Hitomi Seki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
A good command of English is no doubt advantageous when looking for a job, but not all employers consider it a decisive factor when hiring an applicant.
But many companies have begun to expect more from their workers as they now see English proficiency as a means for them to compete in an increasingly globalized business environment.
According to Jun Nakagawa from Berlitz Japan, Inc., a major English language school, the number of applications from companies wanting their workers to learn English, and individual company employees wanting to improve their English ability on their own, has risen since last spring.
“In the past, our clients were mainly manufacturers with plants overseas, such as pharmaceutical companies and electronics manufacturers,” said Nakagawa. “But these days, more and more people working for IT and retailing companies are taking our classes. They may have been influenced by Rakuten, Inc. and Fast Retailing Co., which now use English as their official corporate language.”
Nakagawa said the people studying at Berlitz these days are mainly in their late 20s and 30s and studying English because they need better proficiency at work.
Some, for instance, are given overseas assignments, while others need to speak English at work even though they remain in Japan. There are also people who do not need to use English immediately, but feel such skills will be necessary in the future, Nakagawa said.
Some university students have also begun studying at Berlitz because companies making them informal job offers have said that English proficiency is a prerequisite for employment, Nakagawa said.
A number of companies require their employees to have good command of English if they are to be promoted or sent on overseas assignments. Most of the companies use TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) to evaluate their skills.
The test was developed to evaluate English communication skills required for international business. The test is currently held in about 120 countries.
In Japan, the test is run by the Institute for International Business Communication. A record 1.78 million people took the test in fiscal 2010. About 2,100 companies and organizations, also a record figure, used the test to evaluate the English skills of their employees.
According to the organization, many companies had all of their employees take the test last fiscal year. They apparently wanted a comprehensive understanding of staffers’ English skills before deciding whether to expand their businesses.
The organization also reports that an increasing number of universities have arranged for their students to take the test.
Yet university students should not only try to increase their TOEIC scores, but also use English in real-life situations by mingling with foreign students, the organization said.