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Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Monday extended a warm welcome to the ministry’s newest recruits, and asked the young diplomats to continue improving their English and other essential skills needed to connect Japan with the rest of the world.

“By devoting yourself to studying English — a common language of the world — I want you to build your negotiation and communication skills,” Kono told the 123 new recruits on the first weekday of fiscal 2018.

“You were asked to score 100 points (on the TOEFL iBT test) prior to the entrance ceremony. We’re serious about it,” he said.

The top diplomat is fluent in English and graduated from Georgetown University in 1985. He also spent time at the Warsaw School of Economics in Poland.

For the past several years, officials joining the ministry have been tasked with scoring at least 100 points on the TOEFL iBT test. The maximum score is 120.

A score of 100 means one has the necessary English skills to join top American graduate schools, according to a ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. But it’s only a goal, not a requirement, the official added.

The official admitted that the goal is a lofty one, but said it was set because English-language skills are essential to becoming a Foreign Ministry official.

Not all new diplomats are able to score 100 upon joining the ministry, and further assistance is provided to those unable to do so, the official said.

The TOEFL iBT measures one’s ability to use and understand English at the university level, and evaluates reading, listening, speaking and writing skills. The test is run by Educational Testing Service, a New Jersey-based nonprofit founded in 1947.

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