SoftBank, recently in the news for its acquisition of the third largest U.S. telecommunications company, Sprint Nextel, has now made another investment—this time in its employees.

Beginning this year and continuing through 2015, those scoring 900 out of possible 990 points on the TOEIC Listening & Reading test will earn a bonus of 1 million yen ($11,269).

Employees scoring between 800 and 899 will receive a smaller bonus of 300,000 yen (about $3,380).

The figures may be eye-popping but the huge corporation’s needs are real and common. As discussed in an interesting article on the SoftBank bonuses published by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, more companies with a past focus on domestic markets are expanding internationally and find they need staff English proficiency to compete. The need for international expansion is particularly urgent in countries where domestic business has slumped, such as Japan.

A parallel need is for clear communication across an increasingly diverse workforce. For example, leading Japanese retailer Rakutan now has a workforce that is 30 percent non-Japanese. English provides a common language for new employees for China, India, and elsewhere, and so Rakutan has mandated English as the language in which all business is conducted. And, if you've been following this blog, you'll know that there are many more reasons why English proficiency is worth company investment.

Unfortunately, the mere fact that an employee has studied English or even lives in an English-speaking countries does not mean that they are proficient in the language. Although Japanese students take about 3,000 hours of required English instruction between age 7 and 18, the country ranks as only “moderately proficient” in this year’s EF International world English proficiency rankings. In the U.S., the non-native English speaking resident population scored even worse, at a “low” level similar to the Middle East and other areas where English study requirements have been more recently introduced.

Companies seeking a fair, objective way to judge English language ability find TOEIC tests an ideal measure, whether as a hiring requirement or an incentivized goal. Companies from Daiwa House to Pricewaterhouse Coopers Brazil (PwC) have effectively used TOEIC score rewards to increase corporate proficiency in English.

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