By on July 3, 2015

Takanobu Ito

In its 104-page annual sustainability report, Honda announced it would make English its official language by 2020, requiring all interregional communication be conducted in English. Similarly, English-language proficiency would be a requirement for promotion to management. The new mandate appears on Page 70 of the report.

Despite burying the lede, it’s a seismic change for the Japanese company. According to Automotive News, five years ago then-boss Takanobu Ito said — possibly in Japanese — that making English the official language of Honda was “stupid.” Five years from now, presumably all of Honda’s workforce, which includes more than 200,000 people — nearly three-quarters of it outside of North America — will be speaking the language.

Honda’s official stance on English isn’t wholly surprising, or new.

According to a report by The Economist in February 2014, Honda was keen on adopting “Corporate English” throughout the company and following suit with many other global manufacturers. Chinese tech giant Lenovo made English its lingua franca. Same goes for Nokia, Renault and Samsung.

Only one quarter of Honda’s workforce is in North America, but accounted for nearly one third of its new hires for 2015. Honda’s move to English is emblematic of its reality: 40 percent of Honda’s sales are in North America and 81 percent of its vehicles are assembled outside of Japan.

Included in the report is an outlook for the future of Honda’s manufacturing in North America.

The U.S. will add more than 3.4 million manufacturing jobs in the next 10 years, the report states, but will have only 1.4 million people to fill those jobs. Honda says they will implement a program in Ohio — where Honda builds cars — to teach middle- and high-school students how to fill those jobs with video games, or by directly funding STEM programs in some schools.

There’s been no word on whether Buick will be making the switch to Mandarin.

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70 Comments on “Honda Making English Its Official Language by 2020...”


  • avatar

    At least they are one step ahead of AMERICA.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Not too surprising. Honda’s North American footprint is much larger than in Japan or Europe,so at some point it makes sense to pick the language where most of your sales are.

  • avatar
    twotone

    In 1868 Emperor Meiji re-established imperial rule. To move Japan into the modern era, he encouraged his people to explore and learn from the more technologically advanced cultures of the world. One of his proposals was to make English the language of commerce and technology in Japan.

    Do Mercedes and other German auto companies use English as their executive language?

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      Germany is probably the most fluent English speaking country on the continent, imho.

      In any case, English is the international language of business; virtually anybody in any country that rises to the senior corporate level needs English.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        Germany the most fluently English speaking? Not even top five, I’d say.

        I’ve worked out of several European offices all over the continent and the most universally English fluent are the Dutch, with many speaking idiomatically correct, near native English, while the general population is very competent. That is not necessarily true in German for Germans.

        If you count Scandinavia as the Continent, then the Norwegians (just as fluent as the Dutch) followed by the Swedes and the Danes. Then probably the Finns, but I don’t know and haven’t worked with a lot of Finnish folk.

        Then maybe Germany.

      • 0 avatar
        piro

        Nah, the Germans aren’t close to being the best. Hell, it’s the land of dubbed movies and tv. The best are the Dutch, including especially Flanders. Then it’s probably the Nordics, Denmark and such.

      • 0 avatar
        tekdemon

        The Netherlands have a much higher rate of fluent English speakers than Germany. Virtually all Dutch people speak near perfect English whereas this isn’t the case in Germany at all.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        I have to agree that the Dutch and Scandinavians are probably Europe’s best non-native English speakers (although the Germans have gained ground and have become quite adept.)

        They not only speak textbook English well, but they also grasp most of the slang. The fact that the films and TV shows are subtitled and not dubbed probably helps — they’re accustomed to hearing casual American and British English.

        The Dutch have long been multilingual because of their status as a trading nation. Since nobody else speaks their language, they have to adapt to everyone else.

    • 0 avatar
      Aaron Cole

      Most other automakers do use English as an official language for a couple reasons:

      1. Most executive-level candidates speak it — at least as a second language.
      2. It’s the prevailing language of computers and the Internet at the moment.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Well once upon a time if you wanted to be considered “educated” and able to conduct your business/diplomacy in a single language you used French – looks like it is now English.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Multinational corporations tend to do business in English because it has become the international language of commerce.

    But this will obviously hurt those who can’t adapt. There must be a lot of unhappy middle managers at Honda right now.

