Japanese Managers Tell Employees to Learn English


Japanese company leaders are telling their employees to learn as much English as possible. As the Japanese economy is slowly declining, managers think that learning English is the only possible way to communicate with the world. Rakuten, Inc., a Japanese Internet company, has started a project in which it requires all of its employees to learn English up to a certain level. Those who do not are threatened with consequences. Some of the employees have rejected learning English and left the company. The order came from the boss of Rakuten, Hiroshi Mikitani, a billionaire who studied at Harvard and speaks fluent English.

When the project was introduced two years ago only 10% of Rakuten’s workforce was able to communicate in English. The company thinks that by meeting and communicating in English it will have the advantage of getting into new markets. Two years later, Rakuten has expanded into ten additional countries. In the next few years it plans to expand to a total of 27 countries and boost its overseas sales from 10 to 70%.

The company has offered almost no help for its employees. They had to learn English on their own and in their free time. At first, Rakuten provided no courses for its workers. So employees became creative. They watched English films, bought English-language DVDs and downloaded language course apps onto their iPhones.

Later on, when the company saw that test scores were not what they had expected and workers were not able to learn without help they started holding classes.

Today Rakuten is starting to see good results. About 80% of the company’s meetings are being held in English. Internal emails and presentations are all in English and company employees in Japan can now communicate better with overseas partners. They can even search the web in English.

The project has brought forward many critics who say that it is humiliating for Japanese workers to speak English. It is thought of as a way of getting rid of unwanted workers.

Although Japanese students must learn English in middle and high schools, the country’s results in international tests are far from encouraging. It ranks far behind compared with other Asian nations.




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  • additional = extra
  • advantage = something that helps you become more successful than others
  • although = while
  • app = small program that works on a smartphone
  • billionaire = a  person who has more than a thousand million dollars, Euros, yen etc..
  • boost = improve
  • bring forward = produce
  • certain = special
  • compare = to put side by side
  • consequence = something that will happen as a result of something else
  • critic = a person who shows the bad sides of something
  • decline = to go down
  • economy = the system by which a country buys and sells products
  • employee = a person who works for a company
  • expand = to become bigger
  • far from encouraging = not very good
  • fluent = perfect
  • humiliate = to make you feel ashamed
  • Inc = short form for incorporated = when many smaller companies become one big one
  • internal = within the company
  • offer = give
  • on their own = by themselves
  • overseas sales = the money a company gets from the products it sells to countries on other continents
  • provide = offer
  • rank = position in a list
  • reject = to say no
  • require = call for, need
  • test score = the number of points you have received on a test
  • threaten = to pressure someone to do something, or else they will be punished
  • workforce = all the people  who work in a company