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Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?

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Because they are not from an English speaking country! Duh.

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because they dont have to and dont want to. I hear Hawaii is lovely this time of year

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Because most of them have very little need for english and can happily get by without.

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Zen Builder - agree. Also, because their approach to teaching English closely resembles one for teaching math or kanji - memorization, memorization, memorization. This simply doesn't work for languages. This, and the fear of making mistakes - many people will not speak unless they're ABSOLUTELY sure that what they are going to say is correct, and since you can never be sure... well, there you go.

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Because at school they don't study English, they study 'Katakana-Engrish'. Children are taught in their 'tekisutu buku' that 'the' is pronounced 'za'. No attempt seems to made to pronounce the many sounds that don't exist in Japanese. When you get off to such a bad start it's hard to recover. And with the ubiquitous Engrish on t-shirts, products, ads, notices etc there are countless examples of bad English to augment the bad teaching received in school.

That's why I have extra respect for Japanese who've managed to break out and actually pronounce the language... especially those who've never lived abroad. There are at least two such people in my office and I tip my hat to them.

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Because Monkasho is in charge of education.

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I meet so many Japanese everyday that speak great English. I think if one is an English teacher then one would believe that Japan's population has poor English skill. If one is involved in business, especially in Tokyo, then one would know that Japanese people speak English quite well.

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Most likely because at school they teach to pass a test and that is all. You can be the worst English speaker in the country but if you do well on the test, you can advance to a good school. And as DoctorTofu said, this approach simply does not work well for speaking a language. I am sure there other factors but I think this is the biggest one.

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If one is involved in business, especially in Tokyo, then one would know that Japanese people speak English quite well.

haha, no. Japanese based in Tokyo who need English for international business speak English quite well, about 1% of the population

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I think there is so much pressure in this country for people to speak it. Look at how many advertisements there are on television and how they try to get people to take up study. You know the ad where they have the businessmen playing with the soccer ball under the table, but one guy, the Japanese guy stuffs up the game because he can't control the soccer ball. Ads like this blatantly try to shame viewers into studying, "Well, one day you might need to speak English and won't it be embarrassing if you can't!!". But I think many people don't want to study, but just get sucked into it due to advertising campaigns like this.

Furthermore, how much English is enough? Honestly speaking, most people do need a little for travel, but are you going to talk about philosphy and economics when you travel overseas? I don't think so, probably where the toilets are, prices of things, eating, all pretty much basic stuff. And I think most students for the amount of time they spend studying can handle that stuff pretty well.

Considering that most people don't make studying a full-time job (which is what it needs if you really want to become really good at it) nor the time most Japanese do a fairly good job with it. I could go on forever about this topics ... /bleh.

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3 things...in no particular order...

Starting to learn English at too late an age. No chance to practice or engage in English conversation outside the classroom. Introverted personality traits. (see above)

S

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memorization, memorization, memorization. This simply doesn't work for languages.

Dead right. Yet the schools reinforce the idea that English can be 'learned' like history can be 'learned'. It's a completely different animal.

the fear of making mistakes

This too can be laid at the feet of the schools. Children are not given credit for what they can do, but penalised for the mistakes they make. So for example, if the the question is 'Would you like me to call you?', and the student answers 'Yes', he'll get full marks; but if he answers 'Yes please I'd like that very much' and makes a spelling or punctuation mistake somewhere, he'll lose marks; the lesson taught being, 'Say as little as possible, being dumb is better than making a mistake, however small.'

That, and I cannot count the number of times I've come across variations on the theme of 'English is difficult' in textbooks and workbooks. Plus teachers who conduct their lessons in Japanese and avoid talking to the 'foreign help' because they don't know enough English to hold a simple conversation, even though they're supposedly qualified to teach it. What does that tell the kids? 'Study English to a professional level and you'll still be rubbish at it.' Talk about subliminal messages.....

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To study a language successfully for communicative purposes, you need to be interested in communicating and willing to communicate in that language. Now, as some have noted here, there is little need for English to communicate in Japan - life can be lived comfortably without another language, just as in many English speaking countries. English gives some people here an advantage, but not like it does in some other places where the language can be a passport to a more satisfying or better life. Such is generally not the case in Japan.

However, if some huge crisis befell Japan, and the population actually needed the language to communicate with others over the long-term, the uptake of English (or whichever language was most utilitarian) would be phenomenal - of that I have no doubt. At present and for the foreseeable future, however, English in Japan is just an affectation, a school subject burden, a nod to internationalization. It is only taken seriously as a language in which to communicate by a relatively small few, and will remain that way until there is a pressing need for it.

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For the same reason that citizens of English speaking countries don't speak Japanese too well.

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As has been said by others, it's all down to the fact that many Japanese teachers & bureaucrats can't see that languages are there for communication - they are just phrases to be memorised and trotted out when needed.

A great example from my shogakko teaching days - I'd been teaching the kids that in English, if you are asked 'How are you?' - you can respond honestly. So 'fine', 'good', 'so-so', 'not good' are all valid and acceptable answers.

Later, at a Board of Education meeting I was tackled for this, as this type of honest reply would not be suitable during a business negotiation!

Yup, they wanted 5-11 year olds learning business English! D'oh!

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There is also the fear of failure in the Japanese class room. Kids can be ridiculed by their classmates or teachers for an incorrect answer. A question is asked and children are supposed to get it right the first time. This might work for mathematics, but it does not work for a foreign language. There is also the problem of individuality being surpressed in the class room, nobody wants to stick out.

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A question is asked and children are supposed to get it right the first time.

Plus the widely-held assumption that, like mathematics, there is and can be only one correct answer.

