Features on ELTNEWS.com View All Features
How good is your English? Free test app from Oxford University Press

Interview with Tak Shiohama

Tak Shiohama - President of Rosetta Stone Japan Inc.Tak Shiohama is President of Rosetta Stone Japan Inc., a subsidiary of the US company, Rosetta Stone Inc, which is named after the artifact that unlocked the secrets of Egyptian hieroglyphics for linguists. The company now unlocks the secrets of 31 languages for millions of learners worldwide.

Before joining Rosetta Stone in 2007, Tak worked for Accenture, A.T. Kearney, and was VP for marketing for AKSUL. He is a graduate of Osaka Prefecture University, and holds an MBA from the University of Chicago.

This interview was conducted in Tokyo by John Lowe on 11th August 2009.

John:
Hello Mr. Shiohama – could you start by telling me about your background?
Tak:
I graduated from Osaka Prefecture University, and have spent most of my professional career in strategic management consultancy, working in both the retail and IT industries.
John:
And where did you learn English?
Tak:
I learned English mainly as a result of my professional life, and from doing my MBA from the University of Chicago. I started to study English more seriously when I decided I wanted to become a global consultant.
John:
Is Rosetta Stone Japan a franchise business, and how long has the company been in Japan?
Tak:
No, it’s not a franchise –and I’m the President of a US subsidiary company. Legally the company was established in 2006 in Japan, then I joined in March 2007 and started to develop the company infrastructure, and we started trading in November 2007. Now we have a fair number of employees.
John:
And what exactly is your business?
Tak:
We provide software for language learning, and currently offer 31 languages for learners. As you might expect, English is the most popular of our learning products, with around 50% of our total sales – we offer both American and British English, but 80%-90% of these sales are for American English software. But we also have demand for major European and Asian languages.
John:
Is Chinese language study gaining in popularity and if so, is this reflected in your sales?
Tak:
Yes, it certainly is – our English learning package is by far our best-selling product, but Chinese is in second place, followed by Korean. Chinese is very popular for business, whereas Korean language learners are more interested in studying for pleasure – this may be because of the recent boom in Korean popular culture. For the European languages, French, German and Spanish are still popular and we’ve recently noticed a growing demand for Italian.
John:
Do you focus on the self-study market, or do you also sell to educational institutions?
Tak:
We sell B2C and B2B. Within our direct sales B2C model, we advertise in newspapers, magazines and on TV, directing potential customers to our website and call centers. We also have six retail outlets or kiosks as of mid-August, which are located in shopping malls or bookstores, such as Maurzen. Basically places where there is qualified, high traffic. Although we currently focus most of our marketing activities on the B2C market, we are always looking for opportunities in the B2B market, and several major companies and schools do use our language learning software.
John:
Do you localize the product for Japan?
Tak:
We localize packaging, but the product uses the direct, immersion method of teaching languages, so it’s the same as the content in the US. The software interface has eight language options, but the content is delivered in the target language.
John:
How does the product work, and why is it so unique?
Tak:
The Rosetta Stone method unlocks a person’s natural ability to learn a language. The product features listening, clear images, speech recognition and absolutely no translation is needed – everything is presented in the target language, so you start to communicate right away. This is an immersion method on your own PC, which exposes the learner to a structured approach, resulting in effective communication in a short space of time. A recent research study done in the US showed that Spanish language learners using Rosetta Stone software, resulted in more effective language learning outcomes than in a college classroom setting.
John:
So who is your typical user?
Tak:
I think our users are currently 60% male and 40% female – many users are likely to be in their later thirties, are professional, well-educated with an intellectual curiosity and are aware of current events. They have often been studying English from junior high school, but perceive themselves as ‘language failures’. They have tried the traditional route, but are not satisfied with the results. In a recent study we found that only 14% of language learners in Japan feel that they have been successful in learning a language. The respondents cited their main reasons for lack of success in learning a language as “ineffective teaching methods” (42%) or “lack of motivation” (41%).
John:
And how do you reach your ideal user?
Tak:
We advertise very selectively, targeting the media we feel our users prefer.
John:
Are Japanese learners serious about learning English?
Tak:
Definitely – Japanese need English skills, especially for business. Major companies like Toyota and Hitachi insist that their managers and directors study English and encourage them to achieve a high TOEIC score. Interestingly, at a recent Rosetta Stone meeting, our UK office told us that many British people study languages as a hobby, and that they are not really interested in serious study.
John:
What is Rosetta Stone’s growth potential in Japan?
Tak:
Despite the recent decline in the language learning market in Japan, this is still a huge multi-million dollar market. And with our unique product, we feel that there is considerable room for growth. At our current phase we are essentially a start-up business, and we’re investing in growth through marketing.
John:
Could you tell me about the self-study and private language school market in Japan?
Tak:
According to this year’s Yano Research Report, the language learning market is decreasing, but several segments are growing, namely: one-to-one study, pre-school, test prep, business English and eLearning, with the latter especially important for the self-study market. We’re also looking at other ways of delivering our services.
John:
What companies do you see as your competitors?
Tak:
Rosetta Stone product occupies a unique space in the language learning market in Japan. Unlike traditional publishers or other direct sales companies, we focus on speaking skills rather than listening, reading and writing skills. Learners can complement our product with other learning materials.
John:
Is Rosetta Stone a worldwide business?
Tak:
As you know, the company is very big in the US, and in 2005 we opened an office in the UK. In Korea we were using a sales agent, but this year we set up our own subsidiary. Although I can’t disclose our expansion plans, we will continue to look for growth opportunities.
John:
Thank you very much for your time today, and can I conclude by asking if you’re studying any languages at present?
Tak:
Yes I am – I’m learning Spanish, French and Chinese.
John:
Using the Rosetta Stone method?
Tak:
But of course!



« Interview with Andrew Zitzmann | Main | Interview with Miyu Ishiwata »


Recent Entries

Recent Comments

Comments

Events

World Today