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Nearshore English Evolution: Paraguay Nowhere Near Ready to Support Nearshore

Paraguay has long been flying low on the Nearshore radar, and for good reason.

“The answer is easy: there is no English language strength in this country,” said Gustavo A. Acuña Fariña, Commercial Director at Voicenter, a local BPO provider.

“For important, managerial positions it is possible to get people who have a good handle on the English language, but for regular call center agent positions there is simply no way you will find even 20 or 30 people who speak the language,” he continued.

Acuña also stressed that public education in Paraguay is not yet focusing enough on the English language, and while private bilingual schools teach good English they are all too expensive for most people in Paraguay, limiting access to the language.

Increase in Spanish-Language Call Centers

Gustavo Paraguay
“The answer is easy: there is no English language strength in Paraguay.” — Gustavo A. Acuña Fariña

The call center sector in Paraguay currently offers more than 10,000 jobs, a figure that continues to rise. However, these jobs are heavily weighted toward Spanish-language services.

While English is not its strength, more and more Spanish-language providers in the region are choosing Paraguay for their contact center operations.

Cencosud (Centros Comerciales Sudamericanos SA), a Chilean multinational business consortium that operates in several South American countries, intends to increase its headcount in Paraguay, and Argentina’s Banco Supervielle is also boosting employment in the country.

Representatives of both Cencosud and Banco Supervielle stressed that the warmth and quality of the Paraguayan agents, as well as the country’s tax facilities, have been defining factors in the migration of positions to Paraguay.

Despite the small size of the sector, these types of benefits are always attractive, but how far is the country from throwing English capabilities into the mix?

Education and Training Initiatives

The government is introducing a program to ensure that English is studied from elementary school, but – as is often echoed in other Latin nations – there are simply not enough teachers to make this viable, meaning the country has a long road to walk before English becomes one of its strengths.

To get around this, the Ministry of Education and Science (MEC) is focusing on quality over quantity, recently announcing an agreement with Cambridge Assessment English to assess the country’s teachers. English exams will soon be given to teachers in the country, with only those who pass being licensed to teach in schools. This move will apply to both public and private schools and will provide the successful teachers with an international degree that confirms their capabilities.

“Throughout the year we had several meetings with advisors and officials of the MEC in order to establish some necessary requirements for teaching the English language in the public and private system of the country,” said Marisa Gulino, Cambridge Assessment English Center Exams Manager of the British Paraguayan Cultural Association (ANGLO). “The reality is that many people simply teach English because they travelled abroad and learned to speak it, or because they previously learned it in some institute, not knowing exactly their level in the language.”

The US State Department and the US Embassy in Paraguay are also doing their part to support the country’s development in English. One of their initiatives is the English Access Scholarship Program, which provides after-school classes and leadership and cultural activities to students of 15-17 years with limited financial resources.

According to the Embassy, this program began in Paraguay in 2011 and had benefitted 525 students up until 2016 in the cities of Asunción, San Lorenzo, Colonel Oviedo, Encarnación, and Ciudad del Este.

Increase in Outside Influence

Interestingly, Paraguay is experiencing a huge increase of US students visiting the country to study abroad.

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According to the Open Doors Report 2017 produced by the Institute of International Education, Paraguay has seen a huge 81.3% increase in study abroad students from the US. Compare that with Colombia and Honduras, which both saw around a 24% increase, and there may be hope for Paraguay yet.

Francisco Palmieri‏, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere, tweeted that this trend of students coming from the US add to their host county’s understanding of American culture – it’s a direct injection of knowledge that could give Paraguay a slight leg up in its English language efforts.

If the country can continue attracting foreign interest from students and make a marked improvement in its volume and quality of English teachers, it may be able to offer some small-scale Nearshore talent, but right now, Paraguay is a no-fly zone for English BPO.

Check out other countries in this Nearshore English Evolution series by clicking here. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic, so please join the conversation in the comments below. 

Matt Kendall

During his 2+ years as Chief Editor at Nearshore Americas, Matt Kendall operated at the heart of both the Nearshore BPO and IT services industries, reporting on the most impactful stories and trends in the sector.

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