The Language Barrier in Japan / Don’t Fixate on English Skills

The first two posts [links to previous posts] on how to establish a lasting presence in Japan centered around building trust with stakeholders. Another factor that always comes into play when entering a foreign market is the language barrier. But how much influence does this obstacle have, and how much weight should it have when considering candidates?


During an interview with Globalization Partners, HCCR’s Executive Director Casey Able offered four pieces of advice that are sure to be the key to your resounding success in Japan. Here is the third piece in our series “Winning in Japan”! Stay tuned for the final segment.

n a 2020 survey, Japan ranked 55 out of 100 countries for English proficiency and was assigned a “low proficiency” band. 


Although most multinational companies mandate English as the corporate language, international companies should focus less on language restrictions and more on a candidate’s skills and ability to execute a job. 


Candidates with best English language skills might not always be the best candidate for your company’s needs. 


In fact, Abel noted that he frequently sees hiring managers fall into the trap of choosing candidates with high English-speaking skills that fit comfortably into the company instead of those best suited for the role. And according to Abel, once companies begin to gain traction in Japan, they can mitigate language barrier issues by partnering with a local expert. 


“If you can afford it, get a pair of eyes on the ground early, whether it’s a local technical expert or business development person, who can partner with the team and help build a bridge back to headquarters.” 


Contrary to popular belief, effective communication does not require perfect use of a common language. Rather, what should be prioritized is a deep understanding of customs and culture that can only be accumulated through years of interacting with locals. In short, rely on experts to maneuver through unfamiliar territory – translators to overcome linguistic barriers, and local or acculturated marketers to guide your activity in Japan.


Next week’s article – “Be Patient / Be in It for the Long Haul.” View the complete article here [link] to get ahead of the game.

Building a global team in Japan 


Hiring international talent can be a complicated process that involves an understanding of different languages, cultures, and regulations. 


As a management consulting firm with talent acquisition, talent marketing, organizational strategy, and digital transformation capabilities, HCCR can pave the road to your success by solving the most critical talent issues and achieving immediate impact. 


Our team understands that people are the core drivers of value creation within any organization. HCCR’s diverse team combines deep technical expertise, industry experience and the operational know-how to tackle your most critical talent needs.