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Ha ha! This is a good one! after spending most of the last ten years teaching in private Jr and Sr high schools around Tokyo I am surprised most of these kids manage to speak Japanese, better less English! - Combining the facts that, sleeping in class is acceptable behavior and teachers will always give exact explanations of what is in tests, it comes as no surprise the ability to speak even the most basic phrases in English is only apparent in a few conscientious students. In my experience, it's less than 5% of high school graduates can answer the simplest questions using Janglish in response after six years of intensive English study. The joys of being the token 'gaijin sensei'

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"Plus the widely-held assumption that, like mathematics, there is and can be only one correct answer." I think that is just schools' way of doing things. Kids are brought up to believe that there is 1 correct answer for many other subjects too - like History or Science etc. Subjects over which in reality there is alot debate. But as long as English goes I must say that I met alot of people out here who speak very well and can definitely make themselves understood. And none of them had ever resided in an English speaking country. That's impressive. And it's a big difference from my own country (Italy) where one would really struggle to find someone to speak to in English even in Milan or Rome.

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3 reasons: they don't need it for a functional life in japan, the teaching methods suck, and they're generally dim-witted

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A large part of the problem is that the education system focuses on grammar and the technical parts of the English language, at the expense of learning conversational English. So, while many Japanese are better at English grammar than Americans, their pronunciation and ability to carry out a conversation is rather poor.

they're generally dim-witted

Would you like to clarify that statement? because if you're saying that the Japanese are less intelligent than other people, you're sadly mistaken.

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As long japan does not learn english, it can only help decrease number of english speaking global tourist/tourism.

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If Guts Ishimatsu was asked this question, he would say, "Eigo wakaranai - nihongo hanase!"

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A little off the topic, but i wonder how many foreigners, who have been here for 2,3,4 years or more, can speak, read & write Japanese ? For the average japanese, there may be no need for English. But, in professions like banking,import -export, medical profession, just to name a few, English is most definitely needed. Picking thru the comments above, a few do hit the nail on the head as there is more than 1 reason why the Japanese are weak in English. The schooling system(mombusho) is obviously the biggest problem. Lack of confidence is another along with fear of making mistakes. It seems as these days more parents are taking the matters into their own hands & enrolling very young children, as young as 1 or 2, into English conversation schools. Still to early to tell if this will bear fruit. But, hopefully it will at the least, clean up their pronunciation & help with their confidence & start realizing it's okay to make mistakes. As we said growing up "you learn from your mistakes".

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"To pass examinations students must learn facts, facts that are not necessarily relevant to each other or useful in life. The emphasis is on rote memorization. The facts, as approved in the boring books by the Ministry of Training, are not necessarily the facts as the world sees them. And these facts are not the facts that university exams test for! Enter the juku. Add extracurricular activities organized like paramilitary institutions, sleep deprivation, and what the director of FISA called "Japanese inability to use, filter or apply in any meaningful way the disparate facts memorized." Japanese kids hate school! Add to this mix that, generally speaking, Japanese do not communicate with each other well in the Japanese language, why, oh why, oh why would we expect them to communicate in English?" School is where they learn one thing only: How to be Japanese!

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For many Japanese taking english courses the goal doesnt even seem to be to learn english, the goal is to make it APPEAR they want to learn english.

Which many many achieve by simply signing up for classes, mission accomplshed! These people just want to give the appearance they are doing the good ole tried & true GAMBATTE giving it their all for 30min each week & then moan about how tough it is blah blah blah.

And then there is the problem that many dont want to stand out from the crowd so really dont go for it, just give the appearance of doing so.

The few who do learn english or other languages have to put up with a lot of crap from their fellow countrymen until they are in mid to late 20s then its ok if its known by others they can speak a foreign language

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What are you talking about? Everyone here speaks English perfectly.

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"For many Japanese taking english courses the goal doesnt even seem to be to learn english, the goal is to make it APPEAR they want to learn english".

This is extremely true. And many people learn English, not in order to learn English but to get out and make friends. I used to work for one of the larger schools and used to friends with some of the guys in head office. They said they handed out a questionnaire to the students once and asked, "Why do you want to learn English?". The number one reason was to find a marriage partner (Japanese partner, not foreign one). Other students I knew said they came just to make friends with people as they had no opportunity to make them anywhere.

It's all of these things which add up to give the impression Japanese can't speak English well. It's not that they can't but there are many factors which give that impression.

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Mastering English grammar requires a completely new way of thinking. English is hard for Japanese because of the structure of the language.

Entrance exams. There are teachers who don't take anything that's not on the exam seriously. This includes speaking.

In many classes, English is treated more of a science than a language. Many teachers "teach" English by dissecting a sentence, analyzing the grammar and finally translating everything into Japanese.
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RepublicofTexas So, while many Japanese are better at English grammar than Americans

...

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I think mostly because of lack of communication.

The guy who come to our lab are awful at the beginning. After 3 years (or 6, for those who go to PhD) of seminars, presentations, discussions in English, they become pretty good. Practice makes perfect, when the motivation is there

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Because Japanese look at English as a hobby or as a chance to talk to a Brappi,Matt Damon etc.There's no real need to learn it until it's TOO late and then the lament,"I should have studied English before" Other Asian countries peoples are hungry,which post war,middle class Japan is not.Which is why Japanese have the worst level English in Asia concerning tests. But if I lived at home until 30,35 and treating my mother as hotel staff,I'd probably feel that lame too.

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As a tourist visiting Japan, I found that the level of spoken English was pretty good. In fact I was quite surprised because I’d been led to believe that spoken English was very rare and very poor in Japan.

I found that the Japanese were far more surprised by my Japanese abilities. And that wasn’t always done in that legendary ‘patronising the foreigner’ fashion I often read about.

Two things that did stand out from the times we communicated with school kids was that the younger ones loved saying ‘hello’ and that the older kids had an oddly polite and slightly old fashioned style of speech – for example; “how do you do?” Perhaps that second example backs up the theory that the English taught in schools is not very flexible.

