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Japan's high school English proficiency falls short of gov't targets

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Learning spoken English should be done outside schools and listening comprehension tests should not be included in entrance examinations of colleges. It is acquired by habit and environment. It produces unfairness to students who live in remote areas and cannot have chances to talk with English speaking people. There is a tendency in Japan to praise those who speak English and they speak with foreigners ostentatiously.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Why do they have to tie everything to the Tokyo Olympics, does that mean no stop once they're over?

17 ( +18 / -1 )

Schop: Its called preparing your citizens to be able to function in a globalize world in which English is the language of business.

19 ( +21 / -2 )

My comment should read "they'll stop", but auto-correct had other ideas

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Embarrassing to say the least.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

The ridiculousness of asserting that you cannot learn a language in schools...

12 ( +14 / -2 )

If they would listen to the native English teachers. Those who have taught in many schools for many years, they'd all tell you the same thing. Too much focus on grammar, reading and writing. Not saying those are not important, but when you have students taking English classes 8 times a week...and only one of those classes is conversation based...the answer is right there. And one 50 minute class with 20 or more other students doesn't buy you a lot of talk time.

18 ( +19 / -1 )

What a surprise

You'd think that 60, 70 years of utter failure to equal the other nations that have managed to rectify English or second language deficiency would get the point home that something is askew. Not in this country folks.

Foreign English teachers are much maligned in Japan but in my opinion they hold great power in that they are about the only people who regularly have a chance to open the eyes of their students to the fact that there is a world outside of Japan where things are done differently.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

Eiken tests, administered by the Eiken Foundation of Japan and backed by the education ministry, are one of the most widely used English proficiency tests in Japan.

And stupidly enough NEVER taught at schools. If the gov wants higher eiken scores, they are going to have to instruct the BOEs around the country to make it the national textbook. But how can the students excel in eiken when most schools don't even teach it??

Its called preparing your citizens to be able to function in a globalize world in which English is the language of business.

Well said Tommy. The idea that the Japanese learn english because America makes them is laughable to say the least. English is the language of global business, and if and when Japan gets to a stage to where it feels it doesn't need english then its time to return to the Edo period of isolation.

maybeperhapsyes- nailed it.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Just out of curiosity, how many of you have sat through and supervised the students during the Eiken tests?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Speaking English acquires superficial knowledge while reading ability of English acquires deeper knowledge. I do not need speaking ability of English to exchange with you. I have not spoken English for decades and I have not been abroad in my life.

-9 ( +4 / -13 )

Teachers in schools are managed from the top down-when my son suggested that there could be some time allocated for Eiken study once a week, at lunchtime he was rebuffed!

This might not be the case in many other schools but generally teachers will do as they are told and Eiken is considered an extra curricular activity.

CALL is also a rare option in public schools (due to low funding) so don’t expect young Taro to ever acquire linguistic competency since his stress, pronunciation, etc have never been listened to enough, let alone corrected.

Never mind though, it’s too late now...

8 ( +8 / -0 )

It’s the test based teaching that is the problem ya donkeys! I live in Fukui and believe me students still can’t speak English to save their life. They may have been cohersed into spending long hours doing muti choice question tests over and over but it doesn’t mean jack. Eiken is a farce and the whole approach to the global language is misguided and self defeating. Hide behind as many scores and figures you like. Strike up a conversation and see for yourself.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

No really? I’m so shocked!

Good luck keeping on doing things you always have been.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

the way the world is going, i think Chinese may be more useful.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Japan's high school English proficiency falls short of gov't targets

This is not good! This means the students will get more textbooks and more English lessons even though, they don't understand what they are being taught now. I am not surprised the senior high a falling short of the ridiculous goals set by the government. Most senior high students have two or three English textbooks and those stupid vocabulary books. There is no context or comprehension in anything they are taught. There is no consolidation or practicality to any of their lessons. There is no production or use of any of their lessons either. In the public schools, the Japanese teachers use the ALTs as a human CD player to do a few irrelevant 'repeat after me' exercises, which is not surprising because the salaries are so low for public school ALTs that the position only attracts monkeys. Most of the textbooks they use are very poorly written with a lot of terrible English and lacking continuity of grammar structures. Anybody who has done any study on second language acquisition knows how knowledge of a second language should build through vocabulary and grammar structures that follow a step-by-step process. However, the Japanese textbooks do not follow any structured order of grammar structures. They just get more and more difficult without any comprehension, context or production.

