The Language of Global Success: How a Common Tongue Transforms Multinational Organizations

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The Language of Global Success: How a Common Tongue Transforms Multinational Organizations
By Tsedal Neeley
Princeton University Press, 2017
154 pp.

In 2010, the chief executive of a rapidly growing Japanese e-commerce firm, Rakuten, mandated that all of the company’s 10,000 employees, most of whom were Japanese, start using English to communicate within the firm, both in speech and in writing. Neeley followed the implementation of this radical change over the course of five years. She weaves her observations of Rakuten into a larger story about language education in Japan, which is a crucial part of the “Abenomics” agenda of the country’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. The result is an interesting and informative book full of practical lessons for any internationally ambitious organization. Ninety percent of Rakuten’s employees obtained the targeted level of English proficiency within two years, and those who did not but nevertheless showed promise were granted another six months to reach the goal. Neeley points out that although language reflects culture and influences behavior, it does not determine them. Indeed, she reports that one consequence of the universal use of English at Rakuten was the reinforcement of traditional Japanese customs throughout the firm, especially Japanese-style hospitality, thanks to clearer shared expectations.

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