Language for 21st Century Business
From APEC HRDWG Wiki
As part of International Education Week 2010, APEC has expanded on several themes of the "Language Education: An Essential for a Global Economy," seminar to provide a guide for students and instructors interested in the critical importance of business language for strengthening business relations in a global context. These themes include Business in the 21st Century; Cross Cultural Awareness for 21st Century Business; Language for 21st Century Business; Business Language Learning; and Business Language Policy.
This page discusses the Language for 21st Century Business and we learn the importance of being not only fluent in the language in which we conduct business, but aware of the nuances and connotations of certain words and phrases that may be interpreted differently in different economies.
Cultural exchange programs in public schools, not-for-profit organizations, and universities continue to grow in popularity as students expand their desire to understand other languages and cultures. On a smaller scale, many large, national programs that promote English language teaching such as Japan's Japan Exchange and Teach (JET) Program and the Republic of Korea's English Program In Korea (EPIK) have expanded as these and other countries continue to promote English as a Language for 21st Century Business in their countries.
Those involved in exchange programs quickly come to realize the differences between fluency in a language and being able to speak and understand the nuances of the language of another economy. Learning the history of the language the cultural contexts behind unique words and phrases, and idioms and slang have an increasingly important place in learning English among those who speak it as their second or third language. For example, in some countries, a ‘yes’ might mean ‘no,’ or the phrase "six of one and half a dozen of the other" is meaningless to a person whose language may not utilize the concept of "dozen" at all.
- Most of world's population is now multilingual to some extent
- A common language, most often English, may be required for international business interactions, and is becoming tool for economic development and competitiveness
- English proficiency, in addition to language for the business context in which it will be used, is necessary
- Language for business purposes requires a unique set of skills and allows for a unique set of tasks
The fictional scenario below highlights the importance of fluency in English as the language relates to specific business situations.
With the prices of electricity continuing to rise, a communications company in an APEC economy decided to decrease their dependence on the use of electricity. They determined that using traditional energy from natural oil and gas would not be favorable to their profit margin, nor for the long-term health of the environment. After several meetings in which executives met to discuss the various options for powering their company headquarters with clean energy, the company decided in favor of installing solar panels. Although the solar panels would be quite costly in the short-term, over the long-term they would eliminate the company's dependence on electricity from natural oil and gas, lower the company's costs, enhance their profits, widen their status in the community as an "eco-friendly company," and allow it to apply for a Green Energy tax subsidy provided by the government. In order to get the best price for the project, the communications company sought bids from private, global companies who specialized in the design, manufacture, and installation of solar panels. After an exhaustive worldwide search, the company awarded the ten-year contract to a contractor in the United Kingdom (UK).
In recent years the APEC member in which the communications company was based had engaged in a policy of encouraging immigration on a large scale, particularly to fill the jobs demanded by the growing service and hospitality sectors. As a result, the demographics of the labor force had changed, resulting in an abundance of labor willing to work for lower wages acceptable to many citizens. In order to encourage higher wages and stimulate the economy, as well as ensure that citizens had equal access to jobs (many being displaced by recent immigrants from their positions), the government enacted a change to the labor force policy. Private companies were forbidden from hiring more than 20% of their labor force from outside the pool of labor provided by the member's citizens. The communications company therefore required the contractor from the UK to adhere to these guidelines while soliciting bid for the work. The contractor agreed and decided to conduct a job fair at the leading university and vocational schools in the country to search for engineers, electricians, and other general labor that would be required to install the solar panels at the communication company's headquarters. It found, however, that too few of the citizen job seekers that they interviewed could speak the technical English required for the job. The contractor from the UK, unable to hire enough workers, called the company headquarters to seek advice.
Points to Consider
- The UK Company tried very hard to recruit workers from the APEC economy who could communicate with their managers. Did they limited their search by only visiting university and vocational schools? Where else could they recruit workers?
- Other than trying to recruit workers from the university and vocational schools, what might the UK Company do to meet their need for worker who could speak English?
- What could the ministry of the APEC economy do to encourage that their policy of hiring only nationals could they do to ensure that the worker is able to meet the demands of international businesses?
- When an APEC Economy realizes that they require services and products from another Economy or Country, they may have to encourage citizens to learn business English as part of the curriculum in colleges or vocational schools.
- Part of the negotiations between the Economy and UK may have to include business language instruction. This would be beneficial for both the UK and Economy. First the UK Company would have a workforce who could speak English within the context (e.g., solar power industry). In addition, the APEC country would build their infrastructure of workers able to speak English and the Economy’s capacity to have an English-speaking workforce for future business negotiations and opportunities.
- Video from the APEC-RELC International Language Seminar presentation "Engaging English Educators in Asia: Shared Opportunities for Professional Growth"
- Related Tips for Teaching 21st Century Workplace Skills
More content for International Education Week 2010