Now, for the real problem with Japanese English education: To acquire an upper level proficiency in a second language takes around 2,000 hours of study. The Japanese do around 500 hours in junior and senior high school respectively and a further 200-300 hours in university or college. However, by the time they reach senior high second and third grade (600-800 hours) they are studying grammar and vocabulary at the 1500-1800 hour level. This is why they fail! They do not have the knowledge of the language to study and comprehend grammar and vocabulary at that level. Now, this report is only going to result in more garbage English lessons with even more difficult and irrelevant vocabulary and grammar structures with even less comprehension.

I teach at so-called 'prestigious' private high school and do basic grammar and sentence exercises with my senior high 2nd and 3rd grade students focussing on the three basic forms of past present and future using different pronouns in the positive and negative forms. Out of nearly 1,000 students only a handful (5 or 6) can use the basic tenses correctly, yet they are studying ridiculously complicated grammar structures and vocabulary in their Japanese English textbooks. The conclusion is, Japanese people study English, but they don't learn it.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

From what I understand, the pass mark for Eiken is about 60%. The questions are all four-option multiple choice, so the law of averages means you only have to know half the answers. Guessing should get you the final 12.5% to pass.

So the story says that current students cannot pass what is a poor test which is only chosen due to its amakudari links. Their scores on better English tests, to say nothing of their actual ability, will be worse. Many kids who've passed Eiken 3 will still struggle to say very much in English.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Disillusioned is right. Students are taught grammar but are not taught how to use it or develop it. Rather than just upping the complexity of grammar levels, it would be better to get students to figure out how to use the grammar they know first.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

As a parent of an elementary student, a JHS student, a HS student, and being an English teacher here, there are so many problems in the curriculum that the entire system in place needs to be completely overhauled. Kids are being taught grammar that is beyond precise that no one ... literally no one uses. As for speaking ... there is no focus on this at all... there is so much more to English than saying "I'm fine thank you " as fast as possible ... and "fine" is not even a state of mind or being ... I could go on and on here but what's the point ...

7 ( +7 / -0 )

If they would listen to the native English teachers. Those who have taught in many schools for many years, they'd all tell you the same thing. Too much focus on grammar, reading and writing. Not saying those are not important, but when you have students taking English classes 8 times a week...and only one of those classes is conversation based...the answer is right there. And one 50 minute class with 20 or more other students doesn't buy you a lot of talk time.

Exactly.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Stop force-feeding English to Japanese students. Make it an option and focus on those with the capacity and desire to learn it. I’ve lost count of the number of times a new initiative to raise the standard of English has been rolled out with predictably miserable results. Stop wasting tax and stop wasting lesson time on this.

I’d forgotten just how bad the level of English among the majority of Japanese people is until I visited Spain this year. I came across quite a few Japanese people ( mostly in their twenties ) who were just incompetent when faced with simple, understandable English. We are talking ordering in a restaurant level. Many didn’t even seem to have the capacity to offer a simple ‘gracias’ as a sign of courtesy to the Spanish people speaking a second language. The pronunciation of Spanish thankfully provided some with much amusement.

Flogging a dead horse.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Who cares that much, most of these kids won’t use English too much anyway as the domestic economy is easily big enough. There’s enough low quality English teachers in Japan anyway, best if a good portion are replaced or made redundant.

Learning Mandarin will likely become a more attractive option for many kids very soon anyway as the vocab part would be much easier I assume

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

But as of December, only 40.7 percent of third-year junior high school students and 39.3 percent of third-year senior high school students met the targets.

How come I have never met one of them that can actually speak to me even about the weather?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Learning Mandarin will likely become a more attractive option for many kids very soon anyway as the vocab part would be much easier I assume

I speak basic Mandarin badly. I’d say Mandarin is more difficult to learn than English. My Japanese coworkers who attended Mandarin classes agreed.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

For what it is worth, I have supervised Eiken exams. There is nothing to it. A well trained dog could to the same. Here are a few thoughts on what wrong with English education.

Too little to late. Twenty some years ago the Education Ministry had a goal of having English education beginning in elementary school. What has happened is a shortage of qualified English teachers that has made this an impossible dream. There is a vast pool of starving teachers in the U.S. who would be happy to be hired as permanent native speaking ESL teachers with descent salaries. They could be spread all over Japan. It won't happen. Why? Non-Japanese cannot have permanent jobs in government schools (universities excluded after a long fight).

Grammar is not the problem; those who teach it are the problem. The biggest enemy of learning a language isn't grammar. Learning it gets better the more you use the language. Meanwhile, you make lots of mistakes. Mistakes are punished in traditional education. Worse, there are petty mean to sadistic teachers who take pleasure in downgrading you when you have made a mistake. Result: students don't like English.

