Eriko Kawai didn’t say much when she first started at Harvard University. She had learnt English the usual Japanese way, in order to pass written exams, so had become a perfectionist. It was only when she did her MBA at INSEAD in France, and had to learn French quickly that she realised the importance of having a balance between reading, speaking, writing and listening and not being afraid of making mistakes.
She then worked for the Bank for International Settlements and the OECD in Europe, and came to realise that Japanese opposition to globalization is on the assumption that globalization means extreme Anglo-Saxon capitalism, when in fact in Europe there are many models of capitalism, and national cultures are still strong.
Consequently, to communicate effectively, you have to understand the different cultures – their politics and history, but also need to be able to talk about Japan’s own politics, history and culture, she believes.
Japanese should not be afraid that teaching English at primary school will mean that they will not speak Japanese properly, she asserts – however Japanese children should be taught to reason effectively in Japanese, otherwise they will not be able to reason in other languages. She still tries to memorise any presentations she has to make or interview questions she wants to ask in English, to ensure that there is eye contact and emotional engagement.
By practicing every day, speaking out loud and having fun doing it, you should be able to develop English “muscles”, says Kawai.
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