The boss of one of the biggest companies in the world could only speak a few words of English until he was 40 years-old. Chairman of Chinese computer company Lenovo, Yang Yuanqing, grew up poor and studied engineering but was determined to be a successful businessman.
When Lenovo bought American computer manufacturer IBM in 2005, it became a global company and Yang realised that speaking English was important.
Yang moved to America, had private English lessons and watched hundreds of hours of English language television. He is now fluent in English, does business in English and talks to the media in English. He has also made English Lenovo’s official company language. English is the main language used by Lenovo and employees are expected to speak it. So far, Yang’s ideas have been successful and Lenovo is now the largest computer manufacturer in the world (sales are 22.5% of the global market).
More and more global companies are using English as their official language. Among them are the airline Lufthansa, car manufacturers Audi and Honda, tyre-maker Bridgestone, pharmaceutical company Aventis, telecoms manufacturer Huawei, and Fast Retailing, which owns the Uniqlo fashion company. They are just some of the many companies that expect their staff to speak English.
Japanese company Rakuten, an online retailer like eBay or Amazon, ordered its staff to learn English. Some managers were given help to learn English but the staff were also told they might be demoted or fired if they did not learn to speak English. To encourage them, Rakuten suddenly changed the company information directory and the menus in the staff canteen from Japanese to English.
Why are so many global companies speaking English for business?
English is probably the most important business language in the world. Companies in native English speaking countries are responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s GDP and most scientific research is done in English. Rakuten’s boss, Hiroshi Mikitani – who speaks English himself, said that English is better for business than Asian languages because it does not focus on politeness and status. Business advisors the Boston Consulting Group said that German firms using English do business faster than those that use German, which it said is a slower language.
About 380 million people speak English as their first language and approximately 250 million speak English as their second language. About a billion people are learning English and approximately one-third of the world's population regularly hear, read or speak some English. Usually this is at work, on the Internet, television or when they listen to music. By 2050 half the world will be able to speak some English.
The only other global business language is Mandarin Chinese. However, Mandarin is one of the most difficult languages to learn and the least computer-friendly. More than 400 million Chinese do not speak it. Indeed, around 300m Chinese are taking English lessons.
Companies are choosing English because it is easier to trade and to buy foreign businesses. It is also easier to recruit the best professionals from around the world.
These are just some of the reasons why learning English is so important if you want to be successful in business.
Source: The Economist 30.04.12, 15.02.14
Manufacture (verb) = make something in a factory using machinery
Demote (verb) = moved to a lower position/job as a punishment
Fire (verb) = dismissed, sacked from a job
GDP (noun) = Gross Domestic Product. The total value of things (goods and services) made