lifestyle

'Englishisation' - Is it working?

70 Comments
By Elliot Silverberg for EURObiZ Japan

Yuki Wachi and her husband cannot speak English, but they send their five-year-old daughter Tamami to a preschool where English is the primary language of instruction. Once Tamami finishes kindergarten and enters the Japanese public school system, Wachi and her husband will commit an additional ¥100,000 per month to after school English lessons for their daughter.

“The ability to communicate in English is more important these days,” says Wachi. “We don’t want our daughter to miss out on her future just because she can’t speak English.”

The Wachis’ focus on English reflects Japan’s growing concern about its population’s ability — or lack thereof — to communicate in a language widely regarded as the international business world’s lingua franca. The Shinzo Abe government announced in 2013 a major educational reform program aimed at improving the English proficiency of Japanese students by 2020, just in time for the Tokyo Olympics. Japanese companies — such as Nissan, Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) and Rakuten — are investing millions to teach their employees English — and making proficiency a term of employment. International schools, such as Tamami’s preschool, are also in high demand by parents who believe that learning English is the key to ensuring their children are successful in the global economy.

“Without English, it’s very difficult to compete on a global level,” said Hiroshi Mikitani, co-founder and CEO of Rakuten, during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in 2012. Mikitani, who coined the term “Englishisation” when he ordered his firm to adopt English as its company language, added, “Lack of English communication skills really prevented us [Japan] from being a global leader, so we really need to wake up and open our eyes.”

It is not for lack of trying that even white-collar workers in Japan struggle with English. The language has preoccupied Japan almost ever since it first opened its doors to the United States a century and a half ago.

Shigeki Takeo, dean of Meiji Gakuin University’s Faculty of International Studies, traces Japan’s difficulty with English to after the Meiji Restoration of the late-19th century, when the Japanese were able to adopt Western culture while maintaining their native language. Because the Japanese no longer need an adequate command of English to appreciate a Hollywood film or purchase a McDonald’s burger — effectively domesticating Western culture — they “cannot easily acquire the motivation to learn English,” says Takeo.

As a result, Japanese students tend to score comparatively low on English-language tests. According to an official summary of scores on TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in 2009, out of 30 Asian countries Japan (67) ranked second from the bottom in mean score, behind China (76), North Korea (75) and South Korea (81).

Even as Japan’s quarter-century economic recession has hastened a tide of xenophobic nationalism — spurred by fears that neighbouring rivals, China and South Korea, are surpassing it — Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has tried three times in the past 15 years to revise its English-language curriculum for the elementary through high school levels.

MEXT’s most recent attempt centres on three fundamental changes to the existing curriculum, said Takashi Katsuragi, who began working on the government’s education reform program in 2014.

First, elementary school students will be introduced to English earlier, in the third grade instead of the fifth grade. Second, students from the fifth grade onward will be subjected to frequent evaluations based on a combination of objective and subjective criteria, such as scores on EIKEN (Test in Practical English Proficiency) and GTEC (Global Test of English Communication), as well as teacher assessments of students. And third, middle and high school students will be expected to practice using English in “simple information exchanges” and “high-level linguistic activities [presentations, debates, negotiations]” designed for them to achieve fluency by the time of graduation.

The learning experience, often a tedious process, must be interactive and enjoyable for any subject — whether mathematics, science, history or English — to be comprehensible, according to Saburo Kagei, headmaster of St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo.

“Learning is a whole lot easier when it’s fun,” says Kagei. “Many teachers will call it the hook, and you’ve got to have a hook if you want to lure in your students.”

Japan’s attempts to improve its people’s understanding of English extend far beyond the country’s public sector; the private sector is also making efforts, albeit with mixed results. Rakuten may be the most well-known example. But Nissan, owing to its 15-year alliance with the French car manufacturer Renault, has long demanded of its senior employees a fixed level of English proficiency, too.

“We want to continue raising the average TOEIC [Test of English for International Communication] score of our Japanese employees from 600 — where it is now — to 700, 750, and finally 800, which we feel is a good enough score to work in Nissan’s global business,” says Hirokazu Takebata, a manager in the automobile giant’s human resources division. To this end, Nissan offers employees who are underperforming on TOEIC a variety of English-language training courses and specialised seminars on cultural diversity.

MEXT, like Nissan, has made the promotion of cultural exchange a priority in its efforts to prevent Japan from lagging behind in today’s globalised world.

“One of the main reasons to study English is to explain and exchange ideas,” adds Katsuragi. “If Japanese people can speak English more fluently, they will have more opportunities for work abroad.”

