping a country prosper - but they also contribute to the other fields mentioned in the comments section of your video. Picture, for example, a farmer, who has a child that can browse the Web in English, look for agriculture-related information or read resources provided by USAID and use that knowledge in everyday activities and production. This can save money on translations and accelerate the dissemination of information. 

Being able to speak English is helpful in any field for two reasons:

  1. Everyone is interested in something;

  2. Whatever they’re interested in, they can always find related or potentially interesting information in English online.