Finally, I quite admire the fact that the Japanese nation doesn’t need to be fluent in English as a whole. In Britain, we don’t need foreign languages to get by and by god, have we made great efforts not to learn any!

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Japan is not the only country with large numbers of grown men and women living with their parents. The problem is even more pervasive in Italy.

moonbeams ...

I meant the US as an example, but more broadly English speaking countries in general.

You definitely do meet more Koreans and Chinese for instance who are good at English than Japanese. So I don't think it has anything to do with the structure of the Japanese language.

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It is in the government's best interest that very few Japanese people learn English. Only the ruling elite can be afforded to be allowed to learn it (or they have interpreters). For the rest, convince them of some silly nationalistic rhetoric that they don't need it.

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Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?

Because the J. governments see English as a symbol of globalisation and a threat to Japanese-ness (see Hashimoto, 2003, if you're that way inclined).

Though I'm an English teacher I don't really have a problem with that - I respect and enjoy the differences that I experience in Japan, and if those differences are the result of Japanese-ness, then I hope resistance to English imperialism thrives.

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Because Japanese look at English as a hobby or as a chance to talk to a Brappi,Matt Damon etc.

Nah, sorry. I can't agree with this at all. Most of the Jr and Snr high schoolers get between four and eight English classes a week with summer intensive courses, English camps and juku classes. Their English test score is imperative to their further education. Most of the colleges and universities are requiring English interviews for a lot of courses. Therefor, they must have good scores (especially from private schools) to enter a University of reputation. However, from what I've seen, the schools' attitude towards English is all about reputation and averages with some easy tests, a bit of creative accounting, and the mandatory test explanation with hints/answers. It's almost farcical. The entrance interviews are no different. I have trained many seniors for their University entrance interviews and most of them come to me a month before the interview and ask me to help them train for their interview. However! I have never been asked in English. Most have 2nd level eiken from Jr high, but they haven't spoken a sentence of English since. Most can't even tell me where they live, so I give them a month's worth of training 1hour a week after school, which achieves absolutely nothing. BUT!!! The killer is....... They still pass their entrance interviews???? Even though, they would have a hard time spelling their name out loud. I'm not saying these kids are morons, but it's just the way the system works. It's not necessary to have a spoken command of English after six years of intensive study. They don't have to speak it to pass. Of course, there is the 5-10% of graduates who actually got a handle on English and their training and achievements are justified, but most of the kids I've seen go through the private schools have all been hand-fed everything they need to know to get through school or they get expelled to public school, where nobody gives a fat rat's anyway. Next is College, where 50% of your final grade is attendance and failing is 30% - That's real win win situation. Just show up and you pass! - Universities are a tad more strict, but still, almost impossible to fail. English??? Who needs it??? Every time I learn a new kanji I forget an English word :(

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the older kids had an oddly polite and slightly old fashioned style of speech – for example; “how do you do?”

Better than "wassup". That absolutely gets on my nerves.

In Britain, we don’t need foreign languages to get by and by god, have we made great efforts not to learn any!

Mostly true, but you have to remember, many many foreigners speak English. It's THE international language, whether you or I like it. No offence to the Japanese language, but I can't say the same about Japanese.

The most ironic thing is that the Japanese would win hands down if it came to the amount of English learning. English conversational schools everywhere, English signs, English written on clothes and bags, etc. It seems the more they try, the harder it gets. And you get those from poorer countries who just seem to pick up conversational English really quickly.

Having said that, I've met some Japanese who speak really really good English, and some of them have never really lived much abroad. But they all have one thing in common - they're outgoing, broad-minded people.

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maybe it's the japanese syllabary, and the fact that they all end in vowels (save n). this leads to the bastardisation of pronunciation. it's nothing new... how many english speakers can roll their 'rr' like in spanish? how many can correctly pronounce ш and щ in russian?

additionally, practice makes permanent, and many of these kids (and adults) are practicing with katakana instead of the roman script.

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commitment. most of them dont make it. The few who do achieve mastery or even competence focus in lessons at school (which are free) and im a school teacher, kids sit down and tune out in most classes, not just English. I know kids in my classes who are certifiably learning disabled, who wipe the floor in comprehension and communicative ability of students of far higher intellect by simply TRYING and listening in class.

Katakana english is a killer. many who study cant communicate effectively in simple terms abroad because their pronunciation is woeful. Those who master it ususally commit a lot of time to absorbing western media and audiovisual entertainment from different sources, and really LISTENING. instead of just clamming up during pronunciation exercises in classes. Theyd learn so much just by watching the lips of native speakers, and mimicking it. Its simple and effective.

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I wish I could have learned phonics when I was a kid.

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Wow! I thought these kids were learning English from Rap and Hip Hop....

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Unless people are saying Japanese are just stupid, which I assume they are not, it seems that they only explanations are things like poor teaching, low motivation, and lack of a truly immersive environment. When not the primary language used, these factors will make it almost impossible to learn a language to any useful level even if you spend years trying.

A good analogy for this is the case of ethnic Koreans who attend the special Korean schools here in Japan. I have met a lot of them, and even though they attended Korean school from K-12, and those schools taught and tested exclusively in Korean, 10 years later the ones not inherently interested in Korean culture and language struggle to have a half-decent conversation in Korean. They tend to read and write a lot better than their speaking skills would indicate, which is something else Japanese students of English often have in common. Nevertheless not speaking well embarrasses them, so it makes them even more reluctant to use it, which makes them seem less proficient than they are in a casual setting. There's a vast reservoir of knowledge in their heads but they never really learned to turn that into expression with any degree of confidence. In my experience many educated Japanese are much the same way -- they know a lot, they just don't really know what to do with it spontaneously.

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Because for the most part, they are lazy little oiks who do absolutely zero study outside of the classroom.

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.___.; I wouldn't really know... I have always thought Japanese "can't" take a better hold of English because of things like nationalism and self-contempt (and related issues).