Japanese English teachers who hate English and the people who use it. The only English they seem to know is, "Speak Japanese! This is Japan."

Simple minded English conversation classes. No content. Students forget whatever they "learned."

ESL textbooks. They have gotten better over the years thanks to critics like me. Now you actually can have "content based" English conversation textbooks. Great for high school. The trouble is they end up in university, where original texts should be used.

A lack of innovation. This is an especial problem in senior and junior high schools, where teachers are forced to follow a narrow line in teaching to the exam. Teachers get scolded by their principals if they try something that is not mandated.

Leisure land universities and learning resistant students. For many English has no seeming real purpose.

I'll stop here. There is more. .

5 ( +6 / -1 )

These statistics are based on Eiken scores in both public and private high schools. Eiken is a step test mostly based on memorised responses and answers. I work as a TEAP examiner a few times a year. The TEAP test is a much better structure that shuns memorised responses and gives a much clearer indication of the examinee's English comprehension level. It is also not a 'step-test'. It is one test with one score.

As for the speaking: From 2020 universities will require an English interview test as part of their entrance exams. The high schools are panicking about this, especially the private high schools. However, the interview will typically be based around memorised responses to set questions. This is because the private universities want the students' money, so they will not fail them.

The English education of Japanese will never improve until there is a purpose for learning it. A purpose besides passing a test. I cannot count the amount of times I've heard a student say, "This is Japan! I don't need English!" Although, I have never heard one tell me in English, of course.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

To those of you who are saying "native English teachers know best", "we should run the show" etc, there has been English language schools in Japan (run by anglos) for decades now, with mixed results (to say the least).

My point is, it's a bit more complicated than 'let me do it for ya" (insular & rigid J mentality, cultural exceptionalism bs etc).

As an aside, anglos are notoriously pretty bad at learning foreign languages (in their own country, that is), why should J ppl assume you guys/they 'know better'?! Reckon non-anglos (who speak very good english) should have a crack! ;)

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

As an aside, anglos are notoriously pretty bad at learning foreign languages (in their own country, that is), why should J ppl assume you guys/they 'know better'?! Reckon non-anglos (who speak very good english) should have a crack! ;)

Not a bad idea. Get the Swedes and Danes in. They are generally excellent. I worked with a Danish guy whose written English would put most native speakers to shame.

Don’t bring the French in - they hate English in the first place and mangle the pronunciation ;).

1 ( +2 / -1 )

For what it is worth, I have supervised Eiken exams. There is nothing to it. A well trained dog could to the same.

Agreed. I was just asking to get an idea of how many people know the actual levels of Eiken. IMO... grade 3 at JHS graduation is not aiming high enough... that is a pretty simplistic level.

A lot of people here have a lot of good thoughts on it. I can't speak for all of you but for me the most important thing is students trying to use it, not being afraid of making mistakes.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

After all, we do not need English very much to live in Japan. Many necessary foreign words are already in our life written in katakana and used daily. We have a fine language. We do not feel we have to speak English.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

After all, we do not need English very much to live in Japan.

Guess you don't do much internet work or coding all of which requires some degree of understanding English words. We have several students who are also learning computer science at uni's. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of translators, interpreters, movie dubbing and voiceovers.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

We do not feel we have to speak English

You speak for all 120+ million Japanese? If so, then you all seem to want to watch your economy sink from 3rd even lower.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Let those who need English in their professions learn English. I do not think all the Japanese have to learn English as a compulsory subject at public schools. If it is going on as a national project. Something is wrong. Not all the jobs in Japan take English.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

Not all the jobs in Japan take English.

I’d say most jobs in Japan don’t require English.

My dentist, barber, local izakaya owner, landlord, staff at the dry cleaning shop etc. speak next to no English. They don’t need to.

Come to think of it, I’d estimate about 80% of the staff at my company speak next to no English.

You do need some but attempting to drill English into all people is a colossal waste of time and money. The results of doing this speak for themselves and they don’t speak in English.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Let those who need English in their professions learn English. I do not think all the Japanese have to learn English as a compulsory subject at public schools. If it is going on as a national project. Something is wrong. Not all the jobs in Japan take English.

