Doing business with Japan

Monday, May 15, 2006

English is an international language (in Japan?) -1

English is an international language!! You can use English almost everywhere in the world. Well, not quite so in Japan. The "Love and Hate" relationship with the English language in Japan is very hard for you to understand. Because of the love toward the English language in Japan, you see a lot of English conversation schools all over the place. People spend hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Yen to become fluent in English (but the sad reality is I have not found anyone who really mastered English this way yet.) If you as an American want to get a job, you can (almost) get a job as an instructor at one of those places.

Besides, English classes start at Junior High and last 8 years or so. So adding the above and this many years of training, people should be able to converse with you in English fluently, right? Unfortunately, not quite so. I hope the contents of English classes at school have changed drastically since my days at school. In my days, focus was placed on reading but not on speaking or writing. I suspect this has not changed too much. As everyone knows, in business dealing, you and your business partner should be able to speak, write and read in the same language.

What about "Speaking Japanese like Japanese"? Unfortunately, I never met anyone who was not born to be a Japanese but whose Japanese was better than mine. Well, with one exception. When I was interviewing for a position, I was interviewed by an American who was based in Tokyo for that company. His Japanese was so good that I felt that I was speaking to Yoshida-san, Ito-san or Yamamoto-san. It was a very strange experience because most interviewers wanted to make sure my English was good enough and never paid any attention to my Japanese.

Such a case was rare and an exception. So the language of choice is usually English to do business with Japan. Americans are very fortunate since their language is universal and international. But because of that, Americans tend to forget that there are people whose native tongue is not English. This becomes a real problem in doing business with Japan. More later........


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