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English ability of little advantage for mid-career job seekers

42 Comments

From the new academic year that just commenced from April, English has become a compulsory subject in Japanese primary schools. Certain Japanese corporations, including the parent companies of Rakuten and Uniqlo, are planning to ban use of Japanese from the workplace in favor of English.

Does this, ask Nikkan Gendai (Apr 27), suggest that middle-aged salarymen with little or no ability at English are on the verge of becoming "dinosaurs," with no recourse but to sit and wait for their inevitable extinction?

Not by any means. When Recruit Agent, a major job relocation firm, surveyed individuals who had succeeded in landing new positions during the period from May-October 2010, it found that 46.3% described their English ability as "mattaku-nai" (nonexistent). The second largest segment, at 30.1%, belonged to the bottom rung of scores on the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), averaging between 450 to 599 points. In third place in English scores, with 14.7%, were those in the next higher TOEIC tier (600 to 799 points). Those with scores of 800 or above accounted for only 8.8% of the total landing new jobs.

The respondents to the Recruit Agency survey said they'd applied to an average of 24 companies. As opposed to 46% of firms that did not place any requirement on their English ability, the candidates were dissuaded from applying at 36.7% of firms that expected applicants to know English.

These survey results came as a relief to some, who had been on the receiving end of persistent warnings by economists and academics to the effect that "If you want to survive in today's job market, English will be an absolute must," or "Unless Japanese companies make English their official language for internal use, they'll be at a disadvantage in the global competition for human resources."

"Before the survey, we presumed that more companies were making knowledge of English a prerequisite for applicants, but these results were unexpected," says Recruit Agency's spokesperson Yuriko Tsurumaki. "While there were some businesses that required high levels of English, such as in medical-related and financial fields, many more companies were seeking to hire human resources who had practical experience in various fields."

"A lot of people have been pitching for English instruction in the primary schools, saying 'English, English, English,' like it was some kind of magic incantation," grumbles author Kaori Natsume. "But I think it's being a bit extreme to suggest that this indicates Japanese corporations are losing their presence because they don't utilize English. More likely, the decline may be due to recent factors like Japanese firms not being able to supply robots for dealing with the Fukushima reactor accident. Several years ago, a group affiliated with METI produced a humanoid robot in the shape of an attractive female. All she could do was dance and sing."

Nikkan Gendai adds that staffing a company with English speakers won't necessarily benefit the organization. For one thing, making English the official language tends to discourage oral communications between staffers.

"Our office is already full of IT nerds who don't talk much to begin with. Tell them from now they've got to speak English, and they're not going to say anything at all," a male staffer in his 30s at an IT company says.

For those seeking to change jobs in mid-career, the most desirable attribute appears to be flexibility.

"That said, other abilities being more or less equal, the person who can respond in English during a job interview will be at an advantage," says the aforementioned Tsurumaki.

What it comes down to, concludes Nikkan Gendai a bit cynically, is that if you don't have much in the way of marketable job skills, you might as well try to pick up some English as well.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

42 Comments
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I heard it it hard to get around japan if you only speak english.

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Your 'facts' are not facts either. GDP/capita is UP over the past 10 years. UP. I know you are 'herefornow' and have little good to say about Japan, but you could get your facts straight before criticizing others for being wrong

Smorkian -- As I assume you know, your "facts" are only 1/2 correct. You are correct that in absolute dollar-denominated terms, Japan's GDP has risen slightly over the past ten years. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has risen faster, and Japan has dropped in rank from #3 to #16. And, since my comment, was about international ranking/competitiveness, I did have my facts straight. And these facts support my contention that Japan's elevator is heading down. And, as regards my having "little good to say" about Japan, you are, unfortuantely, correct, because I am a realist about Japan and not a rationalist/apologizer. Japan has managed to fall from a true world-leading economy and culture/society into stagnancy and near irrelevancy in one generation. All because people here just wanted to ignore the trends and face the impact of globablization head-on and still try to live this closed-country mentality. As a result, Japan has squandered much of its talent because they are still being molded into a terribly out-dated government and business model. Instead of trying to rationalize that, I critisize it, because I simply cannot stand seeing the sense of malaise and mindlessness that pervades 130 million bright and motivated people.

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triumvere

You have seen how bad the English gig is going, just imagine if they did try Chinese Spanish or .......

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Mandatory second language study in primary & secondary school is a good thing academically speaking. The fact that most people, even in a country like Japan, will not need that language post-graduation isn't really any better an arguement against forgien language study than, say, it is against History or CLassical Japanese. What I can't understand is why schools don't offer Spanish, or at the very least Chinese and Korean. You'd think those would useful to some people.

