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A GROWING NUMBER OF GLOBAL FIRMS ARE USING AS ENGLISH THEIR MAIN LANGUAGE
EVEN IF THEY ARE BASED IN JAPAN OR FRANCE
By Bryan Borzykowski
20 March 2017
Nearly every meeting Keiko Claassen must attend at work is held in English. No big deal – except that her company is based in Italy and she’s Dutch.
At one recent meeting where she was the only non-Italian in the room, her colleagues stopped speaking English,
the common language between them – because someone had trouble following the conversation.
“It was like watching a movie", says Claasen. “As soon as they switched…... you could see their culture come to life.”
At ITT Motion Technologies, an Italy-based engineering company where Classen is executive director of communications,
every senior staffer is expected to speak English and most communications are delivered in English.
While it’s not considered an official corporate language, with 4,500 employees working in several countries, including Japan, China, India and Germany,
it’s the only language that everyone can generally speak in common – even if speaking doesn’t mean always fully understanding.
In other firms, such as France-based food services company Sodexo, English is being adopted as an official language.
After years of translating emails, webinars and other materials into as many as eight languages, including French, English and Spanish,
or holding massive town-hall meetings in multiple languages, the company announced in January that its senior leadership team would be embracing English. By the year-end, it’ll be English-only for the leadership teams that are responsible for its 500,000 employees across 80 countries.
Board members of French food services group Sodexo is adopting English as an official language for their leadership teams by the end of the year.
Others that have made the shift to English-only, despite being based in non-English-speaking countries,
include Yokohama, Japan-headquartered Nissan, which implemented an English-first strategy in the late 1990s.
In 2015, another car maker, Tokyo-based Honda announced that its corporate language would become English by 2020.
German electronics company Siemens also made English its official language years ago.
It’s likely many more companies will adopt English-only, says Jia Lin Xie, a professor of management
at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in Canada.
ENGLISH IS AN ENABLER
For most of these companies, including Sodexo, the aim is simple: by communicating exclusively in a single language,
leaders in South America can collaborate with colleagues in France or the US.
It’s also part of a larger cultural shift for the company, says Kim Beddard-Fontaine,
Sodexo’s group vice-president of employee and change communication.
“Business are organised globally and not regionally these days,” she says.
“We want to become more efficient by collaborating across geographies. English is an enabler of that.”
ENGLISH IS FOR EVERYONE
This shift is not a throwback to colonialism or a play for cultural superiority.
In Europe, nearly 80% of children in their primary years are learning English,
while a 2013 survey by the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing found that 70% of Chinese parents
want their children to learn the language to help them get into to better schools.
From 2020, Japanese carmaker Honda will use English as its corporate lingua franca
“It’s also one of the most succinct, simple languages to learn” says Lin Xie.
“It’s a required formal language of study in many schools in different countries.”
Sodexo, in theory, could have made its official language French.
It is a 50-year old French company, after all – but only 35,000 of its staff work in France, while 125,000 live in the US.
Says Beddard-Fontaine: “I think if we decided to make French the company’s global language,
we would have had a revolt on our hands.”
The change is primarily for the company’s 200 executives and its 1,600 senior leaders.
In many companies, the English-only policies are for senior staffers who are expected to know the language.
Lower level staffers, many of who don’t speak English, will continue to receive communications in different languages.
Still, that may change at some point, too, she says. As well, materials might be translated into fewer languages in future.
“It’s an absolute must that we move to English”, says Beddard-Fontaine.
SENSE AND MAKING SENSE
English might be the dominant language of business, but it’s not used everywhere or prioritized as a language learned all over.
English dominates business as the language of choice – but in countries like Brazil and Italy, it’s not commonly spoken.
In a country like Brazil, only about 5% of people learn the language. In Italy, just 29% of people speak English.
Lin Xie suggests that if a company wants a smooth changeover and aims to promote people from within the firm,
it ought to offer English lessons to staffers lower down the corporate ladder, and not just focus on executives.
When Nissan adopted English as its official language, it did just that, in part, to recognise that the transition would not be easy for everyone.
“They understood that there is a language barrier and if they want to be truly global, they’d have to help people do something to overcome it,” she says. Both Sodexo and ITT Motion Technologies offer English courses to some staffers who want to get a better grasp of the language.
COMPASSION AND NUANCE
Even so, when an entire language changes, a dose of compassion is necessary.
Imagine having to suddenly speak in a language that isn’t your own or which you don’t quite speak fluently.
Using a single language lets leaders communicate clearly, no matter where they’re based.
Bosses and peers alike should realise that others might not fully understand what’s being said, says Claassen.
That could lead to misunderstandings or feelings of awkwardness.
She’s been on plant tours where the person showing her around began the conversation by apologising for not speaking English well,
even though the employee had an impeccable grasp of the language.
“They have to cross this wall for themselves, because they don’t feel their confidence is high”, she says.
In some cases, the perceived language barrier holds employees back.