    • 0 avatar

      English is also the international language of science

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        …and medicine, and aviation, and pop culture. English has become what Esperanto was supposed to be.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          It strikes me that French was the “diplomatic” language of the 19th Century even though by the middle of the 19th Century France as a nation was overtaken on the international stage by the British. I wonder if English will become the language of diplomacy, science, aviation etc, when the major powers who speak it are overtaken by the next global power.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Expecting everyone to learn Mandarin is unrealistic.

            English is so well-entrenched that it will be hard to displace it. The fact that computer code doesn’t lend itself to character-based languages helps to ensure that.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Mandarin isn’t *that* hard, hell even I am taking a class in the spoken language. You make a good point on the language of computing being favored toward English vs a Cyrillic of character based language such as Simplified Chinese or Korean.

          • 0 avatar
            Signal11

            Korean isn’t “character based” like Mandarin, it’s an entirely phonetic alphabetic which is completely the opposite of Mandarin. The only difference between Korean and any other phonetic alphabetic is that the letters are grouped into syllables in print. Each grouping of letters is not a “character” by any linguistic sense of the term.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            My mistake, I meant to type Japanese. You are correct in your assessment of Korean however interestingly enough: “Hangul is occasionally augmented by Chinese characters called Hanja”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul

          • 0 avatar
            Signal11

            In South Korea, the use of Chinese characters in everyday usage has become exceedingly rare. Even 15-20 years ago, newspapers used Chinese characters liberally whereas today, I am looking at the front pages of several newspapers, including the print edition of the “Economics Daily” and there is not a single Chinese character to be found. Dad-to-day, the only place you’d see Chinese characters are small/medium/large while ordering food at a Chinese-Korean restaurant. Otherwise, the use of Hanja has almost wholly been eliminated from Korean society. Oh yeah, and restaurant/bar tabs because you can just add strokes when adding items to orders.

            This should actually be quite telling regarding the potential pan-global or at least pan-Asian usage of Mandarin as a lingua Franca. China is South Korea’s largest trading partner, both import and export, while South Korea is China’s largest source of imports. Yet instead of placing any importance on Chinese whatsoever, Koreans have actively eliminated Chinese from society, while at they same time going to exceedingly absurd lengths to learn English.

          • 0 avatar
            tekdemon

            Mandarin isn’t any harder to speak than other languages but it’s near impossible to learn to read and write without an obscene amount of memorization.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Some kiddies still learn the Hanja, at least the ones I taught. It’s sort of like a calligraphy practice.

            You’ll still see old signs and things everywhere with Hanja on them (with or without Korean). So if I were a Korean person I think I’d wanna know what they were.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          Don’t knock Esperanto. Those six people who actually speak it are very, very testy

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        >>> English is also the international language of science

        When my son was applying to PhD bio programs in Sweden and Germany, they had an English requirement. All the classes in those schools (Max Planck Institutes, Uppsala, Karolinska) were taught in English. Now, it looks like he may end up in Cambridge Ma where Spanish and Portuguese might come in handy.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          It always feels nice when you see something with the requirement “Speak fluent English.”

          And you just go “YEAH, GOT THAT.” in your mind. Or at least I do.

  • avatar
    botgeek

    I work for Ericsson; a Swedish company. Ericsson’s international language of business is English, and has been since 2001. English proficency is required for most jobs in all 100+ countries in which Ericsson operates.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      For the Swedes, this is not a big deal. The janitors at the Stockholm HQ probably speak better English than many Americans.

      This is going to be a lot tougher for the middle-aged Japanese salaryman whose English skills may not be so great.

    • 0 avatar
      benders

      I work for Continental (the automotive supplier) and they have the same policy. That being said, daily business is still overwhelmingly conducted in the local language unless there are employees present who don’t speak the local language.

