national

English level at Japan's secondary schools falls short of gov't target

39 Comments

The requested article has expired, and is no longer available. Any related articles, and user comments are shown below.

© KYODO

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

39 Comments
Login to comment

Holders of Eiken Grade 3, aimed at junior high school graduates, are expected to be able to understand and use English concerning everyday topics. Those with Grade Pre-2, aimed at second-year high school students, are supposed to be at a level sufficient to allow them to participate in general aspects of daily life.

When the people who set these goals come to the realization that daily life and EIKEN are not the same, they actually might start to realize that it's them that is the problem....(Bwaahaaahaaa)

Oh, not to mention, I have yet to see any Japanese kids who have the EIKEN 3 or even Pre-2 be able to hold any type of actual conversation verbally. Hell they have a hard enough time even writing a decent sentence, without having to practice a few thousand times before they take the actual test!

"Please look at the picture and describe as much as you can about what they are doing"

"The girl is buying some juice" (Using a vending machine, and EVERYONE knows that only "juice" comes from vending machines, when it's EIKEN time!)

"The man is wrapping up something", "The woman is planting a flower" (There are 4 pots on the ground)

"The woman is cooking a cake"...

If people talked to me like that is daily conversation, I think I would run away screaming like a lunatic!"

18 ( +20 / -2 )

English level at Japan's secondary schools falls short of gov't target

Please tell us, what abenomics target that not falls short of target. Before they use Olympic 2020 as target for everything. Now it's time for new reality.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

As long as students see no reason why they should study English, nothing will improve!

Almost no exchange programs at junior high schools, test oriented studies only .... oh well, what can I say.

The education ministry (and those up there with their cushy seats) follow Dr. Martin King's words:

"I have a dream!"

16 ( +17 / -1 )

Almost no exchange programs at junior high schools, test oriented studies only

Exchange programs covering the equivalent of the "junior high schools" in Japan are not common in any country. Typically, where such exist, they are for the high school years.

Many private "junior high schools" in Japan are test oriented but that is not usually the case for public schools unless they are in posh, high income areas, with a preponderance of pushy parents. Generic, public "junior high schools" tend to be rather heavy on sports and club activities rather than academics. That's why people shell out for juku.

I speak from experience with two kids who went through generic Tokyo public schools and as someone who taught the sociology of education in Japanese to Japanese students in Japan for 18 years.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

 That's why people shell out for juku.

Ahh, but please keep in mind that "juku's" now are scrambling to find ways to survive, as the dreaded university center test is going to be a thing of the past, starting in 2020 I believe it is, and as it goes by the wayside, there are "rumors" in the education field that HS entrance exams will be changing as well.

Far too many parents shelled out a crap load of cash for juku's getting the false belief that their child was "safe", but then came to the realization that it was all BS as the kids did nothing at juku either, other than use the time to talk with their friends!

7 ( +10 / -3 )

They have English skills confused with test scores. They are not the same thing. The Japanese BOE’s response to this will be more classes of the same crap they already don’t understand. They will never understand that, more is not better! Better is better!

13 ( +13 / -0 )

The English-language ability of students at Japanese public secondary schools fell short of the government's target in the 2018 academic year...

This failure has been going on for literally my entire life, and I am 51 years-old. I'm gonna make a bold prediction here, and that is that it will go on for the rest of my life.

16 ( +16 / -0 )

Let's admit where the problem really lies, with older teachers who can't or have no desire to change their 'grammar translation' one pattern method and start teaching real communication English.  Students will mostly follow what the teachers get them to do. 

A proper retraining programme with accountability is the only way to get more teachers doing what they are supposed to do. 

(Did that sound like a rant?  Well it came from the heart).

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Time to cut all non-private English 'teachers' or reduce their salary.

Unacceptable performance, always deflecting the blame.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Gov't targets are only about raw data, never about real human beings. The Japanese education system focused on teaching a foreign language to the test is a joyless, pointless, soul-destroying exercise that extinguishes a young person's natural curiosity and love of learning. The greatest sin of a teacher is to give a boring lesson, but with education in the hands of insensitive bureaucrats and clueless managers only a cultural revolution organized by teachers can remedy the structural failures of the system. The necessary changes in consciousness required of Japanese teachers are probably already taking place, but it appears that rethinking education will be the task of a future generation of educators.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Matt, it's not just the old(er) teachers.

27 years at junior high school now and even (some of) the younger teachers are lacking pronunciation and intonation skills. To improve teacher's English qualifications they should attend (quite) some time at a foreign university (US, Canada, UK etc) as part of their studies, thus improving their listening and speaking abilities. In addition the whole English education system beginning from elementary school should be changed (Just look at the "We Can" textbook for 5th and 6th year elementary students. It's a joke). it seems that those folks at BOE (at least sometimes) don't know what they are doing and what they are talking about.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Ahh, but please keep in mind that "juku's" now are scrambling to find ways to survive, as the dreaded university center test is going to be a thing of the past, starting in 2020 I believe it is, and as it goes by the wayside, there are "rumors" in the education field that HS entrance exams will be changing as well.