There's this strange myth fostered by the Japanese themselves that goes: "Japanese language is unique, because it is so complex only people with Japanese genetic build could master it" (nationalistic view). Then there's the corollary: "Japanese are genetically built to speak their own unique language, which is the Japanese language, therefore Japanese are not built to speak foreign languages; specially Western languages which are incomprehensible in their structures" (self-contempt view).

I kid you not. I have been told such things by young Japanese with amazing candidness. It was not till I heard about Nihonjinron that I began to glimpse how could such myths come about.

Japanese are convinced that one of the wonders of Kana is it supposedly can reproduce the sounds of all world languages close to perfection, which is not all that close. I have even been told things like, because Western languages use alphabets, it becomes obvious that Western words have no meaning, only sounds. This supposedly makes Western words harder to memorize. When I explained about Latin and Greek roots, and word morphology which serves the exact same purpose as Kanji to understand a word upon looking at its composition, I got mystified and amazed looks. "That can't be" they said, "because alphabets show letters have no meaning when they are not together." It was my turn to cast them a mystified, amazed look.

It is an undeniable truth that most Japanese seem to speak poor English with tortuous pronunciation, but I am also convinced that lack of skill has nothing to do with "genetics" or with "being Japanese." That is just and plain nonsense. Their problem is not "being Japanese." Their problem is the deficient English learning system in Japan.

I am convinced that one of the most important reasons why Japanese can't learn English better from their English teaching system is, because the system itself is inadequate, full of aforementioned unconscious and pervasive myths that both cripple the learning experience and sabotage the pleasure of learning a new way of expression. Languages cannot be learned without a basic knowledge of the cultures from which such languages emerged, and Japan (as an insular country) tends to ridicule and compare itself to all foreign culture and behavior. In Japan, the need to come on top in cultural terms goes beyond the average insular country. There are social traumas that were born with World War II which to this day cripple the way Japan looks at itself and to the world. The persistent use of Kana to teach other languages and the demand for "native speakers" most of which have no pedagogic credentials to teach, let alone teach a language, is a clear example of this.

Taking a look at English teachers, what is their image? I don't mean the truth about them, just the image attached to them. Yes, "Engrish teachers!" a chorus of people would correct me.

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I feel bad about this, but I'm kind of glad they don't speak better conversational English.

Japanese IT workers are paid about 1/2 to 1/3 the amount of a similar US worker. If they actually spoke it as well I would view them way more threatening to my career versus Indian IT workers (which just aren't up to US standards usually).

I'm an IT consultant and I work with Fujitsu IT consultants everyday here in the US. None of them are Japanese, they are all American workers because of companies Fujitsu acquired. However, if they started to bring over Japanese educated IT professionals that spoke very good English? You could pay a Japanese IT worker double what they make now in Tokyo and it would still be less than most of us make in the US.

On the other hand, outsourcing is a fact of life that I've have come to accept, and as someone later in his career that tends to lead projects, I wonder if my projects may be more efficient if the outsourced work was done by J-IT instead of India-IT.

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Again, don't understand the questions made by Japan Today. If they already speak "better English" already then why ask the question.

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At one time I used to blame the high school teachers. However, they are doing their job well. The problem is their job is to get their students through exams which put too much attention on grammatical accuracy. They do that well. So, where does the fault lie? It lies in the job description, get them through the exam, and with those who set it. In fact, it lies with those who have decided to teach students never to make mistakes and not to take chances. I teach students that it is ok to speak English badly and make mistakes because if they don't, they will never make progress and speak it well later.

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Let's be honest. Not speaking English in front of others, who can't speak English is a way to avoid being ostracized from the group. I've been told by highly educated, elite natives, that even though they go to attain MBA's at prestigious Universities abroad, which requires a prodigious amount of English study (and ability), when they return to these shores, if they show their ability at a meeting with other natives (many times in higher positions), they fear being hated by these people, and worry that it might affect their promotions. So even those who can speak well, pretend not to be able to in such situations. At another No. 1 ranked company, I was invited to help the employees with their e-mails with overseas clients. Then he asked me to make a presentation for new comers who might like to study in the future. When I made the test up, he called me into a private room and very angrily insisted, "We don't want to speak the English of foreigners!"

Being surprised by his comment, I asked some other people at the company about it, and they mentioned as I've written above. In short, not speaking "Eego" is politically correct among the masses, and used only at "International conferences" or other non-politically charged situations.

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who cares? been in japan almost 20 years and this is still debated to death

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No need to even speaker better than this. What for and for who's sake. A lot of native English speakers who have lived here for more than 20 years but still can't speak Japanese as good, so what's the big deal here?

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Not a big deal.

Just some guys don't want to accept that outside tourist areas, business, etc not many people are good at english.

Got to any country in the world and venture outside the tourist areas and you will find few people that can speak english. Said that most immigrants are expected to learn the local lingo.

For me the guys that complain about the poor english ability of japanese, etc are the same guys that will not make an effort to l;earn the local lingo.

Granted lots of factors to it, but I as an european found that by learning even the basics of the local lingo I get treated way better and am more welcome than a guy that throws money around and demands english/german/ etc.

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Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?

Because this is Japan and Japanese people speak Japanese.

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Japanese don't care how their English sounds or how well they can speak any foreign language, end of story.

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If you look at the spotty graduates who go to Japan to teach English you may then understand why Japanese don't speak good English.

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I agree w/ JasUK, many of the people teaching English whether in schools or out schools in weekend/afterschool programs aren't really qualified to teach. Many learn English programs are taught by native English speakers who have no prior teaching experience.

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Why dont Japanese people speak Engrish better than they do? Because many of them are brainwashed into thinking that they cant speak English, because of being Japanese, and therefore "unique" in the world, with a brain that is different from the rest of the human race, with different stomachs and stomach capacity, with different everything. One professor in a Tokyo university also wrote that for the Japanese to speak too much English might cause them to have epilepsy! With wierd, stupid thinking like that, no wonder they cant master Engrish.

