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Japan ranks 26th of 60 countries in global English proficiency

33 Comments

EF Education First Japan Ltd on Wednesday announced that Japan ranked 26th of 60 countries in the third EF Education First (EF) English Proficiency Index (EPI).

Japan’s EPI score in the survey was 53.21, down 0.96 points from the first edition, which used test data from 2007-2009. Among Asian countries, Malaysia and Singapore scored highest, coming 11th and 12th respectively, with Hong Kong 22nd, South Korea 24th and China 34th.

The EPI found that in the past six years, Japanese adults have not improved their English. If anything, their skills have declined slightly. During the same period, other Asian countries, most notably Indonesia and Vietnam, have made enormous progress. Despite being a far wealthier and more developed country, Japan is struggling to teach its students English for use in a competitive global economy.

EF Education First Japan President Junnosuke Nakamura said, “In Japan’s increasingly globalized environment, many people are now diligently studying English. There is greater focus on English in elementary and junior high schools, and companies are increasingly adopting English as their official language. However, in the Japanese education system, most English classes are delivered in Japanese as lectures, with little emphasis on developing actual communication skills. The resulting inability of many people to express themselves in English and actually communicate remains a serious issue. With English today being the international language, talented speakers will surely find themselves increasingly in demand. We will also see greater motivation to learn English as a result of Tokyo’s successful Olympic bid.”

Further details of the EPI findings are to be discussed at an EF event in Tokyo this evening, where over 190 people from Japan’s English-language education industry will gather to debate the future of English education in Japan and the implications for industry and the economy.

The third EPI was based on a unique set of data gathered from 750,000 adults in 60 countries over a period of six years, from 2007 to 2012.

© Japan Today

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33 Comments
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I'm surprised Japan did that well. I wonder how much of the testing was writing based, and how much was communication based.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I bet they rank last or close to it in terms of money spent versus results.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Seems like Korea would be lower too. Not much English going on there except book smarts.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I think China has the same problem as Japan- delivering English classes as a lecture entirely in Chinese. I saw a video of a Chinese English class and I couldn't even tell that they were speaking English.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I'm surprised Japan did that well. I wonder how much of the testing was writing based, and how much was communication based.

I would assume heavily or solely written based..wouldn't be surprised if simply multiple choice even.

Not surprised about a decline. Young people are even less interested in the outside world and English than older people these days.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I once saw a set of university entrance exam questions in a newspaper for the English language. It was like a test on linguistics!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

English is my second language and is arguably the richest in vocabulary so I know it can difficult to learn. It has a odd spelling system which is counter-intuitive because exceptions can be found even though words can sound so different. English has a rich set of sounds that strings consonants and vowels together. There are millions of sounds to learn and some distinct. In English there are subtle ordering requirements with hidden rules. Because of its diverse etymological origins, English has lots of similar synonyms, if not identical in meaning. In English the entire meaning of a sentence can be changed by placing a stress on a word. English has a little of older, poetic English and is also full of irregular verbs. It's strange in English how the whole grammar of a sentence changes when the sentence is put in question form. Last of all one of the most difficult things in English is the fact that there's little in the way of signals to tell you what kind of word is a word. Thus I can sympathize with those learning English as a foreign language and it can be hard for some to master.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Diference is that English has been going on in schools and at language schools for more than 30 years in Japan. Other countries have had less time. The education system in Japan is the problem. Kids just dont have to do anything in school but are still rewarded. There are no consequences and the kids know that so in the end...its more of a joke than anything.

@Novenachama,

Everything is difficult in this world. But we can`t keep using the excuse "English is difficult" to cover up the issue.

4 ( +4 / -2 )

Surprising. Is there a list of countries somewhere?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

What did U.S. score?

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Japan and the Japanese people in general have in fact a very little concern about languages.

It is a shame, specially young people don't know for sure if it is a biological barrier or an education system problematic, but most Japanese are really dumb when it comes to languages.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It can't have been very good seeing as i'm from southern england and americans had a hard time understanding me when i was there!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The teaching materials are from the 1950's. ALTs are hired to help student learn to speak, but the government demands written proficiency. Japan needs to provide its English teachers with the opportunity to live with Spanish, French, ESL, etc. language teachers in California for one month during the California school year (March or April.) It will be an opportunity to see modern language instructional methods and experience the American culture. Can this be done? Yes, by contacting every high school or alternative high school in California.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"English is my second language and is arguably the richest in vocabulary so I know it can difficult to learn. It has a odd spelling system which is counter-intuitive because exceptions can be found even though words can sound so different. English has a rich set of sounds that strings consonants and vowels together. There are millions of sounds to learn and some distinct. In English there are subtle ordering requirements with hidden rules. Because of its diverse etymological origins, English has lots of similar synonyms, if not identical in meaning. In English the entire meaning of a sentence can be changed by placing a stress on a word. English has a little of older, poetic English and is also full of irregular verbs. It's strange in English how the whole grammar of a sentence changes when the sentence is put in question form. Last of all one of the most difficult things in English is the fact that there's little in the way of signals to tell you what kind of word is a word. Thus I can sympathize with those learning English as a foreign language and it can be hard for some to master."

