Companies going all-out in English

Enhancing employee English-language skills has become a high-priority management challenge for Japanese corporations, regardless of their size and industry.

This is especially true for companies whose survival hinges on developing new customers or clients in foreign markets. They are focusing in particular on fast-growing Asian economies, where English is becoming the common means of communication.

Out of necessity, [a a midsize general engineering contractor headquartered in Kawasaki looking to expand in Asia] in spring 2009 launched an English-language training program targeting veteran engineers in their 40s and 50s suffering from “English-phobia,” [the senior general manager of sales] said.

Once a week for two hours, about 40 employees attend one of four classes based on their level of English proficiency. Four instructors — two Americans, a Briton and a Filipino — are dispatched to the classes from an English school. They cover topics ranging from telephone conversation and discussions in conferences to writing e-mail and preparing contracts.

“To double our oversea sales, we must at least double the number of engineers and other staff who have practical English-language skills”.