Coming off the back of major investments into “smart cities” and fresh operations for global BPO players, Honduras has been in an ideal position to make bilingualism the centerpiece of its global investment attraction pitch.
The government is betting on making English accessible for everyone in the country, so it has started working with INFOP (the National Institute of Vocational Training) on a program called “Yes We Can” in late 2014. In partnership with English Discoveries, they brought e-learning to all INFOP centers in the country, allowing anyone to take an English class for free, onsite or online. So far, this program has graduated around 500 people at B1+ English level.
“Even so, most public schools in Honduras are not yet teaching English, which is something that we really need to work on to make it more inclusive,” said Francisco Novellino, BPO/ITO Manager at Honduras 2020, an alliance between the public and private sectors that focuses on employment generation and economic growth.
“In Honduras, families have had a true focus on a bilingual education for a couple of generations and see value in continuing to invest in learning English,” says Ryan Bartholomew, Operations Director at Startek Honduras. He stresses the importance of improved accessibility to English for rural and lower income families as the BPO industry continues to grow.
“If you consider that public schools in Honduras are graduating 62,000 people per year, there is a lot of talent that can benefit from free English programs like Yes We Can,” continued Novellino. “Furthermore, at the mid-education or high school level, around 300 schools are providing English courses, so people from 15-18 years are well-involved in American culture and the English language.”
English Statistics & Industry Focus
Outside of public schools, there are around 785 bilingual schools in Honduras that focus on the English language. According to Novellino, there were approximately 7,500 graduates from these schools in 2015.
The country has two main cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula: the latter is more developed in BPO because of the Altia Smart City, but that organization is looking to develop another in Tegucigalpa by the end of 2018, following numerous delays.
There is a strong focus coming from the entire industry to develop English capabilities in Honduras. Companies like Alorica, Convergys, and Startek, for example, are all trying to implement finishing schools to have a constant pipeline of talent coming into the call centers.
The Honduran government has also started providing grants to train call center agents. This 18-month program targets low-income families that want to get a fair start in the industry, and teaches them how to manage contact center tools and develop the right soft skills, as well as helping them understand the responsibilities involved and getting them up to speed with English. Applicants generally start at the A1 level and leave the program with a B1 level.
While visiting the call centers in San Pedro Sula, Novellino has found a very high level of English. “The accent is not neutral, but is very American,” he said. “If you walk around the Altia Smart City, most people are speaking English all the time, so it’s like visiting the States. You also don’t hear much English slang in Honduras, as the focus is very professional. Oddly enough, the development of the English culture has been helped along by a couple of supermarket chains in both cities that have lots of produce from the United States,” said Novellino.
In comparing the English capabilities in both Costa Rica and Guatemala, Bartholomew has also found that resources, like public television stations and shopping outlets, have provided an opportunity to be immersed in the English language socially.
“Those Hondurans that have excelled in English have had to be more resourceful in finding ways to practice the language,” he said. “At Startek, we’ve been able to grow sizeable accounts in both San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa with English speakers at a level of 80% and higher.”
Ultimately, if Honduras can continue to stretch its focus on the English language at the early levels of education, as well as promote inclusiveness nationwide, the country is destined to show that its success in BPO was no mistake.