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Today, international communication is one of the most important components in an increasingly internationalized world. We interviewed Mr. Richard Albertson, who works for a foreign-headquartered firm as a specialist in international communications, and asked about language skills in the workplace. The interview provided a number of useful suggestions for how to become a good international business person.
 
- How long have you been working in international communication?
I have been teaching in Japan for 18 years at two different companies and I have taught English as second language for 30 years, since 1977.
 
- In general, what do you think of the English language proficiency of Japanese business persons? Do you see any changes or progress in terms of international communication in the last decade or so?

Individuals Learn Languages

Generally I don't think that Japanese people learn languages. Individuals learn languages when people need English in their work or daily lives. I've seen Japanese who have been quite effective in communicating internationally. For example Sadako Ogata, who was the head of UN refugees speaks wonderful English and used English effectively in her work. So I don't think Japanese learn English, I think individual people learn English. OK?
 
- As an international communication professional, do you have any suggestions for ways Japanese business persons can develop their English language skills, especially in the workplace?

Three Important Keywords

I think there are three things to consider, need, time and learning techniques. The first thing you need to do is decide or determine what you need English for. Is it for writing e-mail, report writing, participating in teleconferences? And then focus your limited time on that particular skill or the particular language you need to perform that business skill. Then I think you should also realize there is no such thing as speed learning. The most effective learning is done a little bit at a time. So you need to realize that you need to spend maybe fifteen or thirty minutes a day focusing on what you need to learn and do that over a long period of time, maybe ten, fifteen, twenty years - your whole career. You need to work on improving the English that you need in your work. And then finally I think you need to talk to people who have been effective language learners. Find out the techniques those people have used to improve their language ability. For example, my sister is a good language learner. When she was in France, she would imagine a situation and then on the bus, she would write a dialogue in her head. She would create the dialogue then she would write it down and show it to French people and her French teacher and then she would actually try to perform that dialog in real life, for example at a French post office. That's how she would learn language and I think that is a good technique. It may not be a good technique for everybody but I think that's the way you have to improve your language, by finding language techniques which have been effective for other people and see if those techniques are effective for you. So you have to have a need, you have to have time, and you have to determine your own techniques.

 
- What do you think of the "Business English Pro" program? Recently, many Japanese are primarily interested in improving their listening skill and consider the other skills to be less of a priority. Since the Dow Jones program focuses more on reading, we would appreciate it if you could give us your thoughts on the importance of reading skills.

Business English Pro Motivates Students

I agree with you. I think many Japanese put emphasis particularly on listening and I think that is because that's their particular learning technique or method for learning language. However in business I've read that 75% of the communication is through e-mail. Therefore we spend a lot of time reading and writing whether it's Japanese or English. As a result, students have to feel motivated to learn English. I think Business English Pro has four things that motivate students. One is that these are real business articles and, as a result, students have already talked about a lot of these issues in Japanese. So they know the topic and then they see the topic in the articles and they feel motivated to read it because they want to know more. They are motivated by the topics, by the real business topics. I also think that one of the strengths of BEPro is the weekly vocabulary review. This gives students multiple exposures to a set of business vocabulary so that they get to do several different activities using the same vocabulary. As a result, their reading improves and that motivates them as well as that's the vocabulary they need every day in business. The third thing is that a lot of students haven't thought about the best way to learn how to read effectively. BEPro has study strategies in the reading strategy section both in English and Japanese so that they can improve on techniques and be able to read more effectively by using those study strategies. Finally, I think that what's really important is the aural component of BEPro that you have. Students can look at the print and they can hear someone speaking and they can listen and repeat and they can do a variety of techniques that not only improve reading but also improve their listening. So I think those are the things BEPro does to motivate students to not only improve reading but also general English. It's consistent with the types of learning methods that our students like to use, primarily listening.
 
- Are there reading techniques that you feel are important for people to learn?

Effective Reading Techniques

The Japanese are among the most literate people in the world. Every day I see Japanese people reading books and newspapers on the train. There are more bookstores in Japan than any place I have been. However, when Japanese people read English, in many cases they don't read. Instead, they translate word by word. As a result they read slowly and fail to make connections between main ideas. I would make the following suggestions to help Japanese people become better readers.

1. Read material which is easy for you. There should not be more than 5 to 10 words on a page that you don't know.

2. Read in meaning groups rather than single words. Try this technique: Every four to six words in a sentence put a slash (/) mark. Do this for one or two paragraphs. Then, look down and focus on a group of words that you have marked off with slash marks. This is a 'meaning group.' Read the meaning group. Then, look up and say the words quietly to yourself. Do this for one article each day. In this way you can teach yourself to understand meaning rather than translate individual words. This technique will help you speak more naturally also.

3. Look for words that show the connection between ideas. These are words like 'for example', 'in addition', 'on the other hand', 'therefore', and 'in conclusion'. By recognizing these words and knowing how they are used, you can better understand what the writer is trying to say.

4. Finally, there is sometimes an audio recording of reading material, like on the Dow Jones website, so that you can listen to what you have read. You can do two things with these recordings. One good thing to do is listen and read the words at the same time. This is called "shadowing." Second, you can use the pause function to listen to a meaning group and then repeat the four or six words you heard. This called “listen and repeat.” This helps you think in groups of words, instead of thinking about one word at a time. It also helps you remember new vocabulary. Most importantly, it improves your listening and speaking.

5. Try to add three to five new business English words to your vocabulary every day. Using the Dow Jones Weekly Review once or twice a week is an excellent way to do this.

If you use these techniques every day for 20 to 30 minutes, you will be just as effective and efficient at reading English as you are when reading Japanese.
 
- Finally, do you have any suggestions for university students or people who want to apply for jobs at non-Japanese capital (or 'gaishikei') companies?

Target the Necessary Skills

I would suggest that they contact HR departments, maybe when they're freshmen or sophomores in college, and find out which particular skills those companies are looking for in their employees. In the courses they take in university, they should try to develop those skills. Particularly in English, as I said 75% of our communication is through e-mail, so if they take a course in which they learn how to improve their reading and writing e-mail or learn reading and writing of short paragraphs then that's something the HR could say this person fits into the company right away. That's what we are looking for. What they should try to think about is how they could get a skill in university so they can immediately benefit the company they join after university. I would like to add one more comment. Not only should university students contact HRs, but I think it's very important for them to try to get part-time work related to the type of job they want after university. Also I would encourage them to try to get internships because that would give you an idea what life in the company is like and also may give you an idea whether or not that particular company is the company for you.
 
- Thank you so much.
Thank you.
(left) Mr. Richard Albertson (right) Mr. Jeff Hoskins