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Which form of English? American, British, Australian, Irish, Scottish, Canadian, etc, etc, etc.....

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English lessons are sold as a product. Teachers rented out like shopping mall clowns. You cannot buy a language like you buy a toaster...

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Because it's not important or relevant to most Japanese people.

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I must be living in some kind of vacuum here in Tokyo for 30 years. No, English speaking isn't necessary or important for the daily details of living because, yes, this is Japan. But as I tried to emphasize previously, English speaking and Eego are two different things. Eego is what people use to advance themselves among their peers for a better job, or a chance to go abroad. But the mind set very seldom changes. I don't know about you, but when I studied Japanese, and lived here over the years, I've been humbled and often just plain dumbfounded by the double jeaopardy of English and being a foreigner here. O.K. so we get a job, a good job. But if you go out into say a weekend with company members, you'll see, they quickly pigeon hole you as not being part of the group, only because hey, you aren't Japanese. If you are going to live here, get used to it. The Japanese who really speak great, learned it primarily (though not exculsively) abroad. But to make a long story short, those who want to improve will study hard and improve, and those whoo don't won't. That is the bottom line, in my opinion.

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Notginger: You miss the point entirely. Japanese people are paying for those English lessons and yet, the results they get are not exactly ideal. There must be a reason. If English were not relevant to the group of the Japanese population that spends money in English lessons... the reason would be far more complex and psychologically deleterious than ever suspected.

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isthistheend.

I agree with your post to a certain degree.

Myself having worked for 12yrs for japanese companies(1 of X foreigners out of 900+employees) we never got pigeon-holed. On the contrary many managers treated us favourably.

Said that I wanted to kill some of my japanese superiors for their english knowledge/usage and thinking they were good. Some of their stunts nearly cost us a big deals.

In the end many details were worked out between me and our overseas contacts even though I was not management/decision maker.

Don't even get me started on japanese co-workers asking me to write english e-mails for them(even though they scored 800+ on Toeic).

Just different experiences.

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Maybe because its Japan not England??

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Zen Builder, they treat you favourably when you perform your job as and English lackey, but then they refuse to acknowledge that you can understand anything of their culture. That's my point of double jeopardy. We speak and teach English, but a damn few of us bust our butts to learn the native language so we can improve and speed up our language barriers, but they don't want to acknowledge that we can go half way. In other words, they want to carry on in Donald Duck mentality mold, speak to you only in English, even when your Japanese is much better than their English.

Say on a company sporting event. At these weekends, the old guy whos lived in L.A. or some other cushy post for 3 years feins his knowledge to speak English in front of others for fear of jealousy (previously mentioned), but then will insult you openly in the native language thinking you can't understand it. thinking I don't know what he's saying, because I am now and will forever be only the "English speaking expert". This even though I've know the guy for 5 years! Didn't this ever happen to you?!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not sure about "teaching english", my profession is in IT and has been for 25yrs.

Maybe the scene/environment is different. But I met one or two guys like you are talking about, said that I had probs with the similar guys overseas.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

speak to you only in English

Yeah, right. If I waited for anyone to speak to me in English I'd have no one to talk to from one day's end to the next.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yeah, right. If I waited for anyone to speak to me in English I'd have no one to talk to from one day's end to the next.

Ahh the benefit of not living within 100 km of Tokyo or any of the other concrete jungles.

Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?

Well they sure as hell try. Too bad if you're interested in Japanese at all. Many don't really like it when that perceived English opportunity vaporizes into thin air because you refuse to speak English to them after being used as an English tool and exploited to no end for your first couple of years here. OK I'm finished with my rant.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

there are several reasons of why, but I believe that there are not a great motivation from themselves to learn the language especially because they are a different people whose values does not match with american ou western values. They are Asian, and as Asians they love to be among themselves. I lived with Koreans and Japanese at the same time, and they loved to be among themselves. When they see that Americans or westerns do not respect their values, they tend to go back to their peers again to feel confortable. They are aware of their weakness, but they prefer to feel confortable among themselves rather than being with people who have hard time to understand their worldview.I guess!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They want to allow people to come here to teach. It's a charitable act to give jobs to people from other countries. Really, they all already speak English, but their pretending not to gives foreign teachers a sense of purpose. It's a noble gesture on their part.

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About what MisterM writes, its getting close to what I've been trying to say. Yes, they are Asian, and as Asians they love to be among themselves. So when they can use you to speak English fine. But don't expect inclusion into the "wa"of things just because you can speak the language. Yet once long ago, I read some article written by a Japanese person who said, "people who can speak Japanese (or any language like English, Korean etc.) ARE Japanese (English, Korean). The point being that the brain and body and soul go into learning a language, or you just can become good at it. Like Jiro, the enka singer. He learned from his Japanese Grandmother when he was young. His heart and soul went into the music because not only did he love it, but he also recognized it created great pleasure for his beloved grandmother. I don't mean to become all mushy about it, but love for something (language, art, science, whatever) is a major reason why people sacrifice hours and dedicate their passion to learn something, no? So if someone gives his heart and soul to learn a language, they gradually learn a new way of thinking, living, and appreciating the world. This is all a part of learning a language, I believe. So when the old salary man refuses to acknowledge that I have sacrificed to learn the language of my adapted country, it enters into really bizarre territory, where we have to just recall why we started to learn about these things in the first place. ie. our love for the culture, and different view of the world it afforded. But in the end, everything that has a front has a back, and we realize there is no golden rainbow forever and ever. So we have to enjoy our life journey, with and without all the troubles which language learning also brings..i.e. undying predjudice along with visions of a different way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

English is a very difficult language to learn with over 8000 different sounds as opposed to Japanese with its poultry 110. That alone in addition to not having ready access to those with whom one can practice creates enormous challenges for learning.

