23 Oct /14

Languages in the Workplace

In 2013, the British Council released its “Languages for the Future” report which outlines the most important languages for the UK in terms of aiding economic prosperity. Unsurprisingly, Spanish, German and French take the top spots, but Turkish also makes an appearance at number nine as an attractive partner for trade and investment as well as an area of interest for energy and defence industries.

Despite the report identifying which languages in the workplace are important and why, the outlook is bleak for languages taking on a stronger hold in the UK and the report itself admits that it does not offer any answers, but merely stimulates discussion on the issue.

Nevertheless, the British Army, which has an obvious need for linguistic skills (specifically Arabic and French), is pushing forward with a language strategy which states that personnel cannot be promoted above the rank of Captain without foreign language skills. Officers are reassured that the requirement is not to become fluent, but to simply to acquire basic ability.

Mirroring these efforts from the British Army to lift linguistic ability, on the other side of the globe, in Japan, an increasing number of companies are introducing an “English language policy” in a push to further globalize business. In the British Council’s report, Japan is described as having a “moderate” level of English proficiency (the Japanese can take comfort from the fact that the report puts their English language learning rival China behind with a rating of “low”), and it is this middle-of-the-road ability that businesses want to correct. Plans are being laid out to ensure that all internal communication and presentations will eventually be carried out in English only.

But what exactly are the strategies to turn personnel into linguists? The information is vague. In Japan, staff working for the internet retailer Rakuten Inc. take part in “English lessons” provided for by the company, and in the case of the British Army, personnel receive “training” at the Defence Centre for Languages and Culture. Many of us have tried sitting with a textbook and CD to learn a new language – for those who love languages the exercise can at least be fun, but for those who have no interest in learning endless grammar patterns and vocab (and putting on a weird accent), progress can be painful. Perhaps as people begin to use their skills in the real world and realise the fruits of their labour there may be incentive to study more and certainly the threat of losing out on a promotion and advancing your career will push even the non-linguists to try.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in 2012, President of Rakuten Inc., Mr. Hiroshi Mikitani, spoke with a sense of urgency about the English language requirements for business, stating that “Our staff doesn’t need translators”.

Unfortunately Mr. Mikitani, at the present time your staff really does.

Business needs translators – now more than ever. With all the will in the world, it is going to be a long hard slog for the UK and Japan to realize their ambitions of a multi-lingual workforce. Until we reach that day, the best bet for globalizing business is to use high quality language service providers that facilitate meaningful and accurate communication. EVS Translations is such a service.