Takebata is of the same mind.

“Before entering Nissan, Japanese workers should have a lot of cross-cultural experience using English,” he says “Cross-cultural — or cross-company —business will be expanding in the future so … our employees will need to be comfortable communicating with people from other parts of the world.”

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


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This article couldn't have been written in Scotland 300 years ago.

Where is the Gaelic language now?

-15 ( +1 / -16 )

The biggest shake up will come from introducing a speaking test in the Centre Test for national university entry. Then every high school in Japan will have speaking courses - until then nothing will change and MEXT can go whistle in the wind.

22 ( +22 / -1 )

Wachi and her husband will commit an additional ¥100,000 per month to after school English lessons for their daughter.

Lol, that is stupid, if not impossible even. They should invest in some common sense lessons for themselves.

5 ( +17 / -12 )

Lol, that is stupid, if not impossible even.

Definitely not impossible. And what makes it stupid?

4 ( +10 / -6 )

The biggest shake up will come from introducing a speaking test in the Centre Test for national university entry.

Never happen.

Logistical nightmare to mark, they'd have to outsource all the thousands of spoken responses India for assessment. And of course not objective.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

Strangerland are you kidding??? 100000 a month for English lessons could get you 5 private lessons a week, let alone group lessons!! For a 6 year old???? No-one does that. It's "impossible" because you just wouldn't have enough time if you were living a normal 6 year old's life. And it's stupid because instead of wasting this much money on English lessons for years you could just go abroad for a year when you're older, become equally fluent and spend 10% what you'd have blown on English "lessons".

1 ( +10 / -9 )

Yes - I believe STEP Eiken estimate they need to recruit about 22,000 examiners for this purpose - Aoyama, Sophia and Rikkyo Universities are starting this system soon - Google TEAP test with STEP Eiken

2 ( +2 / -0 )

GET RID OF THE EIKEN STEP TEST NOW! Shudder.......

Eiken is one of the biggest reasons kids can not improve. It is a writing based test (joke) multiple choice test focusing on grammar and if they pass the "written" portion from Grade 3 and up, the have an interview that and extension of the writing, but they have to do it verbally.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Strangerland are you kidding??? 100000 a month for English lessons could get you 5 private lessons a week, let alone group lessons!!

With some guy whose only qualification is that he speaks English. Quality English education with certified teachers costs a lot more.

It's stupid because instead of wasting this much money on English lessons for years you could just go abroad for a year when you're older, become equally fluent and spend 10% what you'd have blown on English "lessons".

First off, 100,000/month isn't a lot of money. Next, doing things as cheap as possible doesn't necessarily mean that it's better. Third, maybe they also intend to send their kid overseas for a year in the future. And finally, gGoing abroad for a year isn't realistic or desirable for many people.

You ridicule their plan because it doesn't match how you would do it, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.

-10 ( +5 / -15 )

How can a person explain and exchange opinions in English when they have almost no experience to do so? Japan really should put importance on English communication competency, instead of understanding of complex structure of grammar. Otherwise goals mentioned in the article are not achievable.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

What kind of lessons and teachers are you envisaging?? How much do you think private lessons are, or you are imagining??

I know that I pay 50,000/month for my kid to go to Saturday school, at an international school with certified teachers, and it isn't one of the top international schools. They charge even more.

Just because you only know eikaiwa, doesn't mean that eikaiwa is all there is.

100,000 a month isn't a lot of money??? That make me think you have no idea of the industry you purport to know about. Makes me wonder if you're just trolling

You're the one talking about 'the industry', not me.

And money is all relative. For many people, 100,000/month isn't a lot of money.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Nonsense, all of it. Learning English guarantees nothing. What happens when their daughter becomes fluent in English and decides to become a housewife?

The people that want to learn English as a TOOL to help them achieve their LARGER GOALS (like international business, etc) figure out how to learn English. And they speak English WELL.

Most people aren't interested in English because most people aren't really interested in ever leaving Japan.

Until Japan sees itself as one country among MANY in the Global Village, and not some super unique special private island that no foreigner can possibly understand, few people will put in any effort to actually learn English.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

First of all the folks at the education ministery should come up with REAL teaching plans and decent teaching material. What I have seen and used so far for public 5th and 6th grade elementary school students is just BS.

As far as EIKEN goes ..... well, I have seen better, I have seen worse testing material.

Concerning sending your kids to some Eikaiwa school .... oh well, once or twice a week for one hour will not turn them into native or close to native speakers. But maybe still better than nothing?