Education should not solely be about training children for work. When I was at school in the UK French was compulsory, I've only occasionally used French in my professional life. So what? Learning a language opens up a whole new world.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

instead of hiring all alts they should accept more students from overseas where they don't speak English as a first language but a second

because English teachers who speak English as a first language give the students lot of pressure but students who are of the same age as the jp students here give them more chances to talk in English

those students from China Indonesia the Philippines might speak not perfect English but the fact they are not perfect will give Japanese students more courage to speak English.

more native speaker teachers give them the thoughts that they should be perfect when they speak English which is no good

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Simply put, learning a language is fun and should be fun.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I'm baffled when I hear people say I don't need English. Just about everyone in the educated world can speak English (Sadly, there are some elite families in Japan who pay their way through school, so can you consider them educated). It is the current language that connects the world of trade.

Chinese is an extremely complex language, which only a few nations can communicate in. Most elite Chinese speak English quite well, so it is unlikely that Chinese would become an international language.

Japan's economy has been declining with the rest of the world, and many businesses have been struggling to survive domestically. That's why the government has been aggressively investing in outside markets.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I am not surprised... given the level of education of majority of those "teachers" I am surprised it reached any level at all...

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

You have to wonder if anyone from the Ministry of ( funny walks , oops no I mean ) Education might want to read some of these comments. For future reference perhaps? Being about English education, and IN real English written by people living here trying their hearts out to teach the stuff. Sort of related to their job and all. How many will ya reckon?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

That's what happens when you set unreasonable targets and expect rote memorization and prayers to make up for the gap in hoped for level and reality to disappear.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I'm going to take my hat off to the kids who work really hard to study another language they may never use in JAPAN. Before I criticise Japan ,maybe I should consider how many native English speakers back home actually, speak a "second language" ? I'll probably get as much chance to use my german, french or Japanese in the UK as the Japanese would get to use their English in Japan. Very Little!

But kudos to those kids that actually take the time and MONEY to "try" to speak english.

Sometimes I won't cram any more grammar into them, but let them talk about what "they like", make mistakes, let the small mistakes go, so they feel good about trying to speak and help them use the grammar they already know. I've had kids chat about their smart phone game for ages but can't pull out a answer for eiken. They don't need some obscure word. Sometimes that Eiken test just isn't for teenage kids. Asking them to write about "companies helping parents with child care", "Should the health care system be improved" or "should companies allow workers to wear casual clothes" is something they can't even comprehend in their limited world. So it might help if they changed the questions to something the kids can actually relate to in their life. E.g should schools allow casual clothing or keep a uniform? Should High schools do more to help teenage mothers? At least they may have something to say about it. I wonder if the test is designed by adult for adults, and something more age related would be much better.(IMHO)

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Pick the best students, let them read a lot of English novels and mag articles. Then send them to English-speaking countries for a year or two. That will do it. Forget about the rest. We don’t need equality here and not all Japanese kids need to be good in English.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Here’s the solution:

Begin English immersion instruction at the ideal time in a child’s brain development, at the preschool and kindergarten ages. Many of the students at our international school enter with little to no proficiency in English. Most graduate as completely proficient verbal bi-linguals.

The Japanese government emphasizes English instruction too late in the academic game. Young kids love learning a new language. It can be made enjoyable, challenging and compelling.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Rootless, dead right. Immersion at an early age is THE best way to learn any language. It is also the most effective route at an older age even adults, though some might find it harder.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Meanwhile, it only takes 2-3 years to learn a language with proper instruction. Much less if personally motivated. The 6+ years of Japanese Engrish is an international joke

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Meanwhile, it only takes 2-3 years to learn a language with proper instruction. Much less if personally motivated. The 6+ years of Japanese Engrish is an international joke

I studied French in school for three years, and I knew people who did it as much as six, and didn't speak any better French than Japanese do English.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I'm not an English teacher, just a writer, a pedant when it comes to grammar and construction. But that's with the written word. I've often wondered what it would be like to teach English to kids in Japan because I'd like to do that, but the hideous stories I've read on JT penned by ESL teachers suggests that would be a waste of my time.

That said, several years ago I was in Nagoya, and met a parking lot guard/attendant who was in his 60s and whose English was awesome. My mentor of all things Japanese, rest his soul, was a university professor whose English was very good, but his son - a teacher in junior high - has a serious problem with it. One of the grandsons is in a cram school, and from what he told me when I visited them last year, it's awful. Two years ago, just outside Tokyo, I got off the train at the wrong station, and within five minutes a young couple came to me and offered help - in perfect English - and I attended their wedding, last October (other than them, the only English speaker among the guests). Suffice to say, I've been all over Japan and met people who can't speak a word, and others who can speak enough to be understood. And they all liked trying their best, as I mangled my Japanese. Depends on who you are and where you are, I suppose.