      We actually get a lot of Europeans sent over to work with us on 3-6 month stays to get experience cross functionally but with the added bonus of improving their English language skills.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I thought I had read awhile back that Honda was considering moving their corporate headquarters to the U.S. Obviously, I could be wrong on that. But

    Of the ‘import’ car makers here in the U.S, couldn’t you make the argument that Honda is more Merican’ than a lot of the U.S domiciled manufacturers? I am fairly certain they sell the lions share of their annual volume here in the states, build most of them here.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      I recall a talked-about incorporation of the entire Honda company in the U.S. as well. I think it was during the 1990s. I believe the Japanese government had a private chat with Honda and such talk went away with little or no explanation.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Long term I see more and more production models going to the existing US/Canadian/Mexican transplants and an eventual corporate move by Honda, Toyota, and possibly Lexus to North America.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I figured Lexus was always HQ’ed in NA. That’s where 90% of their sales are. It’s a very American take on the JDM vehicle anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Lexus HQ: Nagoya, Japan

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexus

            Another FUN FACT:

            “Interviews with retired division officials indicate that depending on sales volume, vehicle product development cycles, and exchange rates, Lexus sales have accounted for as much as half of Toyota’s annual U.S. profit in certain years. Division executives have employed pricing strategies aimed at sustaining profit margins rather than sales volume, with historically fewer price incentives than rival brands.”

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Make no mistake, I’d much rather they are HQ there, and give us JDM products with leather and tinsel.

    • 0 avatar
      ccode81

      That was to threaten government for lowing corporate tax rate, and do something to roll the economy when domestic market was shrinking.
      We now have a much better political leader, such tone has gone away.

  • avatar
    VW16v

    Why do they always show him with a poopy face?

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    Carlos made english Nissans official language more than a decade ago

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Ghosn is a bright man who can read the tea leaves so-to-speak.

    • 0 avatar

      I work with Japanese and many of them more or less speak English. But none of them speak or care about French. French is good for restaurants, or wineries or sexual intercourse but not suited well for modern technologies, science or politics or future in general. It is a thing of past like Roman language.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        All of their tech words are just English words flipped and with hyphenation.

        disque-compact
        drive-hards
        mouse-computeur
        etc.

        I may have made a couple of those up.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Honda’s elite: Ixnay on the apaneseJay.

    America’s elite: it’s racist to expect newcomers to learn English.

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      White English Speaking Man’s Privilege: Go lives in a non-English speaking country for 5-10 years, never learns how to rub out a single grammatically correct sentence.

  • avatar
    darex

    The poor blokes at the Sunderland plant will now have their work cut out for them, if they want to keep pace with this development.

  • avatar
    ccode81

    Being in financial industry, I know too much of excellent Japanese people working cheap with domestic brokers, just because they lack communication skill in English. Otherwise could been paid multiple times higher salary at top tier investment banks.
    In my opinion, this kind of shift supposed to happen from individual motivation rather than direction of company they are employed, but they are too much protected under the corporate culture till now with lifetime employment system, any skill company does not ask is not their necessity.
    Well, lifetime employment is an illusion, though.
    I have no shame to my language and it is something to be proud of with deep cultural back ground, but to keep up the business pace, managing multi national human resource, this is now a necessity, if speaking Japanese is not the world wide requirement to apply for their jobs.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Since 4 of the top dozen economies are English speakers, this does not surprise me.

    It makes business sense.

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    “There’s been no word on whether Buick will be making the switch to Mandarin.” Ha!

    Will Suzuki be requiring Hindi?

  • avatar
    Power6

    I spent two weeks in 2006 installing software at the Shenyang BMW factory in China. I was concerned about communication before i went on site, but found all the Germans and Chinese communicated exclusively in English. Outside the factory, well not so much with English.

  • avatar

    I watched Back To The Future (30th anniversary edition) yesterday – they travel to the future – year 2015 and sky is full of flying cars and other stuff we enjoy today and Japanese of course dominated the world. There was no mentioning of Chinese in this movie who will actually dominate the world in 2045.

  • avatar
    Magnusmaster

    At this rate the only language left will be English. Good news for the English and the Americans, bad news for everyone else who will have part of their culture destroyed. Very convenient, though.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Doubt it. There are too many Chinese speaking people, as well as nearly a whole continent which speaks Spanish.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Not likely we’ll all standardize on one language. There are just too many still-disconnected populations out there. But I think it’s entirely likely that in 50 years you’ll only need to know five languages to conduct business in any country in the world: English, Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, and French. (And French and Russian will be less important than the other three.)


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