In reference to the fee you have to pay, well, I always compare it to driving a Dai... Minica and a Merc ..Be.. 500. Both have 4 wheels, seats, and so on ... but there is this "slight" difference. Same with the fee for English classes: you get what you pay for.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

What happens when their daughter becomes fluent in English and decides to become a housewife?

Maybe she'll marry an English-speaker due to her ability to speak English. Or maybe her husband will be Japanese, but will like her due to her education, and ability to speak English. Or maybe she'll just use her English when traveling.

All sorts of reasons.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

frequent evaluations based on a combination of objective and subjective criteria

This is more than a waste of time and resources, it's off-putting and likely to make kids hate English even more.

What happens when their daughter becomes fluent in English and decides to become a housewife?

Then her kids will have the advantage of a mother who is able to teach them English from birth, rather than having to send them for expensive private lessons. And they will grow up thinking of English as something that is entirely normal and a part of everyday life, not just something that happens outside the home and that they have to swot at for 'frequent evaluations'.

The idea that people don't (need or want to) learn anything unless it leads to a 'larger goal' (=professional career) is rather sad and depressing. Stuff you learn for fun, because you enjoy it, because it gives you an immediate 'high', because it strengthens the bond with significant people in your life, is easier to learn and assimilate. And even if you never ever use it to achieve a 'higher goal', you've already achieved the goal of enjoyment in the learning of it.

You may as well say only people who want to be body-builders or Olympic athletes should/need to eat healthily. We can all enjoy our food, regardless of where it settles in our body.

10 ( +11 / -2 )

You may as well say only people who want to be body-builders or Olympic athletes should/need to eat healthily. We can all enjoy our food, regardless of where it settles in our body.

I wonder if it's an internet thing, or a 'these days' thing, that people seem to have an 'all or nothing' stance on everything.

Regardless, good post cleo.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I learnt english when I was in Kindergarten. My family always thought it was a great invertion for me and for my future. At the beggining I didn't understand why was I so pressured to learn another language, I thought I could learn it when I was older. Years passed by and went to collage and found out that most guys on my class where struggling with the language barrier, most of the articles our teacher presented us were in english, when they found out they needed the language to take a Ph.D most of them went to Canada or London to learn the language as fast as they could, they never learnt the language, thousands of dollars spent in those trips and they never learned the language because they found it complicated to learn. In my personal expierience, I grew learning english, I will never know how it happened, it came all "natural", they keep asking me why do I found english so easy, well I think it's because I grew learning it, it became part of my life. Now that I need to learn a new language I can understand their struggle. It's not easy learning a whole new language from zero. I think it's a good call to invest their money in their kid for learning a new language, it doesn't matter if it is english or german. If they have the money now then why don't do it? Maybe tomorrow it won't be as easy as it is right now or maybe it will be harder for the kid to learn. Investing in education is the greatest thing you can do for your kid. As most Mexican's parents tell to their children: "La única herencia que te dejaré será tu educación" "The only inherence I will leave you it's your education."

7 ( +8 / -1 )

In many cases this money paid doesn't get results so much as it gives the parents a sense of prestige, or a chance to "feel good" about themselves if you will.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

A couple of observations.

The attempt to improve English language skills is Japan isn't really working very well at all. I have a couple of nephews and nieces who study English in Elementary school and one in Junior high school and they can not speak or understand English in any kind of meaningful way at all. If I deviate out of very, very basic predictable language structures they are gone. Can't respond at all. I think this is because the systems of language teaching and learning are effectively useless or long outdated, and the teachers - especially the foreign teachers employed to teach it know absolutely nothing about the pedagogy of teaching and learning in any subject, let alone English. Being an English speaker doesn't mean you know anything about the language or how to teach it - part of the reason groups like NOVA dissolved: a vary flawed business model.

My other observation is a general objection to the idea that the majority Japan need to be 'Englishized' in any way, unless certain sections of the population need, or want to. If it's purely for business - then let the business take care of it. Businesses are very efficient at undertaking programs or improvements to suit their needs. Perhaps they need to partner up with Universities whom they draw candidates from to outline the kind of skills in candidates they need. These Universities may in turn, set requirements of certain schools and so on.

Perhaps English language need only be a specialised skill for those who are inclined or motivated, not some dull, lobotomised subject in schools that strangles any kind of love for the Language.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

In many cases this money paid doesn't get results so much as it gives the parents a sense of prestige, or a chance to "feel good" about themselves if you will.

The kids at my kid's international school seem to speak English to some degree. I can walk in and talk with them when I pick him up.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The idea that people don't (need or want to) learn anything unless it leads to a 'larger goal' (=professional career) is rather sad and depressing. Stuff you learn for fun, because you enjoy it, because it gives you an immediate 'high', because it strengthens the bond with significant people in your life, is easier to learn and assimilate.

