The worldwide language learning market, comprising all languages, was worth US $58.2 billion as of 2011.

Adoption of cost-efficient technology-based products and increased migration away from classroom and print products are key drivers in a strong growing market. A significant part of the future demand lies in English language learning products, which generated US $35.9 billion in 2011 (offline and online combined). This equates with 61.7% of the total language learning market, making it the largest concentrated revenue opportunity in the international language learning market.

These are some of the main findings of a report by Ambient Insight, an international market research firm specialising in e-learning and mobile learning. (Note: When the total market of $58.2bn is combined with revenues from language services such as localisation, interpretation, and translation, this figure jumps to US $82.6 billion).

Not surprisingly, the biggest potential is online. Expenditures on digital English language learning products in 2016 will account for 7.3% (or US $2.5 billion) of the global English language learning market.

Ambient breaks down digital English language learning revenues into five learning product types:

〉 Self-paced elearning
〉 Digital referenceware (etextbooks)
〉 Collaboration-based learning
〉 Mobile learning apps
〉 Mobile learning Value Added Services (VAS)

This substantial growth in revenues for digital English language learning products over the forecast period is due to several convergent catalysts:

〉 Consumer demand for digital language learning products
〉 The recent explosion of subscription-based mobile learning VAS
〉 The digitisation efforts in academic markets across the globe
〉 Migration to digital formats by major international publishers
〉 Government-mandated English language learning initiatives in school systems
〉 The shortage of English teachers in high-demand countries

The following are some of the highlights and trends outlined in the Ambient report.

Government mandates promote English language learning:

Many countries around the world have instituted broad-reaching federal programmes designed to increase English proficiency often with new government mandates for school systems –  for example, Rwanda, South Sudan, Turkey, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina

Teaching training opportunities:

Its widely researched and reported that there is now a significant shortage of English language teachers in several countries. This has become a catalyst for technology-based products and services. The shortage of teachers is driving the demand for both self-paced products and live remote tutoring by native English-speaking teachers based outside the respective countries.

For example in 2011, the Turkish government introduced a programme to recruit 40,000 native-speaking English languages teachers. The first phase of the initiative saw the hiring of English teachers in the US to tutor Turkish students remotely in real time via collaboration-based learning technology.

Digital in the classroom:

Digital school learning strategies have developed into national policy  programmes globally  – for example, South Korea, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Turkey, Brazil, Russia, France, Poland, Spain, the Ukraine, Mexico, Japan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK and the US.

Trends like these are forcing major international print publishers of English language learning textbooks and test prep content to expand urgently into digital formats. Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan, Pearson, Oxford University Press, and Cambridge University Press are all endeavouring to shift their language learning product portfolios to digital formats.

As schools across the globe migrate to digital content, a massive amount of commercial, open, and indigenous print-based English language learning content will be moved to digital formats. This represents a significant revenue opportunity for suppliers that offer conversion services.

According to Cambridge University Press, there are over 100 countries in which English is designated as the “first foreign language” taught in schools, and the British Council reports that there are over 30 additional countries in which English has an official status.

Summary of growth at a country level:

Asia has the highest growth rate followed by Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Western Europe and North America are the most mature markets and have relatively low growth rates.

The top buying country for digital English language learning in 2011 was the US, followed by South Korea, China, Japan, and Brazil. By 2016, the largest buying countries will be China, South Korea, the US, Brazil, and Japan, respectively. Turkey, India, the Russian Federation, Spain, and Poland will also be in the top ten buying countries by 2016.

In terms of growth, the countries with the highest growth rates are Malaysia, China, Romania, Ukraine, Indonesia, Brazil, Poland, India, Georgia, and the Russian Federation. The growth rates in Malaysia, China, Romania, and Ukraine are all above 30%, more than twice the worldwide aggregate growth rate.

Sources: Ambient Insight’s report is entitled “The Worldwide Market for Digital English Language Learning Products and Services: 2011-2016 Forecast and Analysis”.

Additional reporting courtesy of an article by ICEF Monitor, October 2012.