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Japanese are socially highly sensitive and intelligent, and, at least the old generation, has a somewhat uniform and consistent, good education. So, as someone above posted, in the same way tatemae will cause someone with a serious opinion on something to just get walked all over, or go through life silent and unhappy, the Japanese are by and large very aware of how they are perceived in the world, actually.

They know that they wrongly went around conquering Asia, and then got smacked down by a foreign power, deeply shaming Japan, almost like a child that misbehaved. They know that they are, physically, significantly shorter and smaller than most of the first world nations' people. And they know that they have a very poor English ability. Even with Xenophobia aside, if they didn't know the truth about their English ability they wouldn't vehemently resist trying to practice speaking it for real instead of making a pop culture full of playful nonsense words designed to make light of the value of English as a serious thing.

In short, if you haven't figured out my point yet, it's mostly about inferiority complexes.

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I think the heart of the question is the quality of conversational English in Japan. They speak English as well as I speak Japanese. Neither are all that good, but they've had 4-6 years of classroom training, and I've had one year of computer based training.

Point being people in the west tend to conversationally speak languages at an intermediate level after 3-4 years of class. They don't depend on finding speakers to practice with either. So what gives?!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

English or "Eego" is just a diversion, not the only diversion, but a monumentally huge one, which centers on the subconsious recognition that Japan needs to maintain business relations with the outside world for their survival. Same as before the black boat.

Inferiority complexes/ Superiority complexes, two sides of the same coin. I can't believe Idealists comments made it through to the reader. But the comment about them "making a pop culture full of playful nonsense words designed to make light of the value of English as a serious thing" (SMAP, Kalpis etc.) is right on the money. They treat you kindly till anything displeases them about whatever (not only you), then they cut you down as the foreign trouble maker (hello Tokyo Gov.?) and everything gets lumped together, English, foreigner, trouble. I repeat, those that really want to improve do. And one more thing, which hasn't been mentioned and I'm the 74th listing already. How many encounter the person who knows MORE about your country, culture, than you do? Or so they make you think by the way they carry on? That's what I mean about inferiority/superiority complex. I myself became an "expert" in one form of Japanese culture and when I made it on TV repeatedly for it, everyone I met after that couldn't resist saying "He's more Japanese than I am". meaning," I'm more xxxxxxx than he is", which I totally object to. I specialized in a certain part of the culture, based on my hard work through the language, because I wanted to communicate and contribute the wealth of that specific culture to my own Western culture. I wasn't trying to become more Japanese than them. And they never can get over it....though in fact, they soon forget that the foreigner REALLY can understand or retain the merits of whatever they learned about the culture. This too is relative to the discussion of why Japanese aren't better at English. You have to stay with what you learn to keep getting better. Its not like learning once and you keep it a part of you without continual practice. Any top level technician in any field all over the world must contually practice, review and forge new avenues of their chosen endeavors to keep it in working, functional and relavant order.

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Hong Kongers don't speak English well either. Becoming developed doesn't mean you'll speak English. Quite the opposite perhaps. There isn't a hunger and need to learn, so people do a bad job. If you know that English will get you out of poverty and the hellish life you know, I bet you're going to be a bit more motivated. The problem then, is that you just don't have the means. India and the Phillipines were poor but because of colonialism, they were provided the means. The English speakers came to them in gunboats.

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Just don't have the means? That's the least of the problems. The means are substantial, the books are plentiful, the learning devices are all in place, even overflowing in number. What's lacking is the desire, make that willingness to buck the system of "down with anything not ware-ware".

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I don't think it's the us and them thing. I think it's the "How can I study english?" attitude. I don't bloody well know what's good for each individual. They gotta depend on their own experience and personality to develop what works for them. Of course I don't mind saying, "By paying me 5000 yen an hour." There is too much dependance on this "student & teacher" culture and not enough independence.

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I have to say that I disagree with the question. All of the Japanese that I meet in New York speak very good English. Certainly better than my Japanese. And they seem to learn it pretty quickly too.

While English is a hard language - too many grammatical exceptions and weird spelling, Japanese is much harder I think (I'm learning it now and it's tough!)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

i think the problem is the number of teachers from the colonies. america,canada,australia etc.. their english is rather suspect ,and i dont see how having people who cant speak english properly as teachers can help the japanese to learn.

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I don't know what the question means "better than they do". With whom does the question intend to compare Japanese? Native speakers of English, or non-native speakers of English(in Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East, South America)?

Also the question unfairly generalizes "Japanese" as culturally homogeneous without considering the significant changes in socio-economic structures in the last half century. The facilitation of technology and infrastructure, increasing opportunities of cross-cultural exchanges in both academic and public communication, have given Japanese a lot of choices to enrich their social life. It's ludicrous to assume one's cultural identity as a Japanese with a single factor--their poor command of English.

Just because you were born and raised in Japan does not necessarily mean you do not speak English as well as other non-native speakers of English, or even some native speakers of English.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I speak Japanese fairly well and really try to read it more and more. The people around me, foreign and Japanese national, all try to help each other out in ANY language. I think Japanese people feel they can't do it (lack of confidence) or they have some mental block. (I never learned Spanish any better for the same reasons.) But once they get involved, most of them do pretty well, especially younger people who go overseas. They need immersion because it forces them to speak, just like anybody else.

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Oh, I meant to say after the first sentence that I try to encourage students to learn my language by example of trying hard to learn theirs.

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Of course Japanese don't need English to get along in everyday life. Also, most of them don't have aspirations to get a spectacular job, or even leave the country. The generation of 30-40 year old's can speak some English but their usage of words and pronunciation is a bit off.