You're missing my point. My point is this: If people in Japan want to learn English, they'll learn English. If their goal is to have fun, then that's the "larger goal."

I seriously doubt there're anybody in Japan who wants to learn English, but doesn't, because Japan's educational system isn't "Enlishized" enough.

The mistake is thinking that if they are FORCED to learn English, then they'll magically become more global and have a better career.

People aren't robots. You can't force them through an English education factory. If Japan is lacking in English skills, it's because Japanese don't want to learn English.

You guys make it sound like everybody in Japan is dying to get international jobs and become globally competitive, but they shrug their shoulders and give up since they aren't taught English in public schools.

Maybe it's because foreign English teachers in Japan see themselves as saviors of Japanese society.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

English is just one part of the education puzzle. My kids picked it up naturally in the home environment and it basically gave them a 200 point start when sitting for their university exams. That alone might have been the differences between success and tears.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's a tough choice. There are huge opportunity costs for anyone studying a second language. Those countless hours might have been better spent on studying to be a tax accountant, albeit a monolingual one. I think everyone should make the most of what they have. If you're not good at languages, then try something else. If you are lucky enough to have an English speaking parent (like Strangerland), then you should make the most of that unique advantage.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

2nd language education in Japan is a mess, needs to be stopped. Reinvented from the ground up otherwise we just continue to see these dismal results.

Glad I don't have kids growing up here, those that do I hope your ensuring your kids have a 2nd language to give them some better advantages the young people of Japan are going to need it big time!

4 ( +4 / -0 )

For a lot of young people they get 2 English classes a week in junior high school with a native speaking ALT if they're lucky and then end up in high school learning English directed towards producing the expected results on entrance exams rather than focusing first on communication ability. Some of them may very well be taking conversation classes as well as studying the language at cram schools. But it's always going to be bumped down in priority in favor of passing those tests. So unless the kids are lucky enough to have a grade head teacher who really wants them to speak English and gets the ALT on board with providing extra opportunities for learning and practice or else the system itself gets a complete overhaul, slapping personal quick fixes here and there is about the best any parent can do if they're really serious about their kids learning English that will help them in the real world.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

“We want to continue raising the average TOEIC [Test of English for International Communication] score of our Japanese employees from 600 — where it is now — to 700, 750, and finally 800, which we feel is a good enough score to work in Nissan’s global business,” says Hirokazu Takebata, a manager in the automobile giant’s human resources division. To this end, Nissan offers employees who are underperforming on TOEIC a variety of English-language training courses and specialised seminars on cultural diversity.

Most people here seem to think you can learn English from staring at a book or taking a test. They are dead wrong. It's been my experience that many people with high TOEIC scores cannot hold a very functional conversation in English. Scores can't help you when you are on the street and have to think on the fly. They look nice on a piece of paper but functionality speaks volumes. They need to revise all these tests and focus on speaking. Communication is key.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I've been hearing tongue flappings about improving the standard of English in Japan from chocolate teapot ministers (most of whom probably couldn't ask where the bank is in English - let alone understand the reply) ever since I got here and not something to be taken seriously. It's pretty much at the level of pronouncements like 'Beautiful Japan'.

Companies are in a far better position to improve English standards ( and other languages - I attend Chinese classes ) by offering courses and incentives to improve. My department also has a rule that all staff must converse in English with native-English speaking staff. This isn't the case in other departments where English isn't necessary and they get along just fine without needing to speak it. The majority of Japanese people do not need English. I work for a large manufacturing company doing business in many countries and I'd estimate only 20-30% of the staff at our office can speak reasonable English and far less than that at business level. Reasonably smart, open-minded ( a very important factor ),motivated people who need English improve quickly and I can't see the point in wasting more resources at school with results very likely to be similar to those we have now.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

chocolate teapot ministers

What is a chocolate teapot minister?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

gaijinfo - Sorry if I missed your point, I think you threw me with the dig at housewives and references to larger goals like international business.

My point is this: If people in Japan want to learn English, they'll learn English.

It's much, much easier to learn a language when you're young. If parents can give their kids (who let's face it, aren't on their own bat likely to be interested in learning a second language when they're barely fluent in their first, or even conscious of the existence of other languages) a bit of a leg up, why wouldn't they? The kid can choose later whether they want to use it, ignore it or build on it.

