Friday's Wall Street Journal has an interesting article, "English Gets the Last Word in Japan". Apparently large Japanese companies are joining European ones in making English their official language.
The WSJ article highlights Rakuten, Japan's largest online retailer. The company expects to make English its standard language by 2012. Rakuten has gone so far as printing English cafeteria menus and says the English-only policy is crucial to becoming a global company.
What's interesting is that Rakuten isn't the only Japanese company which has embraced English. According to the article:
It is widely used at some multinationals, including Sony Corp. and Nissan Motor Co., which both have non-Japanese CEOs. Fast Retailing Co., which operates Uniqlo, Japan's largest clothing chain, with stores in New York, London, Paris and Beijing, recently said it plans to hold meetings in English by 2012 if they include non-Japanese participants.But as elsewhere, there is plenty of resistance to forcing Japanese speakers to converse in English. Yet as Rakuten's CEO points out in the article:
Japan is the only country with all these well-educated people who can't speak EnglishEnglish as the lingua franca of business is a double-edged sword. Could it be that the hegemony of English has taught U.S. businesses a tacit "my way or the highway" mentality? This would make non-U.S. companies better at adapting to local conditions, thus hurting the competitiveness of U.S. corporations.
For more on the use (and abuse) of English, take a look at some of our past articles:
- 6 reasons NOT to translate your web site
- Can you read this? English is toughest (European) language to read
- Sometimes English is not sexy but stupid
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