Kids now, have the advantage of dealing with a foreign language teacher, whose 'native language' can be questionable at best. Nonetheless, the adults are a little bit envious. There are great English teachers out there. However, recently, I have noticed some oppression of foreign language learning by higher ups in the academic school system which is unfortunate for both students and teachers. Not to mention, just horrible teachers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many Japanese tend to pronounce English words in terms of how it is written in Katakana. Also the use of function words and articles such as "the" or "an" is non-existant in Japanese so it is confusing to many Japanese and is often misused. I work in the U.S. in an office with many Japanese workers from Japan. One of them has lived in the U.S. for over 17 years but still can't speak English very well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One viewwpoint overlooked in all these 68 comments is the potential issue that the Japanese teachers themselves do such a poor job of teaching in general. Everybody knows about the problems and power of the teachers union in confusing issues on varioius matters, English being only one of them. I once visited with a group of Japanese H.S. English teachers and was surprised at their extremely low level, not only concerning English, but concerning many things. It was almost like they were, well, just pushing the pencil, rather than having any spark of creative imagination.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Take a look at some of the brainiac Engrish teachers posting here who can barely string a sentence together, and you'll find a contributing factor.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japanese and English have no common ground linguistically, culturally, or historically. Without bridging each of these areas systematically, there is no way for either people to learn the other language.

In addition, most English learning materials I have seen in Japan have been of rather poor quality, and not written from a perspective that teaches the fundamentals of the English language and underlying culture.

The "I want to learn English" instinctive response of the average Japanese is, I think, an extension of the fact that study of the language is required in the school system, and as often mentioned above, due to an understanding that English is the mercantile language of the world. Yet there is little real reason for the average Japanese in Japan to ever need or use English. This implies that the reason Japanese do not learn English is that they really don't need to.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I discussed this topic a few weeks ago with a functionally bilingual Japanese man, who studied abroad for many years. I proposed to him that a reason Japanese are not as proficient as other second language speakers of English could very well be cultural. It's residual cultural resistance to all things foreign. These are the lingering burdens that have prevented most Japanese from fully embracing foreign ideas, concepts and languages. I am not talking about brand goods and other trendy items - I refer to the essence of a culture and that encompasses language. Japanese are plenty smart and intelligence and educational levels are certainly not issues; though educational methods likely play a role.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Once again.... this is Japan NOT England. Is that a good enough reason?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

English english english. Arrogance! I know some japanese at my company who speak very good mandarin but low level english. What does that make them?? They need Chinese for their job but not particularly english more than any other language. English is not the ONLY language in the universe you know.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

niku and WDM - I think you're missing the point.

Asking the question "Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?" is not as ridiculous a question as you think. You're trying to portray that it's similar to saying something like "Why don't English people speak Japanese better than they do?". In that case your logic of 'Well, because it's a different country!' makes more sense. If you said "This is England, not Japan!" would make perfect sense.

But when you're talking about Japan there's a reason why Japanese are expected to speak better English, which is that it's obviously a huge deal in Japan, with an enormous emphasis on studying English, and unfathomable money spent on the endeavor, often pointlessly. First of all, it is somewhat commonly accepted that the primary so-called "international language" is English. Therefore, whereas it would be considered ridiculous to assume you should speak foreign languages in places like the United States, England, etc., there is more of a perceived need, especially for internationally-involved countries like Japan to learn the international language.

You apparently are trying to make some principle-based point that people in a country should not be expected to learn a foreign language. That's fine... but the reason this question has come up is related specifically to the dynamic of English in Japan, which doesn't fit perfectly into that principle-based thinking.

Anyway, if Japanese didn't have such an English fever, and then everyone asked "Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?", I'd say 'who cares'? But the point is that they blow countless years of their lives and tons of money and still end up with mediocre (at best) English comprehension. Given the amount they seem to care about English, they frankly suck at it. If they don't care about it, then they should stop wasting their time trying to "learn" it. The truth is, they don't truly care about actually learning real English... they just wanna learn pseudo-English that will earn them esteem among their Japanese peers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This will be the last entry I make on the subject. Do I hear cheers out there? There is English and there is "Eego". English is that spoken by all people all over the world, of different shapes, styles, pronunciations, grammatical use, from Bob Marley, to Italiana English it runs the gamut because it is as idealist above mentions considered a so-called "international language". Now, Chinese and Spanish are qualifying also in this category. Eego on the other hand, is the purely Japanese phenomenon to talk about things foreign. I wonder how many of the writers/readers of this paper have experienced what I do virtually daily here. People suddenly start to talk about "eego" (b-san speaks Eego well, she spent some time in England, but I don't understand it at all" one will say to the other in their native language) when they stand by you on the trains for example. And also, people will suddenly take to smoking more cigarettes and talking about anything when they see you on the golf practice range. Oblvious to the fact that you would appreciate silence when practicing. In other words, Eego and foreigners are a stress reliever, or battery ram depending on which angle you look at it from. And as I've said before, those who learn to speak it abroad come back here and have to pretend "NOT" to be able to speak it. Now THIS is a very serious problem, or reason why people don't speak better. Is it the cart before the horse or what? And then theres the person who has lived abroad, speaks a smattering of English, comes back here and refuses to acknowledge or communicate with us in Japanese, wanting to prove that their ability is far superior to whatever level of language mastery we've attained. In my case, I speak the native language better than they speak English in 7 out of 10 cases. I certainly don't lord it over them, and usually play the game their way, but when it becomes overbearing, I'll answer in japanese, and likewise be frowned at, and the conversation will end abruptly and unsatisfactorily. My point is, its not only the ability to speak English, but more a point of mental flexibility to really engage on a 50-50 horizontal level with another human being, and not in the I'm above you vertical society type of way. Thanks and bless you all.

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I would like to add that the few Japanese that I personally know actually have better English than many of the Americans that I know.

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"Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?"

japanese in japan / in general? easy, because this is japan and english is not their official language.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

However, recently, I have noticed some oppression of foreign language learning by higher ups in the academic school system which is unfortunate for both students and teachers.

