Softbank‘s President Masayoshi Son is famously insistent on his employees learning English and using English as a common corporate language, as previously noted. He’s now said that workers scoring more than 900 points in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) will receive 1 million yen, with those at 800 or above getting 300,000 yen.
English as a common corporate language has been a hot topic in the Japanese media for a while now (Rakuten‘s President Mikitani and Uniqlo’s President Yanai have also been pushing English), so it was no surprise that the Nikkei chose to feature it as one of their themes for their “First dreams, first nightmares of the year” special at the beginning of this month.
The article imagines a future where 20% instead of 2% of the population is foreign, more than half the employees in some major Japanese companies are foreign, so all documents have to be in English, otherwise decisions are not approved. Japanese commuters are banned from practicing their English language presentations under their breath on the train and even in the canteen, Japanese dishes are only described in English.
Of course the current situation is quite different. IMD have estimated that Japan is second from bottom amongst 59 countries in terms of English language ability and is even behind South Korea. According to UNESCO, the numbers of Japanese students studying abroad fell for six consecutive years up to 2011. Apparently there was a small increase in 2012. New graduate recruits have also become more inward looking, with 49% saying they do not want to work abroad, a 20% drop on 2001.
The dream, or is it meant to be a nightmare, has it right I think – until Japan’s population is more diverse, and Japanese companies have a large number of non-Japanese in key positions, so that English has to be used, and becomes normal, no amount of bribery is going to make a significant difference.
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