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Does Fluent English lead to Alibaba Ma Yun’s success?

April 13, 2017

Not long ago, the Fortune” magazine of the United States released its 2017 annual Global Top 50 leaders, and Alibaba Group Chairman Ma Yun ranked the second. I think that Ma’s success, on the one hand, is due to the Internet platform relying on "Internet +", "network innovation" and other popular concepts to attract attention, and on the other hand, his fluent English is also an important factor to gaining him great international influence. As an entrepreneur, Ma used to be an English teacher, and English opened the window of the world for him, through which he can access the latest foreign information and the Internet. More importantly, English has brought a large amount of social capital to Ma. Fluent English serving as his “international passport”, he obtained the opportunity to impress the “Forbes” reporter, earlier appeared on the “Forbes” cover, made friends with Yang Jiyuan, Sun Zhengyi and even such figures like Clinton, to access funds and opportunities, and publically appeared in the Davos Forum so that we remembered Alibaba.


To think about it, speaking fluent English should have high causal relationship with personal success. Recently, based on the first “China Employer-Employee Survey (CEES)” data, I, together with my team members, published a paper entitled “English Human Capital and Employees’ Wages" in Journal of Beijing Normal University (Social Science Edition) (Issue 1, 2017). The question to be explored in this article is how much an employee’s ability to master English bring him / her to the payroll in a labor market in a developing country like China.


With OLS, IV and PSM, it finds out that English ability has significant positive causal effect on an employee's wages under the premise of fully eliminating the endogeneity between English ability and wages. It is proposed to increase investment in vocational training of business English, balance English for General Purpose and English for Special Purpose in reform of English education and encourage institutes of higher education to develop ESP which pays more attention to instrumental application of English language.


For individual groups with high English proficiency, their hourly wages are significantly increased by 15% to 35% on average. According to this finding, we can infer that English can indeed lead to success, and the workers with English competence can receive a high payment in return. Further, we have also found an interesting conclusion that returns from employees competent in English literacy have 5% to 15% higher wages than those in English listening and speaking. It seems to indicate that in current Chinese enterprises, the employees mainly apply their English competence to identification of English information or communication in written English. For example, workers who operate the imported equipment need be able to read English instructions in order to better understand the performance of foreign machinery; in export companies, business operators need fill in foreign trade orders and communicate with foreign customers, and management personnel should also understand the provisions of the international standards and the foreign markets. Of course, this conclusion cannot be generalized to all situations because it is closely related to the characteristics of CEES data’s sample industries. If Chinese products aim to go abroad and have international competitiveness, we should not only increase the investment in product quality, but also need communicate with the international counterparts during exchanges to gain knowledge and innovate, as Ma can introduce his own products and brands to the international publicity to attract money and customers. All of these should be done with good English listening and speaking ability.