Finally, @Jimizon, you say, 'Don’t bring the French in - they hate English in the first place and mangle the pronunciation...' I'm Canadian, and I speak English, primarily, but I'm also of French descent and can speak that language well enough to be understood in France, regardless of the fact I haven't been there for 20 years. When I was there, the French didn't hate the English, and they don't now. They have a lot more distaste for other ethnic groups. But I won't go into that.

Wish I could help you ESL teachers. Sounds like you could use it.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

I know this may sound selfish but I like the present system because as long as they continue to "teach" English the way they do, I will always have my company operating.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I taught ESL in South Korea and coached my now ex Japanese wife (from a good Hiroshima school) for years. Have those students watch American and British TV and read English language newspapers as well as having conversations in English. It may help bring their levels up. It took my wife many years to achieve good proficiency.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Strangerland

Ok, and? It still doesn't take more than 2-3 years *with proper instruction * I had French in high school, three years, but had I learned Esperanto first before learning French, I know now it would have been productive not useless. I can't imagine 6 years of futility.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It still doesn't take more than 2-3 years with proper instruction

I got it in high school, same as Japanese kids are getting.

2-3 years of proper study, yeah, I think most people could get it. But these kids are studying other subjects as well, and unless English interests them in particular, their motivation is for grades, not for usefulness.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A college prof friend of mine taught in Europe. All the classes in the Dutch and Italian universities where he taught were in English. The logic is that since English is required to read or publish academic works, the classes might as well use English in class as well. I think that logic applies to the Japanese college-bound students as well. The obvious uses in Japan are business and tourism. I heard an Arab buying pearls in Tokyo, using English as the common language. When we travel in Japan, I'm impressed at how many speak English well enough to do what has to be accomplished. I doubt if most Japanese students really need English, so maybe it could be tracked by the student's interests.

Incidentally, bilingualism is well established in California, which recently changed the rules to allow granting a high school diploma without ever learning English. In some places in the state, Spanish is the only language spoken.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Maybe it might be useful to remember that school isn't about all the students speaking english, just as school isn't about all student becoming a scientist, a musician or a soccer player, but to give those kids a learning experience that may enjoy and take with them into adulthood either as an interest or as a possible career. I don't think it matters what system is put in place, if the kid isn't into the subject, then they won't take it up. I try to remember those kids who may have dyslexia, or other problems with learning that the schools.But this is for grades, just the same as it is in many other countries.

Sadly some still think we shouldn't teach at an early age because they say it will confuse the kids, well if they realised they already use a lot of english words it wouldn't be so daunting.Might help if we switched katakana for the alphabet for loan words and stopped chopping the english in half. e.g SUMA HONE can easily be changed to SMART PHONE.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

SUMA HONE

Something bone?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese teachers of English love using Japanese language to teach English grammar. An overanalysis of the language is taught - so it ends up being a n academic study of English, and the tests focus on applying the rules taught - mistakes are punished. Communicative competence does not reach anywhere near the levels required for practical purposes at the higher levels of language use and ability.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I teach at so-called 'prestigious' private high school and do basic grammar and sentence exercises with my senior high 2nd and 3rd grade students focussing on the three basic forms of past present and future using different pronouns in the positive and negative forms. Out of nearly 1,000 students only a handful (5 or 6) can use the basic tenses correctly, yet they are studying ridiculously complicated grammar structures and vocabulary in their Japanese English textbooks. The conclusion is, Japanese people study English, but they don't learn it.

A similar discussion was going on a few weeks ago. Given the results on Japanese school is the deployment of foreign English teachers wasted money.

Given the paternalism and biased views by some towards and about Japanese people, the authorities should consider deportation as a legitimate option.

Most native English speakers, with a lot of teachers among them, speak only one language. Those who work on the European continent often say 'there's no need to speak the local language as 'everybody speaks [some] English here'

The thought that the Japanese need to speak English in order to consolidate their position as third economic power is of course laughing stock :)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All the wasted taxpayer money spent on ALT teachers over the years and they still can't speak English any better now than they could 30 years ago.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is the result of the Japanese board of education their prehistoric educational system and their failure to direct hire foreign English teachers. Dispatch companies will hire anyone regardless of actual experience. In combination with low salaries, many ALTs just stand around the classroom like a tape recorder doing the bare minimum to collect their pay. There is such a high turnover rate of ALTs so dispatch companies can just keep making money employing new random people to be English clowns in the classrooms.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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