PayPay’s Language Program – Growing Together

Hi, I’m az​. I’m responsible for the language programs at PayPay.

Being a member of the HR department at PayPay, I’m often asked what it’s like to work here by people who are considering joining the company. In particular, I receive many language-related questions, such as “Do I have to be able to speak English to work at PayPay?” Today, I’d like to share some stories about the language-related environment surrounding us here at PayPay.​ ​


PayPay’s Unparalleled Global Standard

At PayPay, “the official languages are Japanese and English. “

Since PayPay began its journey in an environment where both Japanese and English are used, it may be quite natural that we have two official languages. But it is very different from the “globalization” you usually see in many Japanese companies ​​

​ At PayPay, we regard the “willingness to communicate” as an important attitude to have. Not much emphasis is placed on whether you communicate in Japanese or English. Rather, we believe that we can understand each other even if we speak different languages as long as we are all fully committed to the extraordinary goal of “creating a super app that can make the world a more convenient place.” ​

Instead of the kind of globalization where only the people on one side who speak a particular language try to close the gap by learning another language, PayPay’s globalization is all about everyone coming together equally and creating our own standards – the PayPay Standards. For example, if you lack Japanese skills, then you learn Japanese. If you lack English skills, you learn English. In order to facilitate intercultural understanding, we also hold cross-culture classes.

Global members who are neither native Japanese speakers nor native English speakers are learning both languages.

​​Having said that, even with such an environment here at PayPay, our attitude towards language has only started changing recently, and the increasingly globalized nature of the company has a role to play in this.

Getting New Perspectives and Rediscovering the Essence of Ourselves

In our HR department, we only had Japanese members discussing organizational structures and systems every day. Although we are supposed to be a company in which talented people from around the world are gathered to take on an unprecedented challenge, there was a tendency to get caught up in the standard practices and precedents of Japan.​​

But now, we finally (yes, finally!) have international members in our HR department. As soon as we got “their new perspectives,” we saw positive changes occurring within the department.

I was surprised that my Japanese colleagues, who had never shown any interest in English, recently started to say, “I want to explain this properly, so how should I say it in English?” or ask “How do I study English?”

The addition of a single international member changed the team’s perspective and mindset. I really feel that the process of discovering the essence of things by asking each other “Why?” repeatedly and talking with people who speak different languages and have different common values will be worth more than the time we spend not questioning our common knowledge and the precedents we’re familiar with.

That’s why PayPay not only offers language classes, but also cross-cultural programs to help people understand each other better.​ ​

English Boot Camp to the Rescue!​ ​

 ​​​​There are Japanese and English classes in the language program offered at PayPay. Each of the classes also includes cross-cultural programs, but let me talk a little bit about the English class, which is the most popular language program at PayPay, commonly known as the “English Boot Camp (EBC).”​

​​​When PayPay was founded in 2018, it was the first time for many Japanese engineers to work in English. However, since English was critical in order to launch PayPay in a short period of time, professional interpreters/translators were hired. Language lessons were also introduced to respond to urgent situations.​

Unfortunately, our engineers were so busy that they didn’t have extra time to go to an English school. So, we decided to set up a room for English lessons right in the middle of the Product Team’s part of the office. That way, they could easily run in and take lessons during their spare time. That’s how EBC began.​​

After that, in response to the sudden influx of requests we received from the sales and back-office members, we expanded the scope of people who could take lessons, modified the program through trial and error, and finally reached the current iteration of our program.

Boot Camp lessons on Zoom

Providing a Customized Curriculum for PayPay​ ​

Employees can choose to participate in EBC anytime once they have gotten approval from their superiors. Reservations can be made online, and the lesson materials and notes are all available online as well. Now that all employees are working from home, all classes are held online. In addition, we’re receiving lots of applications from employees at our offices spread across Japan, such as in Okayama and Kita-Kyushu.

The classes include private lessons, group lessons, and role-play sessions. We adopt a circuit system that allows people to participate in any class at any time. This way, each person can choose the class that best suits his/her issue and purpose. Out of all the classes, the role-play sessions and cross-culture sessions are particularly unique.

The role-play sessions help employees practice negotiating, and they also get tailored advice to help them deal with tough situations.

In the role-play sessions (held irregularly), members of various nationalities and business fields come together and learn how to communicate in a practical manner. For example, a Japanese sales rep and a foreign designer will have a discussion over an app design and say things such as “I want it changed to a bright color” or ask “What do you mean by bright color?” In addition, for cross-culture sessions (also held irregularly), the classes cover themes like “What kind of gestures and expressions would Japanese and international people make in situations when they want to express a negative reaction (or the opposite!)?” The class is held in a hands-on manner in which employees have to participate. It also serves as a team-building opportunity, so the classes are always filled with laughter.

In the cross-culture sessions, students get to learn about each other’s customs, and sometimes, they are surprised to find how different they are.

All of these classes are distinctive as they directly link to practical work, rather than just being a place to study the language. Another reason why these classes are popular may be due to the fact that employees can clearly track their progress at the end of the term when they review their achievements and see if they met the goals that they set at the beginning of the term.

At the end of the term, employees can review what they have accomplished by seeing the goals they set at the beginning visualized in a chart.

​​The English program is just one of the many Incentives to Work for PayPay​​

Let’s look at some comments from EBC participants.​​

“I communicate with my team members in English, but they are too kind and won’t correct my mistakes. That’s why I ask my teacher to point out my mistakes in EBC. The phrases I learn will stick with me because I can use them in my actual work right after I learn them in class. Being able to work in this kind of environment is what motivates me.” (An engineer)​​

“I work with an engineer who only speaks English. I’m not too confident about colloquialisms or when I need to communicate something quickly but accurately. So, I write down what I want to say in English and have the sentences checked during the lessons.” (A member of the Product Division)

“I was worried because my language skills are extremely basic, but I’m having fun now with the lessons because I can talk about what I did over the weekend and have discussions about what I do at work. The lessons are a good way to kill two birds with one stone because I can have fun and improve my English.” (A member of the back office).

It’s wonderful to see everyone utilize EBC in a way that suits their own tasks, goals, and situations.

Before I forget, back when the company was founded, the engineers who flocked to EBC for help, saying they couldn’t speak English, are now speaking English much more fluently. I also couldn’t help but let out a fist pump when I heard a colleague, who joined the company later and didn’t know what it was like in the beginning, say “I want to become a leader who can say “No” in English as well as one of their coworkers.”​​​​

I’ve been in charge of EBC for two years, but moments like that make my day.​​

Scaling the Language Barrier to Share a Common Ground

I hope that after the introduction above about language-learning at PayPay and about EBC, it’s easier for you to picture what it’s like here.​​

Regardless of nationality, there are engineers working hard to develop our product, sales reps out developing the market so that PayPay can make people’s lives more convenient in the world, marketers planning campaigns to reach out to even more users about PayPay, and back-office members supporting them. Each one of them is pursuing their own goals at PayPay.​​​

​Sometimes achieving these goals is at a scale that no one has ever experienced. Sometimes it requires an extraordinary amount of effort to attain, but when accomplished, the sense of achievement can be limitless. As the head of the language programs at PayPay, I will continue to support my colleagues for that single moment in which they can stand atop the walls that are language and cultural barriers, and see the things on the other side.​ 

In addition to EBC, we also have a” Japanese Boot Camp“ for employees with international backgrounds (the program is currently being redesigned!), as well as a team of interpreters and translators who can provide simultaneous interpretation for meetings. Let me talk about them on another occasion!

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edited by az (PayPay Inside-Out Editorial Team)
* Employees​’ affiliations are as of the time of the interview.

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