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More likely, the decline may be due to recent factors like Japanese firms not being able to supply robots for dealing with the Fukushima reactor accident

Yep, that's the problem with Japan. Not enough robots.

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Smorkian - I've seen it in both dollar terms and in yen terms. The per capita GDP has gone nowhere over the past 10-15 years, and took an especially hard hit after the financial crisis just three years ago. You can't just say that per capita GDP is higher now than it was in 2001 and call it "growth". Besides, compared to other countries they have fallen way behind. In the last 15 years, Japan's GDPpc has fallen -5.4% (in dollar terms) while Britain rose 76%, the US 66%, and China 520%. Even if you take a look at the 10-year span, Japan has only grown about 23% in dollar terms, and decreased by -3.8% in yen terms! There's no way to spin this to say that Japan is on a path to improvement. They have been in a rut for almost two decades now, and show no signs of getting better. I really don't see where you are coming from.

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smorkian

I will use what I call the 2H's, happoshu & Hardoff as examples.

When I first landed on these isles there is no way in hell except maybe homeless who wud drink the swill/poison known as happoshu, now its extremely popular!

Hardoff(recycle shops) didnt exist when I landed now there are lots of them, dont get me wrong I think these are good ideas that shud have been happening a good 10yrs earlier than they did. I remember the sodai gomi days when a lot of stuff in there was just crying out to be used but ended up as landfill or burned.

These 2H's are very clear indicators that your average Tanaka is having a much harder time making ends meet these days, havent you ever seen any of the TV programs showing people how to save $$ & stretch things out more so to speaks, its EVERYWHERE!

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Where do you get your facts from?

The internet, multiple sources, but can't post links here.

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It's not an improvement to go from $42,000 in per capita GDP in 1995 to $39,700 today. Since this measurement is in dollars, and not yen, most of the fluctuations can be attributed to exchange rates and not actual economic growth. The average Japanese person lives much worse now than they did in the 80's and early 90's and they haven't recovered much at all.

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Sorry, Smorkian, but I think you're the one who is completely wrong. Japan's per capita GDP peaked in 1995 at around $42,000, bottomed out twice in 1998 and 2002 at $30,700, and currently sits at about $39,700 and change. Where do you get your facts from?

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If so, please enlighten us with some actual facts, not opinion, that say otherwise.

Your 'facts' are not facts either. GDP/capita is UP over the past 10 years. UP. I know you are 'herefornow' and have little good to say about Japan, but you could get your facts straight before criticizing others for being wrong.

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Smorkian -- GW beat me to it. I suppose you think its a great thing that Japan has been stuck in a 20-year plus malaise which has resulted in it facing unprecedented economic and social issues. And why its per capita GDP and intenational competitiveness have slipped several notches. But maybe that does not signal the elevator is going down to you. If so, please enlighten us with some actual facts, not opinion, that say otherwise.

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People have been spouting this nonsense for 20 years, usually right alongside "it's impossible for a foreigner to be accepted in Japan". Not true in either case. But people believe what they want to believe, I suppose!

And I have personally watched Japan do just that decline for the last 20yrs, where have you been?

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All schools around the world teach second languages...while Kaori Natsume rants on about being force fed English what would she have schools in Japan teach? Chinese-Korean-French? It's probably her own inability to learn the basics of English that creates her own insecurity in language development. English is the No1 universal language. Whilst not everyone will find a use for it as a second language in there lives theres a great majority that will.

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Love how they consider the lowest toeic level 450... my husband successfully got 350 on the test. What does that make him? Also, I know some people that get around 500 - 700 on the test and are very capable of having great communication abilities! So, the test numbers don't always reflect the ability.

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Fadamor, it is precisely this ability to take English, force it into acceptable Japanese sounds and label one permanent version with Katakana that guarantees a) the continued happy viability of Japanese and b) by such disnaturing and cruxifiction of English, the immediate removal of any need to go out and learn any variety of real English. Easy. Threat to mother tongue removed.

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As my coworker sips from her コーヒー and I take another swig of my コーラ, I fret over the number of wrinkles in my シャツ. I am looking forward to ランチ and that McDonald's チケンサンドイチ waiting for me.

As someone who just completed my first year of learning the Japanese language, I was amazed at how much vocabulary we learned that WASN'T from Japan! With so much vocabulary already in place, I would think Japan would have an easier time with English (except for some of the phonemes).

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Wa will over-rule real capabilities/skills here for the forceable future. And probably why Japan will continue its rapid decline in international competitiveness. The elevator is going down.

