Monocolumn: Japanese Brush Up On Their English

Verb conjugation; adverbial clauses; the future progressive: forget financial jargon, these are the words that may soon be found flying around the offices of Japan’s banking world.

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

Verb conjugation; adverbial clauses; the future progressive: forget financial jargon, these are the words that may soon be found flying around the offices of Japan’s banking world.

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Japan’s second biggest bank by market value, has just unveiled a series of initiatives to encourage its staff to pick up the grammar books and learn English.

This month, rows of “language booths” will open in its Tokyo and Osaka offices where staff will be able to join one-to-one classes between 07.00 and 22.00 daily. Workers are also being encouraged to take officially-recognised English language tests, with perfect scores required for those planning to ascend the career ladder. The bank’s overseas presence – there are currently 15 branches outside Japan – will also expand, with more staff sent on international postings.

The move taps into a slow but growing trend of Japanese companies embracing English. Indeed, even now, fluent speakers are often few and far between.

Rakuten, the internet mall operator, is making English its official language, for use in meetings and documents (even staff canteen menus are in English apparently). Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing also plans to make English the main language of communication, as well as increasing foreign employees.

Some commentators say it comes not a moment too soon. Efforts by Japan to sustain itself as a global economic powerhouse, leading manufacturer and major political player may well have been limited in the past by a failure to open up and connect with the outside world – starting with language.

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