Japanese People Can’t Speak English?

I had a gig at animation company T recently as part of their training for new hires and 2nd-year staff. The main purpose of the training was to have employees experience working with foreigners and through the full-day workshop, discover for themselves what it means to be a global talent. In the words of the HR who initiated the training program, employees at the company choose to work there not because they want to excel on the global stage. To the contrary, they entered the company thinking they never have to leave Japan. But from the company’s standpoint, as anime is popular the world over and that the company plans to expand sales of its anime overseas, they want their staff to be ready and prepared to work outside Japan, not just mentally but also soft skill-wise.

During the discussion sessions to complete each mission, there would suddenly be a random “English time” where all discussion should be done in English only. At the end of each of the morning and afternoon sessions, we had to give feedback to one another on what we think the members did great and what we thought they could do better. You get the sugar then you get the cane. Interestingly, despite what the HR input into our mind before the workshop (and what participants themselves claimed), many of them could speak English very well. Sure, some of them went silent when the discussion went into English mode, but those who spoke really spoke it well. Not the “Mai neimu izu Tanaka. Ai laiku wocchi anime” kind of well, but the “I’m Tanaka and I love watching anime” kind of well. They actually spoke like native speakers and I almost forgot I was at a Japanese company. They also weren’t shy, quiet or passive during discussions. Many of them were very open and outspoken, willing to voice their ideas, take initiative to do stuff and assume roles such that I felt like these are the same kind of behavior I see at Google. If anything, I think the HR doesn’t have to worry too much about the global mindset of those who attended the training.

Japanese can’t speak English? Well, many of them are becoming effectively bilingual now, so the rest of us just have to be at least trilingual to maintain our advantage. Then again, most foreigners I know in Japan are already trilingual, especially those who do not come from English speaking countries because they’d know their own language + English + Japanese. If you don’t already, maybe it’s time to expand your skill sets because the younger Japanese people are on a mission to get their jobs back.

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