The English language is now considered to be the lingua franca of the business world. This means that when representatives from two countries meet, the chances are that if the meeting is not in one of the two languages, it will be an English business meeting. English is the median language.
In Japan, one company is taking it even further and asking all workers to commit to speaking English when they are at the company. Imagine having to do all your business meetings in English. How would you cope with such drastic measures?
Check out the video first and then take a look at the language below. Watch the video again to hear this language in its original context.
- Pile into- many people going into a place at one time
- The kids piled into the cafeteria.
- Kick off the work week- the first thing you do in that week
- Let’s kick off the class with a game.
- The language gap- the “distance” created between people when they cannot speak the same language.
- I tried to help the tourists but the language gap made it too difficult.
- A glass ceiling- this is when you cannot get higher in your company, usually because of your race, gender, education etc.
- All of a sudden- suddenly
- All of a sudden, this man comes out of nowhere and steals my laptop.
- Catered to be relevant to the workers- this means that the course is made specially to meet the needs of the workers. It includes the content that they need.
- Dissenter- a person who disagrees with the majority.
Want to check what you heard? Here is the script.
It’s Monday morning at Rakuten, Japan’s biggest online retailer. Employees pile into the ASAKAI for an all-company meeting that kicks off every work week. But the meeting on this morning sounds different from those even a few months ago.
For Rakuten’s 6000 mostly Japanese employees, this is part of the internet group’s move to make English its standard language by 2012. That means that meetings, all work documents, even signs inside the company are being converted to English.
I always thought that English would one day be essential but when I heard all of a sudden that there were definitive plans, I was a little surprised and also a little nervous.
Employee Hideki Kamachi says that he now studies one hour a day to improve his English, mostly by brushing up on vocabulary words for a standardized proficiency test. Rakuten managers are expected to exceed certain scores to be eligible for a promotion.
As Japanese companies look to expand globally, the language gap is becoming a bigger issue. Fast-retailing, which runs Japan’s Uniqlo shops, plans to hold meetings in English by 2012 if there are non-Japanese attending the meeting.
Changes have extended all the way to the cafeteria where the mostly-Japanese fare has gotten an English make-over. This can sometimes lead to a little confusion about just what is being served. But most employees say they enjoy learning how to translate different foods in English, even if some of the signs are a little strange.
The plan is the idea of Rakuten CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani who says that speaking English is now a must for business.
If we are segregated by the language, it is going to be a huge disadvantage for competitors of Japan in the future. And most of the Japanese business people don’t recognize that.
Since the new policy was introduced, more than 200 Rakuten employees have signed up for discounted English conversation classes offered by the company. The employees often show up for their lessons after a long day at work and the classes are catered to be relevant to the workers at the internet group.
Most of the employees are taking the new measures in stride saying that they understand that it’s necessary. Not that Mr. Mikitani would be bothered by dissenters to the plan, he said that resistance means nothing to him. Mr. Mikitani believes that this new policy will help Rakuten’s overseas expansion while also helping the company hire and retain talented Japanese workers.
Marcus Saw is British and works in Rakuten’s photo-sharing site. He says this makes the company a better place to work.
Before now, there was always this kind of perception, it’s like a glass ceiling, until my Japanese is up to native level, which is going to take a lot of time, then I couldn’t go up in the management level or anything like that. But now it seems like there’s probably chances more globally.
For the Wall Street Journal, I’m Daisuke Wakabayashi.