When Job Korea, the nation’s largest recruiting firm, surveyed around 300 employees and job seekers, half of them said improving English communication skills was what they needed to do most to jumpstart their career. They said it was more important than gaining knowledge in their professional fields or having certificates.
This reflects globalization in Korean companies, which requires employees who are proficient in communicating with foreign partners.
“For Samsung, it is important for employees to have communication and presentation skills in English, as the company is increasingly doing business in global markets,” said Lee Kyung-hwa, a manager of Samsung Group’s communications team.
Still, research has shown that Koreans’ English performance has not improved much despite their efforts. Among 60 countries surveyed by the global education company Education First, Korea was ranked 24th in adult English proficiency in terms of grammar, vocabulary, listening and reading.
|U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies during his visit to Korea in March 2012. ( HUFS)|
Korean children typically attend after-school classes to learn English from elementary school until college, on top of the regular school curriculum. However, the country’s ranking hasn’t improved for the last six years because Koreans’ English education has more focused on rote learning and grammar than actual communication skills.
“Many Koreans are still shy of speaking English to foreigners and afraid of making grammar mistakes. It is important for them to have more confidence,” said Kwon Min-jeong, an English instructor for SK E&S.
“Reading English newspapers on local issues may help them to have something to say when they meet foreign business partners. Having a conversation about recent issues can help break the ice,” Kwon said.
Koreans’ speaking habits can also be an obstacle.
“Koreans think it is a virtue to beat around the bush when they say something, while Western people are more straightforward and clear,” said Lee Jung-hee, an executive at Ernst and Young.
“Speaking vaguely may lead to miscommunication in the global workplace,” she added.
Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell also said that Koreans’ habit of speaking vaguely was one of factors in the crash of a Korean Air flight in his book “Outliers.”
Further, it is important to get to the point, Lee said. “When a topic or an idea is not organized in a speaker’s mind, they tend to go all over the place and do not get to the point. Organize first what you want to say in your mind.”
Using action verbs is also helpful. Many Koreans say “I will tell you what to do.” However, it is clearer when you say “I will walk you through what to do” or “I will demonstrate what to do.”
Apart from communications skills, having good presentation skills in English is also becoming important in companies. Employees should be able to introduce their products to potential foreign clients or report to their foreign bosses in global companies.
“To be good presenters, you should set clear targets and understand your audience. Your presentations should be informative, clear and entertaining,” said Jeong Da-hyeon, an interpreter for a foreign bank in Korea.
“When you make a presentation in English, you should practice tone of voice, intonation and power words, which arouse the audience’s interests,” she added.
Most important for good presentation, however, is practice. Steve Jobs, who was famous for his presentation skills, had hours of grueling practice, and hundreds of meetings with many different people.
“Steve Jobs is not a natural presenter. To look natural and comfortable, he had practices and rehearsals over and over,” Jeong said.
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org)