As I have mentioned before, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis claims that specific languages affect how speakers view the world. Recently, I came across this article about a Japanese company that is making its employees (in Japan) speak English:
Japan continues to work inside a linguistic bubble – not least because many firms in Japan are oriented towards the domestic market and pay little heed to global trends. But this approach is becoming increasingly difficult to justify. Switching to English makes Japanese firms more competitive, while opening employees’ eyes to the outside world.
There is another benefit to using English in business: The language has few power markers. Its use can therefore help to break down the hierarchical, bureaucratic barriers that are entrenched in Japanese society and reflected in Japanese conversation, which could boost efficiency.
What were the effects of this change?
Of course, the Englishisation of companies is not easy. The internal shake-up is profound. Staff who speak English well suddenly acquire a higher status: those who do not fear for their careers.
Today, more than 90 per cent of our employees have achieved the required level of English. This has helped to make our operations more efficient than ever. An employee anywhere in the world can pick up a phone and get an immediate answer, instead of working through a translator.
The impact can also be felt on an individual level. One manager, who initially feared that he would have to leave the company, changed his tune after attending an intensive English-language school in the Philippines, where he met students from South Korea and China who were committed to mastering the language. His English improved quickly, and so did his standing in the company. More importantly, he gained a much-needed global perspective.