Proposed changes have been repeatedly taken up on NHK in its late evening commentary segment, in Japanese newspapers that cater to more highly educated readers (the Asahi and the Nihon Keizai Shinbun) as well as specialised trade publications. There is always more smoke than fire in the proposals.

There will be changes but nothing all that dramatic. The Sentaa Shiken will be replaced by something similar but with a different name. Really elite institutions will still have their second round examinations. Those are the ones that are really difficult.

Far too many parents shelled out a crap load of cash for juku's getting the false belief that their child was "safe", but then came to the realization that it was all BS as the kids did nothing at juku either, other than use the time to talk with their friends!

Not if they are paying attention. Serious juku give mogishiken 模擬試験 (mock examinations) that allow you to compare what your sprogs are doing relative to other kids. If you check the results of these exams, you can easily see whether your sprogs are actually getting anything from the juku or are just gassing with their friends.

Serious juku have to produce results, otherwise they don't get customers. The market is extremely competitive.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

The only way to make Japan's next generation English proficient is to fire(or reassign to different subject) all Japanese English teachers who don't speak English with native fluency and replace them with native English speaking teachers from US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand at great expense.

20 years of doing this will produce the first generation of Japanese English teachers who learned from native English teachers and can now teach the next generation of Japanese students with native sounding English.

As long as English teachers with deficient fluency speaking in Japanese accent teach Japan's children, Japanese children will never learn to speak proper English.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

I'm sure a lot of English teachers can relate from experiences.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Far too many parents shelled out a crap load of cash for juku's getting the false belief that their child was "safe", but then came to the realization that it was all BS as the kids did nothing at juku either, other than use the time to talk with their friends!

The same goes for parents shelling out cash for eikaiwas, too. Many years ago, my wife (Japanese) and I took our oldest daughter to the local park. I was speaking to my daughter in English (as I also speak to our other daughters, too). She responded to me fairly well in English. She was about 3-4 years at the time. Anyway, another father with his little older daughter I guess overheard us. He spoke to his daughter in Japanese, "Why aren't you practicing your English, since you've been at ****school for two years?"

4 ( +4 / -0 )

widely-used proficiency test called Eiken

Note that "widely-used" should not imply "good".

I would question the value of any test made up of multiple choice answers that sets a pass mark at around 60%. This means the student can get half the test right and randomly guess the rest. One in four on the remaining 50% gives 12.5% to get over the line. If you assume students can narrow questions down to two options, the number of questions they have to know falls further.

My own impression of Eiken tests is that the written part is unnecessarily complex in question format ("rearrange these words into a sentence and choose the second and fifth words") and focuses on archaic vocabulary, but the listening is ridiculously easy. I have seen strategy guides in Japanese that recommended aiming for 40% on the written paper, because 90% on the listening (by the same student) was achievable.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The issue with the expectations for kids to learn English is that they haven’t given serious thought to implementation of their goals. They simply set a target and then left it to the wind to blow them in the right direction.

Also, Eiken is a horrible exam and has no real use in actual English usage. I know too many high school students and college students that have Eiken Grade 1, pre 1, and 2. Many of them can’t have a proper conversation outside of the Eiken study material. The Eiken is a cram exam. Students cram for it and take it. They don’t actually learn anything.

In one of my advance classes at my University, all the students have at least Eiken pre 1. The rule of thumb amongst myself and the other lecturers is that there is no real difference in English level from JHS to University. What does change them is the study abroad.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

There is no shame in being able to communicate in only Japanese, or speaking broken English. It adds to the exotic image of Japan, and to celebs like Marie Kondo and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, or this guy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jm9bEizIGBE

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

When will the government understand EIKEN or TOEIC or TOEFL are not English. They’re tests. Long ago I had a student who score 985 in TOEIC, I think it was. Every sentence her spoke had an idiom he learnt in his study books. When he was told he didn’t sound natural by various teachers he became incensed. Now he’s teaching at one of the known Japanese universities here in Tokyo. There’s also a kid I know who went to a day care where the teachers would speak nothing other than English. I love chatting with him. His grammar is all over the place but he’s full of excitement.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Just my thoughts. (20+ years at a private high school)

1) Though I have seen an increase in English-speaking ability among younger teachers, they still conduct much of the lesson in Japanese. Five hours of English classes a week and the only one which is near 100% in English is when I am present. I get it that teachers want to maintain a rapport with the students, but there is so much wasted time and many students never get over the hump of being able to enjoy a class only conducted in English.

2) MoE textbooks are largely uninteresting. There are so many better textbooks on the market. And when teachers are deciding the next year's text, they spend barely one hour glancing through the 20+ books to choose from.

3) Teachers often do not know what English class they will be teaching from April until mid-March. Then they have roughly three weeks to become familiar with the book and think of what additional activities the might create - which if you might of guessed, they just don't bother with. So they follow these uninteresting textbooks as they were written.

