An interview with Robert Hilke – 1. English and Intercultural communication

On April 5th, 2017, in Otemachi, on the occasion of the publication of “PRACTICE EXAMS FOR THE TOEIC(R) WRITING TEST”, Eigobin( conducted an interview with Robert Hilke, a specialist of intercultural communication and the TOEIC test. In the interview, he talked about several things including how he became interested in intercultural communication, how the usage of English has been changing in various countries of the world, and English education in Japan.

Robert Hilke
– Trainer of corporate training programs
– Former professor of ICU ( International Christian University)
– Graduate of the University of California (Master of linguistics)
– Expert in intercultural communication, TOEIC(R), TOEFL(R), GRE(R)

Publications :『TOEIC®テスト完全教本 新形式問題対応』(Co-authored with David A. Thayne, Kenkyusha),「頂上制覇 TOEIC® テスト 究極の技テクニック術」Volume 1~6(Kenkyusha)、『新TOEIC® テスト 直前の技術』『 新 TOEIC® テスト「 直前」模試3回分』(ALC)et al.

1.English and Intercultural communication

This is a transcription from voice-recording (Not a written article).Japanese translation

Q : I think most English learners in Japan know you as a “TOEIC specialist”, but you are also a specialist in intercultural communication. Could you tell us about your background and how you became interested in these fields? Do you give lectures all over the world?

Actually I have two hats. One of them is, of course, a TOEIC trainer, and an author. And the other one is an intercultural communication specialist. Both of them are very important for me. Having said that however, I think they are very closely connected because in order to be really successful in today’s diverse global world, I think there are three important pillars. The first one of course is English. English is the language of business around the world. It’s the language that most people would use to communicate with people come from different backgrounds. In one sense, it’s not fair because I am a native speaker of English, so I don’t have to suffer in order to learn English like most of our readers and leaners do. But the reality is whether it’s fair or not, you can’t escape English, English is everywhere, it’s really really necessary.

Of course I have a very strong feeling that TOEIC and English study go hand in hand. I know that many people in the world think TOEIC and English study are in a sense separated, almost mutually exclusive, but I have a completely different opinion. I think that they are symbiotically related to each other. I think the more you improve your English, the higher your TOEIC score is going to become. Conversely, the more you study TOEIC, the higher the score you get and the more confidence you gain. That puts you in the situation where you look for opportunities to use English. And when you are interacting with people using English, you get positive feedback from the interaction, and then that also increases your motivation to continue to study English which then increases your TOEIC score. It’s a kind of positive chicken and egg situation, in my opinion.

But if it were only English fluency, Japanese companies could go to California, find Japanese people studying abroad, maybe surfing on the beach and enjoying their lives. They may speak English perfectly. But do they have the business skills to be able to function well in today’s environment? Maybe some people do; maybe some people don’t. Only speaking English is no guarantee to successfully communicate. So of course, business skill is important. Even if you have a TOEIC score of more then 900, even if you have a full mark of 990, even if you have a qualification of “Ginou Kentei 1-Kyu” in a monozukuri industry, if you really can’t be a leader of the people, you can’t be really successful. So that’s why the successful global business person is the one who has the language skills, the business skills, and also the appropriate intercultural awareness.I started teaching intercultural communication in Japan many, many years ago.

My introduction to intercultural communication ironically was long before I came to Japan. I was in the United States Army for quite a long time. And I think this may surprise many people, but actually one of the more progressive social institutions in the U.S. is the American military. One of the reasons is because the military can mandate things: they issue an order and you have to follow; you have no choice. And during the early 1970’s the U.S. military made a very strong push to try to more include more minorities, especially African Americans and Latinos, so at that time I actually became a trainer to help my fellow soldiers to achieve greater understanding. That was my first introduction to intercultural communication.

Then when I came to Japan a long long time ago — I had already lived in Germany for several years, spent time in Argentina, and used to work part-time in Mexico when I was a graduate student — so to be honest I thought I already understood intercultural communication. But when I came to Japan, back in the Showa-era, I was really surprised by how much I had to learn. I thought I knew but, in fact, I didn’t. Japan was so different from anything I had ever experienced before. That led me to start to study more and read a lot of books. I had also developed my own story when I was teaching at the International Christian University. Of course I was exposed to intercultural communication on a daily basis with my students. I just gradually found my own stories. Then I had a very big break in my intercultural communication career in the mid-1980s.Gadelius, which is a Swedish training company, has been in Japan, I believe since 1907. It’ was the first European company to come to Japan, right after the Russo-Japanese war. And they decided to start up a business unit to provide training for intercultural communication. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that. That small organization eventually became INTEC Japan. I supported INTEC Japan for many many years, more than 25 years. And then in 2012, our organization was purchased by Link and Motivation, so now I work for Link Global Solution.We do business all over the world, and of course in Japan.

We go to many different countries. In the first part of 2017, I’ve already been to Singapore, Mexico, the United States, Germany, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. We are going all over the world to try to deliver our message. Intercultural communication and language together support the business skills our participants already have. The key is how they can apply those skills in the most effective way. I’m really blessed. I love my job.

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