For example?

Not to mention, just horrible teachers.

Not to mention what?

Where does language learning fit in Maslow's hierarchy? If the second language produces income, it helps us make money and eat and there would, therefore, be motivation to learn. If language learning is merely for self-actualization, it might be ignored.

Personally, I need Japanese for money and dating (one of the higher needs).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think some people misunderstand the question "Why don't Japanese speak English better than they do?" I take it to mean "Why aren't Japanese people so good at speaking English?" I have been an English teacher here for over 10 years and I know a number of Japanese who speak English excellently. In general, I find that these people first of all (1) have studied quiet extensive in school (2) are extremely interested in English and speaking to foreigners (3) are usually quiet open and not shy. I think many Japanese people are not as good as they can be because they are shy, lack self confidence, and frankly just don't have the chance to speak English here in Japan on a regular basis. I think it may also have something to do with Japanese culture too like some others have mentioned. Japanese people do spend lots of money and many years studying English but I never think it's a waste of money or time. There are good teachers and there are bad teachers but ultimately learning is up to the students. It's a choice. You can complain about the teacher or decide to find a new one. You can just learn English in class or decide to study more outside of class and really start improving. Everything is always a choice.

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Because EVERYTHING is well prepared in Japanese for them! For example look at the Software industry ... a new product is made and it is in English for every country, except for Japan, they also get a localization in Japanese ... because nobody would buy the product here if it was in English. For Japan EVERY thing needs to be translated into Japanese or it fails on the Japanese market. While this is not the first reason, it adds to the situation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the situation has worked out very well from the government's point of view. Students are kept too busy to develop an independent point of view and they develop an aversion to education by the time they reach college age because they have been forced to memorize so much nonsense. Most of them goof around for four years rather than study in college (who can blame them?), then they become part of a docile work force. Japan has avoided a major brain drain and they keep most of the capital within the country in savings accounts with multi-digit interest rates (0.00...) because few people understand English well enough to take their money and business abroad.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese do not want to do so. If all japan spoke english well,all technoloy secrets, in japan will be known by all english speaking world.

Japan with more english speakers, would mean less following ,for japanese culture in future.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"If all japan spoke english well,all technoloy secrets, in japan will be known by all english speaking world".

And with an attitude like that, it's no wonder that cultural barriers will always exist (unfortunately).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am certain that the Japanese people speak much better English than the English people speak Japanese.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japanese can't speak English well because they are not interested (!!) in communicating with foreigners. The Japanese who are interested in communicating usually speak English well enough. They should better learn it, just two examples: there is a company who prefers to give its contract to Korea, Taiwan and other countries where more people speak better English and there is another company who let do the product support in Japan by Chinese living in Japan because they speak Japanese and English.

And, please, don't tell stories that many Japanese can speak Mandarin. BS ! Japanese have problems with every foreign language not just English.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Betting-Cultural barriers will always exist. As long people just speak one language only in one culture.

Only languages and languages knowhow, has been able break barriers between cultures,languages and race. Look at conflicts in middle east, there could better unity if all parties in conflict spoke arabic/english in iraq.

Technology and national secrets are closely guarded via languages, be it german,japan or others.If you knew other languages, we could know more secrets of foreign cultures.

Unity among languages is not easy, watch how things go in olympic games 2008 in beijing with 200 over national cultures at beijing.

Cultural barriers could be made better via a bridging language. Best and most used bridging language is english.

Most cultures and languages have a superiority complex, like in german language they have saying like uber allas which above all the rest. Learning 5 languages, you would not believe the prejudice each language has over each other.

Cultural barriers,racial prejudice,foreign culture suspicions and many other problems still exist in many parts of multilingual world we live in.We hope future generations will work more to unite the different cultures and languages.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have been an English teacher here for over 10 years and I know a number of Japanese who speak English excellently. In general, I find that these people first of all (1) have studied quiet extensive in school (2) are extremely interested in English and speaking to foreigners (3) are usually quiet open and not shy.

hmm that's quiet true. 10 long years eh?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All of my younger friends are fluent in English, and even some of the older ones too.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The whole Japanese education system is a horrible mess- you should see how little actual contact time Senior High School students get after you exclude all the sport and nonacademic activites and that academic achievement is not rewarded at school meetings. Its only doing juku and the darn great general work ethic of Japanese students that allows most of them to graduate. English is the worst mess of the all the subjects- totally disjoint combine that with Japanese incredible susceptibility to marketing and there is a lot of marketing rather than content focus, belief in all sorts of myths and educational obsessions (like getting an American accent and only their pronounciation) that Japanese students generally don't stand a chance. Every other non-native English country has a better system with less nonsense.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Well our technology most likely the same as America or you can say my country and America is rival. The point is that, we have already got what we need for daily live and such so there's no need to speak english so we don't have to talk to people outside the country to do bussines or kind. Well but, there's a lot of people that want to expand their bussines worldwide so their product will be known outside the country. And there are students too that want to talk english fluently and can understand it so maybe they want to impress their friends, lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Alot of people have toucced on the main an obvious reasons, but here's one I feel like is not mentioned enough. On top of katakana english being taught, the japanese taught in public schools and eikaiwa is really stifled and mainly expression based. They basically just have students memorize sentence fragments rather then giving a proper understanding of the mechanics. The textbooks also move waaay too fast and jump from topic to topic giving unrealistic scenarios and expecting kids to memorize expressions that even if they could memorize and use would make them sound functionally retarded. This forces students to take the Japnese in their heads and throw it haphazardly into English, disregarding the subject,verb, agreement logic of the language.

I think the biggest changes to fix the education system here would be to: -Not put as much emphasis on test English -Better training/standards for English teachers -Teach proper pronounciation and intonation

Constantly review and reforce basic grammar and sentence structures
0 ( +0 / -0 )

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