4) While Japan school's have always been test-oriented, there has been a big push to pass this work to private companies, namely Benesse. And these companies are pushing their "new and improved" tests on the schools. And the schools follow suit because others schools are so that they can compare the rank of their students test scores. Frankly speaking, these tests are different from any other. It's just greedy companies taking advantage of over-worked teachers and further promoting this "test-oriented" society.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Correction for 4) ... "these tests are no different from any other." Sorry for the missed word, but I'm sure you understood.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

When will the government understand EIKEN or TOEIC or TOEFL are not English. 

I doubt the government cares about TOEIC or TOEFL. It does care about Eiken though, because it is a Japanese test run on commercial lines by amakudari. It is also designed so that people learning English the Japanese way can pass it, thereby validating the system.

The story talks of Japanese kids not hitting Eiken targets, but their TOEIC or TOEFL scores will be far worse.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Eiken can't be trusted. High scores in TOEIC say nothing about speaking skills.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

English is a misnomer. 受験英語 is taught in public schools, not English. Students learn it just fine, but it's not a language. It's a test subject.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Until English becomes fun to learn and use, it will only be what it is now; an educational obligation gone nowhere.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

@blue in green,

Fun or not it has to learned. Kinda like house cleaning.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hands up if you are surprised by this.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Not enough focus on speaking and listening. Over emphasize reading and writing. English teachers are often Japanese with limited skills and or no interest in English. Native speakers are only assistants. Nothing has really changed in 30 - 40 years yet the government and ministry of education keep clamoring for change when they themselves refuse to change. Once the Olympics are over, nobody will care anymore.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It is the culturally entrenched negative attitudes toward English and 'making a mistake' (due to the nature of shaming over petty details and cultural trait of bullying) in Japanese public schools that will see Japan to continue to waste time and money on its never-ending quest for English proficiency. You could add katakana to that list, also.

Other nations are leaping ahead of Japan! Maybe those in education should sincerely inquire as to why those nations are doing so much better...

Or if you are up the ladder in your teaching / education career, you could perhaps not rock the boat with meaningful 'change' so as to hold on to that cushy position with a big office and get that golden parachute in a few years time... it won't be your problem for much longer, after all...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

At bubble times it was all about pronounciation. Now its about efficiency?

In the G8 competition they are good at their second foreign language at that grade, just island groups are fine to be local.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

The teaching method is the nr1 issue in Japan. To put it bluntly, ...it’s terrible.

A foreign language should not, and cannot be tought the same way as you teach Math, Chemistry or History.

To add insult to the injury, using Katakana for pronunciation is THE WORST thing a teacher can do! That abomination should be completelly banned from all English classes.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The government is using Eiken to measure students' English ability? Eiken wasn't even approved for university admissions. It's a poor test of English. Whatever data the government thinks it is getting from looking at Eiken pass rates, it's getting bad data generated by a bad exam.

That said, no one would be remotely surprised that English ability is falling short of targets. The government is very good at setting new targets. Whether those targets are ambitious or are a leap toward mediocrity, Japan always falls short of them. Why? Because the government sets targets for English ability, but lays none of the groundwork for improvement, such as improving teacher training and revising how English is taught. Without strong efforts in these areas, all the rest becomes mere farce.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

In a reverse way, there aren't good Japanese classes with real Japanese teachers in UK or other side of the world.

But such institute or academy are making good business. Those students never learn in the class with such expensive fees. They realise they actually learn from YT videos or dramas.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

bullfighterApr. 17  08:06 am JST

Exchange programs covering the equivalent of the "junior high schools" in Japan are not common in any country. Typically, where such exist, they are for the high school years.

This is incorrect. Loads of countries/schools offer exchange for JHS years.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Thank you "half-hearted-jumper"!!!

That was supposed to be my next comment.

When I went to "gymnasium" or German high school we did have an exchange program with a school in GB.

If I'm not all wrong it still exists not only with GB but other countries, too, as can be seen here:

http://www.gymnasium-schwertstrasse.de/05_austausch/uebersicht_austausch.php

2 ( +2 / -0 )

And one more (late) comment:

Not all junior high and high school students participate in this EIKEN B.S.!

So the percentage indicated is of no value at all!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japanese English teachers and education in Japan has set up a system in which they think it is their job to do the writing drills and endless grammar explanations using material that is contrived or lacks context (or the context has to then be explained) and they believe that native English teacher’ jobs is to do pronunciation modelling and conversation. In fact, an ALT after a few years in the classroom can just as well teach grammar (using English and Japanese) and a Japanese teacher should be teaching speaking and conversation. The compartmentalisation of teaching roles and content is full of false assumptions about what language teaching is, and who can or cannot do what. Some good private high schools allow the native speakers to create some of the test content, so that’s a start ...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

klausdorth

Thank you "half-hearted-jumper"!!!

That was supposed to be my next comment.

When I went to "gymnasium" or German high school we did have an exchange program with a school in GB.

If I'm not all wrong it still exists not only with GB but other countries

They do still exist.

I work in a private HS (IB), and our school participates in an international network with schools from all over the world. We (and other schools) focus primarily on JHS exchanges. This network is in over 50 countries - our students can go on exchange pretty much anywhere in the world.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

O... and our students do IELTs/TOEFL (no Eiken).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites