Blog March, 2016

Why in English?


We all know that English is known as 'the language’ of the world. In most international organizations English is the corporate language; business people speak English, write emails in English and do their daily business in English. Recently I have done some HR projects in 16 countries in the Asia – Pacific region. And I have to admit, all my contact persons spoke English well. Of course, the pronouncement of English words spoken by a person who has Mandarin or Thai as the mother tongue is different, but if you know the context of the conversation you can easily follow the discussion. I always admire the people from Korea, China and Japan, their languages are so different from the West Germanic language. Nevertheless, their English is well often because they have studied abroad. So we can conclude: ‘doing business’ is speaking/writing/reading English.


Recently I was asked to implement a project in Japan. I accepted this challenge directly, knowing that Japan is one of the most important countries in the Asian region. The first meetings by video conference were great, my business partner in Tokyo spoke English well and we were soon aligned about the output of the project. She invited me to come over to visit their office in Tokyo and I was excited to travel to the country of the rising sun.


Arriving at Narita Airport, I couldn’t connect my phone to the Japanese network. Japan is using another phone system, so no wifi for me. I tried to connect to the wifi in the hotel, same problem. I checked the front office but the receptionist was clear, only Japanese phones and only Japanese information. I was wondering, no English information at all in this country? The next morning, I received the first reports of the project, and my biggest fear became reality; the whole report was in Japanese!


I gently asked my business partner to provide the reports in English, she looked at me and asked; Why in English? I looked at her and said; because I cannot speak, read or write Japanese. She responded directly: Now we have a problem. All our systems can only provide Japanese reports. I agreed with her: we have a problem. She explained to me that it’s almost impossible to produce a report in another language then Japanese, the systems simply do not support the English language. Something directly crossed my mind; this is the reason why my customer has so many ‘local’ assistance (translators) at the office.


Back in Kuala Lumpur one of my colleagues explained to me; the Japanese people can speak English they are only too shy….and I thought; this will never happen to a Dutch person. A couple of weeks later I received the reports and most of the columns were translated in English. To understand the full report, I improved my Japanese (thanks to google translate).      


Sabine van de Loo – Kuala Lumpur

March, 2016