I made sure my own kids grew up bilingual from birth, in an age when it was frowned upon (they won't learn Japanese properly...). While neither of them are in international business or currently using English directly in their jobs, their ability to use and communicate in English is nothing but a huge plus in their lives.

What is a chocolate teapot minister?

Never heard the saying, as useful as a chocolate teapot?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

M3M3M3: Those countless hours might have been better spent on studying to be a tax accountant, albeit a monolingual one.

Kindergarteners, elementary schoolers, junior highers not really eligible to study for tax accountancy. High schoolers could but not much use without a work-worthy certificate at the end.

cleo: Never heard the saying, as useful as a chocolate teapot?

Nope, and still not getting it. :(

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One thing I've found with a lot of parents here reminds me of my dad's attitude.He loved to say,"Don't do as I do,do as I say." Some of my students' parents can't even hold down a how are you small talk convo,yet extoling on the kid to speak English.Along with the usual suspect of reasons to improve,parents leading from the front, in even some small capacity would help.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Point #1: For the majority of Japanese people, they will never really need English in their lives. Why is there such a big focus on it? Yes, it's helpful for international business, but how many people do they honestly expect to end up in this field?

Point #2: If they really want to raise a generation of bilingual Japanese people then English has to be incorporated into the culture. The reason why European countries are able to do so well learning English is because they constantly come across it in their own countries. They don't only use it in school.

8 ( +8 / -1 )

Hi Cleo,

Just wanted to comment on your post; "Then her kids will have the advantage of a mother who is able to teach them English from birth..."

My neighbor's ex-wife is fluent in English. She loves to travel and visiting foreign countries yet she doesn't tutor her own daughter who is struggling in English and all her subjects. The daughter is sent to juku but it doesn't seem to help as she's been going for quite a few years now and still is not able to read or write or speak English or perform well in her other subjects. My neighbor wishes his ex-wife would tutor their daughter instead of berating and belittling her.

So, some children will learn and love to speak in English but whether they grow up to instill a love of learning a second language by teaching their offspring is questionable. Weeell, perhaps most will but some might not...

3 ( +4 / -1 )

According to Education First's English proficiency index (some 2m people took identical tests online in 44 countries) Japan isn't that bad, middle of the pack. They consistently rank higher than France, Italy, and Mexico to name a few (based on results from the 2million who took EF's test, not school scores). The top 5 shuffle in order every year since the first survey in 2011, but the Swedes are always at or near the top, and according to a Swedish article...

"So why are Swedes so good at English?"

"There are several reasons," explained a Swedish participant. "We learn early in school, there are TV and radio shows in English (not dubbed in the foreign country's native language like most are in Japan), even commercials... but even outside of school English is considered to be a high status language, kids think it's cool. And it helps that English is also Germanic-based."

Here's the EF's test: http://www.ef.edu/test/#/ and the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EF_English_Proficiency_Index

The test is a half-hour adaptive exam online, meaning questions are adjusted based on a participant's previous answers. You can also try it in a few other languages. I thought it was interesting.

Basically, those who consistently rank high on English tests are those who enjoy it.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

DenTok2009 - Yeah, being able to do something doesn't mean a person will do it. But at least the choice is hers; with no English ability not even the choice is there. Personally I feel sharing English books and cartoons with kids from an early age and instilling the idea that a second language is enjoyable, rather than berating and belittling them for their failure to do well at juku and instilling the idea that English (or any subject) is something that makes life more difficult, is the way to go: it appears your neighbour's ex sees things differently.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Japan isn't nearly as bad as people think in English ability. It's kind of sad considering how much pressure they put on learning it and how much money is spent developing their poor curriculum, but still, anyone who's travelled around Japan and around the world knows Japan's alright.

There is no secret to learning a second language. Expose yourself to it, study with other motivated students is best, and have a great teacher. And study, study, study using music, books, movies, friends, the net and so on. I personally don't believe you need to spend 100,000 yen a month.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

'Japan isn't nearly as bad as people think in English ability.'

I think an important point is many Japanese people think their English ability is very poor which can contribute to the blind panic and ensuing loss of common sense when dealing with an English speaker. I remember my brother visiting me in Japan after going to Thailand, Vietnam and China ( his first visit to Asia ) and saying he found Japanese people's pronunciation of English the easiest to understand of those 4 countries but found the Japanese the least likely to engage in conversation with him. I find many Japanese have a self-defeating attitude towards English.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

A few years back I helped out at a friend's English School's summer classes. Toddlers were there that needed help eating their lunches, they certainly couldn't speak English - they couldn't even speak Japanese! But older kids that had been at the pre-school daycare for a few years had native-level English. They'd tell jokes, muck around, play and study all in English. Almost all students were 100% Japanese, and usually from families who couldn't speak English. It was inspiring to see.