No one is asking any non-native speaker to become George Bernard Shaw. Such a deep understanding is unnecessary, instead actual application of a simpler level is probably a more effective approach.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

The easiest solution to the problem? And it's a no-brainer! Take it from this English-speaking Canadian who is learning Japanese in his 60th year on the planet so he can spend the rest of his days there with the perfectly bilingual same-aged Japanese woman he loves, who teaches Japanese to English-speaking university students: Put retired communications professionals like me into an elementary classroom for half a day and into a corporate board meeting for the other half. For only three days a week, of course, without that unpaid overtime BS (have to leave a little time for romance, preparing dinner for the wife, cleaning house, gardening, etc.).

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@pointofview, that is why before you learn how to write English, you learn how to speak it. If you start with the writing first that is just backwards... Did you learn to write your first language before you spoke it? Look at the Philippines, they are not even close to the same economic, education, or safety levels of Japan, but in comparison their English level is great.

If only Japan would make these JETs/English "teachers" actual... teachers, then they would have a much better English proficiency level.

Instead... Japanese teach other Japanese English in Japanese...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Novenachama, You make it sound as if English were by far the most difficult of ANY language to learn, which is simply not true! Quite an impressive list of obstacles you've got there, but if you only focus on those, you will never be able to learn a language - or anything else for that matter.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Since all junior high English teachers in Japan are Japanese who aren't very good at English, is this a surprise. When I was in school, my Spanish teachers were all native Spanish speakers.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Novenachama pointed out a whole list of difficulties and barriers to learning English, but you could argue the same when trying to learn almost any language really.

Over the years I've heard many learners of English comment on how English is somewhat easier to pick up than many other languages. I'd imagine that the great exposure the English language enjoys all around the world is a significant factor in this. I've also heard a lot about how grammatically, English isn't that complex. It's more idiomatic than systematic. A good list of phrases verbs and a mastery of simple past and past perfect tense will send you a long way in English. Possibly the most difficult grammatical aspect about English might be irregular verbs, but speakers of other Germanic languages ( Dutch, Swedish, German etc ) have almost no problem with this.

Learning a language is hard, but there's just so much access to English almost anywhere in the world these days that I'm sure anyone can achieve a functioning level of proficiency if they set their minds to it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As a volunteer I have been teaching English for 8 years in elementary schools as well as kindergartens. The bottom line- the entire system needs a complete overhaul. If Japanese goals are proficiency, then the entire ecosystem has to be revamped from scratch. The status of English has to be elevated and made into the second language of Japan. It must be taught from kindergarten to the university, with no breaks in between. They have to hire professionals teachers from English-speaking countries and abandon the JET/ALT system as these candidates are not trained teachers. Students need to have programmes on TV, newspapers, books, the whole works to immerse themselves in the language. An environment has to be nurtured where the student have practical uses in their everyday life. For example the use of the internet where English dominates the bulk of the material and resources and currently out of reach of the majority of Japan's population.

And down the line Japan has to create special teacher-training schools in each prefecture, using foreign teachers, so that the Japanese teachers attain proficiency levels and confidence to teach the children in elementary/junior/ high schools as well as universities.

The children in the kindergartens where I teach are amazing and have no pronunciation problems as opposed to the children in the elementary schools, they know their alphabets. Whereas the children in 5th and 6th grade of the elementary schools are struggling with the alphabets. Obviously there is something radically wrong. The Ministry of Education and the Board of Education bear the brunt of the blame for the pathetic state of affairs. They have no vision to safeguard the future of Japan.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

...it can be hard for some to master.

That in and of itself is an impediment. Some feel that they cannot use a language until they have "mastered" it, and thus end up never using it at all. Tell me, how many native English speakers have "mastered" English?