When Claassen has group meetings with Chinese colleagues, many of them remain quiet until they’re asked directly for their input.
They don’t want to 'lose face' by using the wrong word or by accidentally saying something funny, she says.
If a Chinese person meets someone from the Middle East, they will speak English
“You have to be conscious of that and really invite them in”, Claassen says.
As well, non-English speakers will likely fail to pick up on some of the nuances of the language,
but it’s more important they understand the overall message and that everyone feels comfortable working together, says Sonita Lontoh,
a vice-president of marketing at Siemens. It’s up to the native and experienced speakers, she says, to repeat and make sure others understand.
That’s especially true of native English speakers, who are deemed to be the worst communicators.
Lontoh has worked at several global companies where English has been the main language and she has never encountered a problem.
But, there have been some humorous moments, like when one her German colleagues was discussing strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and mentioned finding “low carb solutions” – the term refers to a low carbohydrates diet in English.
But, the move to English as a corporate language just make sense, she says:
“If a Chinese person meets someone from the Middle East, they will speak English. They don’t expect to know each other’s language.”
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The Bulgarian peasant, who correctly predicted that the 44th president of the US would be African-American, has predicted an European Economic collapse, a tsunami will wipe out parts of Asia and Russia will be hit by a giant meteorite. And Russian president Vladimir Putin has also been warned to watch his back as Baba predicted there will be an assassination attempt on his life in 2019. US President Donald Trump is also predicted to fall ill with a mysterious illness, which will cause him to suffer from nausea, tinnitus, brain trauma and hearing loss.
The Bulgarian peasant, who correctly predicted that the 44th president of the US would be African-American, also warned massive megaquakes will happen in the next 12 months.
Vanga’s first prediction could also be plausible as Europe’s economy teeters on the edge in the wake of Brexit and the Italian meltdown, which has sparked fears of another euro crisis.
While, Baba, who is said to have “predicted the 2004 tsunami” that killed an estimated 227,898 people, has also warned a tsunami will hit Asia and wipe out several countries in the area and other places around the world, including Pakistan, India, Japan and Indonesia.
The chilling prediction comes after at least 222 people were killed and 843 injured after a tsunami hit coastal towns on Indonesia's Sunda Strait.
Meanwhile, Mr Putin has already revealed himself that he has been the target of four assassination attempts, which prompted him to surround himself with an elite team of snipers.
The move comes after former Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro, who survived more than 50 assassination attempts during his life, made the suggestion.
Mr Putin said: "He said to me, 'Do you know why I'm still alive?' I asked him, 'Why?' 'Because I was always the one to deal with my security personally.'"
And Ms Vanga’s megaquake warning comes as experts have warned a massive earthquake and powerful tsunami could devastate the north west of the US.
The west coast of the United States is described as being “built on a time bomb” as it sits along a series of fragile fault zones, including San Andreas fault and the the Cascadia subduction zone.
And experts say it is just a matter of time before the Cascadia zone, along the Pacific Ring of Fire, snaps, unleashing earthquakes which could measure up to nine on the Richter scale and monstrous tsunamis.
Ms Vanga is credited with predicting the Boxing Day Tsunami and the 9/11 terror attacks, and Mr Obama's presidency.
The Bulgarian - who died in 1996 aged 85 - has long been valued as a master prophet because of her purported 85 per cent success rate.
Ms Vanga, often referred to as “Nostradamus from the Balkans”, made hundreds of predictions during her 50-year career as a clairvoyant - with many alluding to naturally disasters.
Her predictions go all the way to the 51st century - when she said the world would end.
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35 OF THE MOST
A blessing in disguise
A good thing that seemed bad at first
A dime a dozen
Beat around the bush
Avoid saying what you mean, usually because it is uncomfortable
Better late than never
Better to arrive late than
not to come at all
Bite the bullet
To get something over with because it is inevitable
Break a leg
Call it a day
Stop working on something
Cut somebody some slack
Don't be so critical
Doing something poorly in order to save time or money
Easy does it
Getting out of hand
Get out of control
Get something out of your system
Do the thing you've been wanting to do so you can move on
Get your act together
Work better or leave
Give someone the benefit of the doubt
Trust what someone says
Go back to the drawing board
Hang in there
Don't give up
Hit the sack
Go to sleep
It's not rocket science
It's not complicated
Let someone off the hook
To not hold someone responsible for something
Make a long story short
Tell something briefly
Miss the boat
You are too late
No pain, no gain
You have to work for what
On the ball
Doing a good job
Pull someone's leg
To joke with someone
Pull yourself together
So far so good
Things are going well so far
Speak of the devil
The person we were just talking about showed up!
That's the last straw
My patience has run out
The best of both worlds
An ideal situation
Time flies when you're having fun
You don't notice how long something lasts when it's fun
To make matters worse
Make a problem worse
Under the weather
We'll cross that bridge when we come to it
Let's not talk about that problem right now
Wrap your head around something
Understand something complicated
You can say that again
That's very true
Your guess is as good
I have no idea
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