If they have the money, they should spend it. If their child grows up and doesn't NEED it, so what. That's their choice, but it helps forge who they'll be and gives them opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have.

I wish the Wachis well!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Point #1: For the majority of Japanese people, they will never really need English in their lives. Why is there such a big focus on it? Yes, it's helpful for international business, but how many people do they honestly expect to end up in this field?

So why are parents spending good money on their children learning it if there's no need for it?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Point #1: For the majority of Japanese people, they will never really need English in their lives. Why is there such a big focus on it? Yes, it's helpful for international business, but how many people do they honestly expect to end up in this field?

In a more globalized world, Japanese companies will need more employees speaking English. Companies like the ones mentioned above will either hire English-speaking Japanese, or outsource everything but top-level managers out of the country.

What's going to happen to Japan - especially once TPP is ratified - when its great companies offshore themselves to compete in the world?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What if we had English programs during prime time? Wow. Kids would find it kakko-ii. I know my kids were quite against English until we visited family back home. I believe kids have to enjoy the language if not they'll never do well in it. It's a problem also of a narrow education. The gov't pressing English education is not the same as leading. TV in English would really put their money where their mouth is.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The whole argument against not ever needing English was a lot more relevant before the internet. Japanese people who don't speak English can't read this site - which is relevant to Japan. Japanese people who don't speak English are limited to information that can be found in Japanese - which is a lot less information than can be found in English. They may not need English, but English can open up a whole world of knowledge without ever having to leave their phones.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The point about some Japanese people not needing English so therefore it is not important to teach all students is just plain stupid. When was the last time your used calculus? Or someone asked you about the Heian period? Learning is a process that builds on itself and leads to a complete person. If English skills are increased for all students in Japan that has value in it of itself. Furthermore if only 20 percent of Japanese end up using English you do not know which 20% that will be at age 6 or 16. But you do know that more will use English in their careers than calculus.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@zurcronium I'm not saying English isn't important and I think all students should be taught English up to high school where it should be an option. The general standard of English in Japan is poor despite it being compulsory in high schools and it is clearly educational time that has been wasted for very many. Japan has been flogging this dead horse for ages and it's time for a new approach. This is more a question of being practical and making better use of lesson time rather than making value judgements about the ability to speak English. Six years of English lessons producing a majority who can't hold a conversation about the weather or tell you the way to the station? Idle talk from the government about raising English standards to the level of presentations and debate in high school gets dusted off every few years and amounts to absolutely nothing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe learn Esperanto, a much easier language and then with that context go and learn English or whatever. Too often English isn't respected and by the time the kids will use it, no English speaker will have a clue what they're saying. Learn the language as it really is, not how they want it to be. Other countries don't have this problem to the extent of Japan. 6 years has been an utter waste of time. Start over

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

While speaking is clearly a problem, I've found that after six years in junior high and high school, first-year university students are pretty competent.

Every year I ask them, in the first class, to spend five minutes writing a self-introduction in Japanese, making it as lively and interesting as they can. The following week I return their efforts and ask them to translate them into English, without a dictionary or any other help. Ninety per cent do an excellent job.

So they learn plenty in those six years. The trick is overcoming shyness and panic when asked actually to communicate....

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Lucabrasi - what are they studying and what level university are you at?

The fact that you are at a university says a lot about your sample size. But I doubt you could say to history majors that most of the books on the reading list were in English only and assume that the class could just get on with it. In many countries in Europe, this would be expected - a university level student would be expected to be fluent in English, much as they would be expected to ride a bike or know how to swim.

In Japan, having some English fluency is usually seen as unusual, particularly if gained from only six years of study. It is not an expectation.

I appreciate that it is not fair to compare European and Japanese English ability, but I am always struck by the lack of ambition.

'English is difficult. Japanese cannot learn English. We must perfect our Japanese first before we try and learn another language. Japanese do not need English. '

The list of excuses for not succeeding is ingrained before they start learning. They expect to fail. What chance have they got?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@Burning Bush - You'll find Gaelic on BBC Alba TV and radio, and in many Scottish schools.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have a friend who works at Rakuten and let me tell you - things aren't changing simply because attitudes aren't changing. 99% of Rakuten employees would avoid English if they could, and this is by amd large the attitude across most of corporate Japan. Multiply that by a factor of a hundred for the education system.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

My daughters speak English, but the parents of her friends would rather send their kids to "English courses" than make friends with my daughters (stay away from the foreigners!).

