This morning while distributing flyers to promote my English school in Kobe (スミス英会話岡本校） I talked to one woman on the street near the station who spoke English quite well. She said in English that I was ‘exaggerating’ when I commented that she spoke English well. Again, as has happened many times recently, I realized that nowadays, there are a fairly large number of Japanese who speak English well. Of course there are also many who do not speak English and are really not interested to speak it. As this is Japan and the language of the land is Japanese, this is, of course, fine.
Recently in the news there have been stories explaining that Rakuten and Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) are planning to switch their company language to English by 2012 and, in the case of Fast Retailing , will be hiring mostly foreigners in an effort to become truly global companies. As a reaction to the announcements of these companies there have been articles in which people have been critical of Rakuten’s and Fast Retailing’s plans. The following italicized text is taken from the August 22, 2010 post in the Japan times. (You can read the original article at the link below).
In a commentary in Shukan Asahi (Aug. 20), Web site editor Junichiro Nakagawa is downright critical of the brave new world as seen by the bosses at Rakuten and Fast Retailing.
Business skills, he points out, are about ability. Foreign-language skills are not. They have more to do with a person’s familiarity with the language than with intellect or inherent talents, he argues.
Policies such as Rakuten’s, Nakagawa says, “will inevitably lead to the squandering of human resources, as they heighten the likelihood that people who can’t do their jobs but speak English would be given higher evaluations than people who can do their jobs but can’t speak English.”
Mr. Nakagawa makes a good point about the fact that a person may have the ability to do his job well despite not speaking English. However, for companies such as Fast Retailing or Rakuten who must compete in the world marketplace with the likes of Forever 21, eBay or Amazon, it is essential for them to have a large number of English speaking personnel to make sure that their products and services are well presented to the world market.
Actually, Japan has a lot of very capable English speakers who can help companies such as Fast Retailing and Rakuten to go global and I hope such companies will give more opportunity to Japanese students before they hire foreigners. I think not doing so is really squandering human resources at a time when the job search for Japanese university graduates has gotten so much more difficult.
So we as teachers and school owners need to do our best to help even the higher level students to achieve a level at which they can be chosen over foreign employees in such companies with international ambitions.
We are taking steps in this direction with the free online TOEIC lessons and related in-class lessons. Currently, these are updated weekly with up-to-date articles about topics recently in the news. As these lessons are available online, I hope that they will be widely used by everyone and not just Smith’s students. Of course students of Smith’s School of English can get the full benefit by also using the related in-class lesson materials which are available to Smith’s teachers.
I am fully committed to making Japanese good English speakers.