I had occasion last month to meet some executives of leading Thai companies, and they all made similar remarks about the poor English-language skills of most people in their companies. They said this had adversely affected some business opportunities for their organisations.
Globalisation has left the world with no boundaries. English is considered the most widespread business language, particularly in the present Web-based environment. Having employees with adequate English-language skills is essential for a company to efficiently acquire accurate and timely information with which to formulate appropriate corporate strategies in the current severely competitive market situation - regardless of whether it is a Thai company or a multinational corporation.
People in different countries are these days regularly linked by the Internet, on which English has become a global language. While professional knowledge and working experience are important attributes for managers, a good command of English is also vitally important as it creates a comparative advantage over the have-nots. Some may argue skilled English interpreters can be hired. But how can you rely on outsiders to communicate precisely and effectively what you want with your business counterparts?
It is a must for any professional working in the current business environment to personally be an effective communicator in both spoken and written English.
It is a bitter fact that the average English-language skills of Thais are quite low even though English is taught as a foreign language at the primary or secondary level in most schools. The underlying reason is Thai teachers of English in general have not been properly trained to teach their students. Most of them were not English majors at their colleges, so it is difficult for them to produce students with a good command of English.
Nevertheless, regardless of their educational background, individuals entering the corporate world must equip themselves with English-language skills as well as the expertise required by their specific fields of work. Employees must realise the need for English proficiency in the workplace and continue to improve their skills, in order to remain competitive in the corporate environment.
Employers must also accept that their business opportunities will be broadened by the English proficiency of their employees. Investments in language training are required to refresh employees' skills, and these will create an effective tool for the organisation to move forward in this era of globalisation.
Panatda Chennavasin is vice president for corporate strategies and corporate relations at Tri Petch Isuzu Sales and senior vice president for international marketing at Isuzu Operations (Thailand). Read her articles for Hi! Managers on the third Wednesday of each month.