People have been spouting this nonsense for 20 years, usually right alongside "it's impossible for a foreigner to be accepted in Japan". Not true in either case. But people believe what they want to believe, I suppose!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

kansaichris -- great post. Wa will over-rule real capabilities/skills here for the forceable future. And probably why Japan will continue its rapid decline in international competitiveness. The elevator is going down.

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“Our office is already full of IT nerds who don’t talk much to begin with. Tell them from now they’ve got to speak English, and they’re not going to say anything at all,” a male staffer in his 30s at an IT company says.

And you wonder why they don't speak to you when you call them nerds?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

These middle-aged job seekers probably focus on companies that do not need English, or have been able to get by so far without English.

Such companies will be run by a rearguard of anti-English managers who themselves would feel threated by an applicant trying to use English in the interview. Great for young entrants to have English, but not for the old-school middle or upper levels.

If the executive level uses English, then the internal situation will be more like Rakuten or Uniqlo.

This Recruit 'discovery' will be used by many companies thankful for a new excuse not to need English.

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"Japan has a first-rate education system..."

In my opinion, it doesn't. It has schools to teach discipline/cultural expectations and jukus that teach to the test. Educational deficiencies and misguided strategies are the reason why Japan has trouble with any meaningful language application or deep understanding of the material being taught. The danger with the English craze that is going on right now is that some private universities will allow students in on the basis of English alone. They study grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, etc, and then have some sort of basic oral interview around a question like "Why did you chose this school?" Not very challenging stuff.

As a result, private high schools now offer English-focused courses that prepare kids for this type of examination, completely neglecting class hours in many other subjects like science, math, social studies, and even Japanese. These kids may score high on tests like TOEIC, but can't finish an algebra problem, or write a well-worded Japanese essay. It doesn't surprise me that the "good" English speakers are not getting hired in larger numbers. Even if they could speak English fluently, they would have very little to say. In fact, their lack of knowledge and skill in things like science, math, and Japanese probably prevent them from getting hired. The job world, it seems, does not value English like the universities pretend to.

As valuable as I think English is for anyone looking to expand their career opportunities, I have to admit that Japan is the exception to the rule. The vast majority of their companies simply don't want to create a system where English ability is more important than following orders or putting in obscene hours for the "team". They don't understand how to utilize a multi-lingual workforce, especially for businesses that cater to the domestic market only. In addition, they don't feel any pressure to change because their workers aren't exactly banging down the doors demanding opportunities to use a language that most of them were reluctantly pushed into learning as kids. Things may change, but in a society with so many old people at the top and very few young people at the bottom, change is not anywhere near likely.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Perhaps you'd like to explain your logic to Mikitani-san and his reasoning behind his push to move Rakuten into an all-English company. Or to Mizuho Group or Nikko Group who are finding that the lack of language one of their biggest barriers to expanding into global companies. The second one interestingly being people so immersed in Japan group-think that although they may be ideal candidates for working in Japan but are paperweights outside the country borders.

Yes, perhaps at present people can continue finding jobs without English. But with the under-performing stock market, strong yen, aging society and the continual push to look overseas within a global economy, Japan and you better shed all excuses to remain introverted.

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The Japanese will tackle the speaking phase, with bandana tied tightly, in a mad dash to master the speaking phase, when the time is ripe. This is inevitable.

apple407,

Are you sure about that?? Its been ripe now for 3+ decades, so what do you think Japan is waiting for??

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This article is a joke, but hey its a tabloid so its what ya get LOL!!

I mean come on the low number of job hunters with some or decent english ability simply reflects that the percentage of these poeple in Japan is, well low, so what did they expect LOL.

And of course MOST dont need english because this is Japan, wow who wudda thunk that.

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tokyochris: Japan has a firt-rate education system, a high standard of living, many multinationals with locations all over the globe and one of the highest percentages of int'l travel and yet are at the lower end of English fluency in Asia. Go figure. A cultural reason for sure, but one I've yet to figure out.

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I wonder how many native English speakers can reach that level...

Read 残念な人;英語勉強方 if you are interested in this - the authors of that book got native speakers from a load of different professions, ages and backgrounds to try the test (including people who had finished graduate school etc.) and not one of them got a perfect 100% score.

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Oh, and one other point - why is Japan constantly smashed by the rest of Asia in TOEIC scores? What is going so wrong here in comparison to neighbouring countries?

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but TOEIC is useless for conversing in English. I know a High school (Japanese) English teacher who has a toeic score in the late 800s, but can not put together a sentence in conversation. Its the same with the JLPT - just because you can read up to JLPT1 doesn't mean that you can speak Japanese. 2 completely different sides of the same coin.

Depends on how it is backed up really. The same could be said of the JLPT, but it motivated me to really brush up on my grammatical knowledge in Japanese and helped a lot in that aspect. Of course, learning to speak is by far the best way to learn any language (as with almost any skill, application >>> studying)

TOEIC could be a really useful motivator for students to raise their overall levels of English understanding, but that alone isn't enough and people need to realise that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Of course companies doing strictly domestic business don't need English and multinationals do. But going forward many more companies are searching for profits overseas(which has been accelerating in recent years), so that dynamic will change dramatically. The percentage of fluent english speakers MUST increase to compensate.

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Relative to the history of modernization of Japan, the realization of the need to speak English is new. Japan, as in most areas, is still in a transitional stage in this modernization process. First the reading and writing, which to a native English speaker makes no sense, but to the highly system oriented Japanese, it is a process, the easy phase first. The Japanese will tackle the speaking phase, with bandana tied tightly, in a mad dash to master the speaking phase, when the time is ripe. This is inevitable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Totally meaningless survey and article. The fact that Japanese guys got jobs in Japanese firms without good English skills does not mean that it would not be beneficial to have good English ability. It states the guys were dissuaded from applying at companies where they were told English was important. So, this is nothing but a self-fulfilling prophecy. Especially since the size of the work-force here is shrinking. You would expect there to be jobs avaialble. Also, this "survey" does not say how many other jobs they could have been eligible for with good English, or if those jobs paid more and/or had better long-term potential. This is just a Japanese print company trying to justify its continued reason for being.

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More likely, the decline may be due to recent factors like Japanese firms not being able to supply robots for dealing with the Fukushima reactor accident. Several years ago, a group affiliated with METI produced a humanoid robot in the shape of an attractive female. All she could do was dance and sing.”..............................

J-Government should appoint Kaori Natsume head of METI

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"but TOEIC is useless for conversing in English. I know a High school (Japanese) English teacher who has a toeic score in the late 800s, but can not put together a sentence in conversation. Its the same with the JLPT - just because you can read up to JLPT1 doesn't mean that you can speak Japanese. 2 completely different sides of the same coin."

I agree with this. From what I have read about this system of learning and the Japanese love of test, they teach you how to score high on the test which mostly involve writing and reading but not speaking which puts them at a large disadvantage outside of school where you most likely would have to speak english instead of reading or writing in it.

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I've seldom read a more incoherent article. English is required for enterprises that wish to operate internationally and not, of course, for those which do not. A manager at a company where I worked gave me some insight: those who are confident in their English ability will reach out for assistance when challenged and not try to reinvent the wheel, and that makes a more efficient and productive employee. This has nothing to do with fluency; it has everything to do with eagerness to employ linguistic ability. I hope that, someday, corporate needs will filter down to primary education.

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All this article shows is that Japanese companies are lagging behind in terms of realising the importance of English. Want to do business in Thailand, Korea, China and the Philippines? Well, you could learn Thai, Korean, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin to cover most regions), and Tagalog... or you could just learn English.

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wanderlust: A Japanese woman said the same about a big multinational company from my country for their hiring over-seas educated Japanese who speak fluent Engish but do not know anything about the business life in Japan and have no connections here. It is simply a mistake.

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I agree with himehentai. There are some highly educated English "speakers" in Japan who look like they are dropping a terd for every word.

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Conversely there are many Japanese companies with expensive bilingual office staff, educated overseas and lived abroad who boast that they can speak English fluently, but that is all that they can do. Administrative, marketing, sales, research and other abilities are zero. Foreign companies in particular are susceptible to employing these types, as their monolingual bosses are impressed and comfortable talking with them, and overlook the fact that most are useless.

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but TOEIC is useless for conversing in English. I know a High school (Japanese) English teacher who has a toeic score in the late 800s, but can not put together a sentence in conversation. Its the same with the JLPT - just because you can read up to JLPT1 doesn't mean that you can speak Japanese. 2 completely different sides of the same coin.

I feel bad for these salarymen actually. The companies should be providing in house english lessons for them. Im not sure its a good thing to be having all these Japanese people speaking to each other in (probably incorrect) English with no native speakers to supervise. Seems like a recipe for disaster ...

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The love-hate relationship with English in Japan may be about the most bizarre one in the world. Literally hundreds of billions of yen a year are spent (wasted?) and for what? A majority of people who learn to despise the language and its ridiculousness and more and more people realizing that they will never need it per se to live a happy and fulfilling life in Nippon. Most ironic is the reality that students with excellent English skills realize too late that they wasted their time and now are stuck as working poor and will have little hope of escape because they didn't go to a famous name university or have the right family connections to become a politician or the prime minister.

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Those with scores of 800 or above accounted for only 8.8% of the total landing new jobs.

I wonder how many native English speakers can reach that level...

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