Many of my students are quite proficient at English, able to express their ideas clearly and keep up with the gist of a conversation. In that sense, they are "fluent" - a word with the same root as "fluid," meaning their ideas flow. Are they native? - No, of course not, but they are not expected to be, and at any rate, native to where? Australia? Texas?

A second problem is best expressed by these Wall of Voodoo lyrics: "Well, I know I've got something to say, but the problem is to say something, uh, you've gotta say it." Many speakers begin a speaking with no clear idea in their head of what they intend to say - and that is not a problem necessarily with language ability but with basic cognitive skills.

<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=771gtWfgDd0 >

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As the old saying goes.... When there is a WILL, there is a WAY !!! And as far as I can see at Japanese schools, No WILL and No WAY!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

A number of of the Japanese English teachers can be excellent, provided that they can communicate a decent level (which many sadly do not). They do have the learner's perspective in trying to learn English, which many native speakers don't have.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Jazz350,

Its the system of no consequences that is the problem. And too many silly games. Teachers arent the problem and professional teachers from overseas would do no better. Ditching ESL teachers because they don`t have a teaching degree is the typical straw man argument.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Teach Korean in elementary schools. It's useful, relevant and grammatically and vocabularily (?) related to Japanese.

Once kids are confident in Korean, say after three years and a homestay, then introduce English. They'll lap it up. The more languages you learn, the more you can learn.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The "English problem" in Japan has got absolutely nothing to do with teachers, teaching methods, schools, curriculum, number of years studied or anything else already mentioned. It's quite simple: Japanese will never be good at the language because it is fundamentally considered un-Japanese to speak English properly.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Just ditch the use of katakana in the teaching of English.

Usually, the Japanese have to learn katakana-English from their te-ki-su-to-bu-kus and then have to unlearn all that stuff later if they want to speak the language properly.

Children who are too young to learn the English alphabet should be taught aurally, using correct pronunciation. After all, that's how they learnt Japanese...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"Despite being a far wealthier and more developed country, Japan is struggling to teach its students English for use in a competitive global economy."

Actually, it's because Japan is a far wealthier and developed country that Japanese students don't feel the need to learn English. Unlike poorer countries, most employers in the country are Japanese companies and the country is big enough and wealthy enough not to depend mostly on America for its entertainment and movies. So the simple truth of the matter is, even in this globalized economy, the vast majority of Japanese do not "need" to learn English, and neither should they need to. Only a minority of jobs actually require knowledge of English, and when it is required, the people who want to do these jobs will learn proper English.

There is absolutely no need to ensure that all Japanese people speak fluent English. I can't escape the impression that many people want them to do so not for Japan's sake, but for their own. English-speaking tourists or people on visas who are annoyed that they have to learn some Japanese to get by because they can't randomly talk to people in the street in English and have them reply back promptly.

My own personal background may taint my views on that, as a French-speaking Québécois, my society is stuck between conflicting goals: increase English knowledge in the population for economic reasons as we are but 8 millions in a sea of nearly 350 million English-speakers but at the same time maintaining our language and culture by resisting attempts to "anglicize" society. I believe in a world of strong local cultures, not one globalized grey world with one language.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

ok whats new?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Abolish Katakana. Half of the problem solved.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I see it this way. As long as Japan treats English only as a subject rather than a second language, they will always be on the same level. The government must expose its citizen to the English language in the "real" world so they'll experience it firsthand. Reinforcement is vital in acquiring a new language.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't think katakana is the problem as much as how they use it. They need to be more creative in their teaching, after all, you do have TV with programs spoken in English. Some schools have been teaching English for 70, 80, 90 and more years. Some schools do a good job at it and J-gov should look at the schools that do a good job at it. As for the rankings...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EF_English_Proficiency_Index

The northern European countries ranked the highest. Since Japan seems to be dropping, soon Vietnam will surpass Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I really doubt this result, because most of all my Japanese friends cannot speak English but can read English. If you can only read English, it is good for study. If you really want to understand other culture in good way and bad way, you have to speak and communicate with them. Without doubt that Japanese communication skills in English is not good enough. One suggestion came to mind.

1 Complete elimination of current English test, which is going on in Junior or High school. In stead, they grade themselves how much they could express thier opinion, dreams and idea in the class through the means of English speech to the audience or converstion with one another. If you are not good at speaking English, you have to learn your seleves, this is the something you have to learn yourselves, not in the class room. If you cannot speak English at all, the arrocated time can be allowed to use silence. This awkward moment is really important for them, that will happen to them in the future, when they cannot speak English with foreigner.

Class is only catalysis to use English, NOT to study English.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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