5 ( +5 / -0 )

99% of Rakuten employees would avoid English if they could

This is very surprising considering that close to 20% of their employees in Japan are non-Japanese. Surely you mean 99% of the Japanese employees right?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japanese always say THEY WANT TO SPEAK ENGLISH. but the truth is , they DON'T...it is part of the SHAKOUJIREI culture here, where they just say "EIGO HANASERU TO II NA~" but they don't really mean it. The number of parents like the Wachis are very very rare. I am currently working in a foreign company and my colleagues are all fluent in English, however they always avoid to use it, they think English is Mendokusai. So I still end up improving my Japanese skills to communicate with them.

I think all these English education capmaign is just because of the Olympics,after the Olympics I don't think things will change here.

look at the bright side...this is good for expats and translators ;-)

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's definitely tough, but as the guy mentions I think the biggest problem is lack of motivation or need to learn English. People can get by with just Japanese in Japan without any issues at all, so until there are some real-life examples of being heavily disadvantaged without English, the motivation to learn won't arise I don't think..

Of course, those willing to put in the hours of learning English and attaining proficiency will be the ones who make it to highest paying jobs

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I don't know that this is correct - I've known lots of English speakers who don't have particularly high positions or salary. I'd say it's more accurate to say that those who make it to the highest paying jobs will often be those who have put in the time and effort to learn English.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

talaraedokkoMar. 15, 2015 - 09:44PM JST

What if we had English programs during prime time?

I have been learning English more than 3 decades, lived in the US for 2 years as a graduate student, passed Eiken 1 kyu, scored 990/990 at TOEIC, and still cannot fully understand dramas in the English language. Learning a second language is a never ending job.

Watching TV programs in English would be boring to most of the Japanese for they cannot understand a bit, and would not contribute their English skills.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

We didn't have this problem where I come from, because we never forced it and never called it "Englishization". If it sounds like a disease, of course people will avoid it.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One thing can't wrap my head around is the amount of time Japanese students seem to spend "studying" and at school yet seem to be no better informed or educated, no more intelligent and certainly less empowered than my half arse effort at a very normal high school where I barely made the very generous minimum attendance.. like most of the other people I grew up with, and the large majority of people I meet from elsewhere.

What are they doing all day, stretching into the evening and large parts of the weekend?

My point being there seems to be a fundamental cultural issue, and its very difficult to make a huge change from inside that fundamental issue.

I don't profess to have an answer, I don't pretend to understand something I don't understand, but if my day to day interactions, when they happen in English, are an indication of often 10+ years of education in a subject its pretty clear its quite broken.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

'Englishisation' - Is it working?

Not with that weird word it isn't. Wouldn't 'Anglicisation' be a more appropriate word?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You don't truly learn any language by taking a friggn' class once a week. Then being too damm culture-shy or "embarrassed" to actually use it. That is a reason it ("englishisation") aint' happening. Wanna speak real English? Go to the UK, USA, AUS, CAN, or NZ a couple times.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The idea that people don't (need or want to) learn anything unless it leads to a 'larger goal' (=professional career) is rather sad and depressing. Stuff you learn for fun, because you enjoy it, because it gives you an immediate 'high',

I think this is the issue here, it's not the quality of English Lessons/Teachers in Japan, you can improve all that and still youths would not learn English, you have to motivate them into learning English, even if they are not going to leave Japan ever.

If you could inspire people to learn English, they will learn, as Gaijinfo said:

The people that want to learn English as a TOOL to help them achieve their LARGER GOALS (like international business, etc) figure out how to learn English. And they speak English WELL.

Take my Nephew, for example, his mom and dad don't speak English, and the only source for "inspiration" comes from me that I do speak English. Still, I don't force him into reading books, taking lessons online or that stuff, I simply put a mix of his interests with English, for example on videogames, he alone goes to internet forums and sometimes in English, with music, I encourage him to look his favorite bands on the internet and he looks up the lyrics and ask me what they mean, although I don't make the translation for him, i explain the main point of a song and I tell him if the music itself matches up with the lyrics, sometimes yes, others don't, but now he concentrates on "absorbing" English in terms of comprehension and communication tool.

Last time he had to give an speech in English for his class, so I helped him only picking the topic, some grammar sentences and some pronunciation, he easily scored the best grade.

He's motivated alright, but some of his classmates aren't, causing some disparity at school because my nephew often gives the impression that it's so easy and for some it isn't and there is when a good teacher has to step up.

As for paying 100000 yen gosh that's a lot of money, for some people maybe little, but i think it is exaggerated for a 6 year old, in that case it's easier when the child is exposed everyday to the language and not once or twice a week (have you noticed that in some parts, when the household has international help (nanny, or cook, etc) the people in that house start to pick up their language? in a child it is even easier... )

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A big part of the problem with English teaching in Japan is the quality and professional development of Japanese (and, foreign) teachers of English. In short, the quality of teachers is low and professional development is almost non-existent. Most Japanese teachers of English (elementary, jr. and sr. high schools) and some foreign English instructors (at some large private English schools) are generally the lowest academic performers in their teaching programs, disciplines or may have no teaching credentials at all. They may have had a few classes or studied abroad; but they can’t speak (or write) English with any real fluency. Students, taught by these ill-prepared teachers, quickly pick up on this fact and it both discourages motivation and provides a negative role model for English acquisition. In terms of professional development, Japanese English teachers are required to take classes to improve their teaching, but the type of classes are dependent on the teacher’s interests and schedule and may have absolutely nothing to do with teaching or classroom management. And, unless one belongs to a professional association, there are no professional development programs in place to support foreign teachers of English.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

“Without English, it’s very difficult to compete on a global level,” said Hiroshi Mikitani, co-founder and CEO of Rakuten, during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in 2012. Mikitani, who coined the term “Englishisation” when he ordered his firm to adopt English as its company language, added, “Lack of English communication skills really prevented us [Japan] from being a global leader, so we really need to wake up and open our eyes.”

Less than a year ago I ordered something from Rakuten's online store. Since then ALL correspondence from them has been in 100% Japanese despite my account clearly indicating my residence is in the U.S. Apparently Rakuten has yet to "wake up and open" their eyes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Their *business side is conducted in English, their retail side is still in Japanese. Not withstanding, Rakuten doesn't actually sell anything but rather is a marketplace (online market) for Japanese retailers to sell their items (rakuten provides the venue), no regulation on those retailers being able to speak English.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I understand that, but the emails I'm talking about are from Rakuten, not the store I actually did business with.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I don't understand why some people can't learn another language, I barely went to school, and I know my english isn't good, but i can read everything on this web site and understand it, I only had english lessons from a public school in a 3rd world country... if people want to learn something they will, I can't put "english speaking" on a job application cause I don't have a degree or anything as proof, even though I can't use it for work, I'm glad I can see websites and talk yo other people that don't speak portuguese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Igor

It's down to need. People who are required to use a foreign language will do so. Those who aren't, won't

As the song goes "You'd work harder with a gun in your back for a bowl of rice a day."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Igor - if you had not said English was your second language i would never have known from that post. Your English is better than many natives I could mention.....!

Whatever it is you did - keep doing it. And import it to Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A 16th century Jesuit missionary, Saint Francis Xavier, described Japanese as the devil's language because it was so difficult to learn. I suppose from a reverse perspective, many Japanese might have similar feelings about English.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Learning any language comprehensively is a difficult task in itself. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are the basic skills to learn in any language - including English. However, the learner can only excel depending on some factors - but not restricted to:

To extend on Kagei Kouchou's statement*

"Learning is a lot more fun.." "Many teachers will call it the hook, and you've got to have a hook if you want to lure in your students"

-- May I humbly add; the teacher must have the correct bait at the end of that hook as well in order to retain and enhance the learning experience of the students.

The environment shapes the human/person; With opportunities, support/mentoring, Government legislations/programs, transparent and productive community and economic opportunities, any student can excel. -- Importantly.. Practise! Learners require all opportunities to practise their newly acquired skills.

I have a family with three languages spoken in the household; English is the second language. We communicate as much as we can in English to "better survive" in this time and age. Additionally, the other two languages are bonus for the entire family.

I look forward to what Japan as a nation can offer to increase the English literacy level. Not only that the 2020 Olympics is around the corner, but also to better its economic opportunities and status in the Global Market.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am starting to suspect the whole debate about English in Japan is missing its point.

When it comes to English, there are three types of Japanese:

People who actually need it and use it for work; professionals, doctors, scientists etc; usually speak it pretty well. Small group. Large group of people who can speak more than they admit, have maybe stayed abroad for some time, but have so few opportunities their English gets very rusty, to put it mildly. Vast majority of Japanese people who learn it in school as if they were studying Latin. Never use it because they only meet Japanese people, only do business with Japanese people.

I don't think this is that different from other countries with a language very different from English. (Thai people in the cities speak better English because they actually use it.)

I don't see any reason why anyone should expect that all Japanese people, including group 3, will become good at English. It is simply not necessary. And it is also not possible.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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