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Japanese high school students fail to meet English proficiency target

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When I go out in a couple minutes, I'm probably gunna sit next to some poor high school aged soul on the train. The kid is like 14, doesn't speak any English, couldn't answer a question or phrase to save his life. Yet he will be memorizing a dictionary with words like "nuance" and "liable", when he actually couldn't tell you how he was feeling and the weather today.

You can't wrap everything in plastic, package it, and the try to sell it as your own and expect it to work.

44 ( +47 / -3 )

The results indicate targets set by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government are increasingly unlikely to be achieved.

Geez, I for one would love to know just what "targets" or goals in any area, that Abe's government have set HAVE been achieved., besides increasing the public debt that is!

Many Japanese students are believed to have trouble learning English due in part to psychology and cultural reasons, as well as the difference in grammar and pronunciation between the two languages, analysts said.

Ok the former is one thing, the latter is BS.

Want to find the real reason for the "trouble learning English" they, the government and specifically MEXT need to look in the mirror and realize THEY are the problem.

They have set up the system specifically to fail in any practical use of the language. The system is set up for tests and passing tests, the teachers teach to pass tests, and even if the student reaches the Pre-2 or 2 grade level, it is ZERO measure of any practical ability to SPEAK English.

Just looking for excuses and not concrete ways to make improvements!

12 ( +14 / -2 )

"Psychological and cultural reasons," "neurotic dread?"

No!

This is the "workman blaming his tools."

Nothing wrong with the students and everything wrong with the way they are taught.

English conversation schools do a pretty good job, by and large and they only have the students once or twice a week.

Education in Japan needs scrapping and rewriting from scratch. Patching it up and slapping on bits here and there won't do. It's not just English. It's the whole curriculum.

18 ( +22 / -4 )

Many Japanese students are believed to have trouble learning English due in part to psychology

The national self-limiting belief.

Quite a phenomenon, and as explodable as any other myth.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

For starters they really need to get rid of the Katakana-isation of learning. Being able to pronounce something like "cake" rather than "ke-ki" goes a loooooong way to being understood

22 ( +27 / -5 )

No surprise at all!

Teaching 25 years junior high school (and others) I can only confirm what has been said.

The curriculum needs to be changed, more emphasis on communicative skills instead of tests.

But to be honest it's the complete Japanese education system that's failing. Can we expect any improvements? Another 2020 goal to achieve? I got my doubts!

20 ( +20 / -0 )

Year after year, decade after decade the Education ministry surveys bring similar results. The problems gets discussed, suggestions from " experts" including foreign language professionals are thought & discussed , then dully shelved/ ignored without implementing. The next survey results come back unchanged in a year or two upon which the cycle is repeated. Standard modus operandi in J land. Nothing will change as long as the same oyajis continue to be at the helm of J - ministries.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

How does Japan compare to the rest of the world? Anglophone children in Canada supposedly spend over a decade learning French in school but most can barely string together a sentence, let alone hold a meaningful converstation. Flemish French learners and Walloon Dutch learners in Belgian schools show similarly dismal results. How many children in Geneva are able to say anything in Swiss German? How many of the millions of American children learning Spanish will ever be able to understand anything beyond Dora the Explorer?

I think the problem is simply that one size fits all classroom instruction has always been a poor teaching method. People aren't going to learn if they aren't interested and engaged. The time spent in the classroom is time wasted. Japan is not alone here. I suspect it would be more effective to give the children a pile of books and CDs, tell them when the exam will be, and force them to go it alone.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

due in part to psychology and cultural reasons, as well as the difference in grammar and pronunciation between the two languages

LOL, excuses will get you everything!!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I have been teaching here in Japan for 16 years now. I have a little private school. Over the years its become obvious that between each other and in front of other students ( short speeches) most students have a very low self esteem to perform to their actual ability. They know lots of English but pretend that they don't! I think this problem lies in a cultural aspect that they are bound by. I have many students who have become very competent with their verbal and listening comprehension over the years but, when it comes to test, like E-Ken they still perform poorly or they perform greatly but can't use the English from the test in high proficiency. I think the test in general are too vague and are not promoting, rather just confusing. We need to help encourage the students and teach them in a way that that understand with situations and easy to use phrases, that builds a foundation to improve on. Also, the e-ken grades on a curve that really doesn't help them either. So they are passing kids while their ability is still way under par for that particular level. My son took the e-ken 3 test when he was in 2nd grade (elementary school). At the time his reading speed was still too slow, so he didn't finish the last 3 pages of the reading part of the test but all the questions he answered were correct and got 100% on the listening part. They passed him! I was furious because he obviously didn't finish the test but got a passing score. Im sorry but that makes it difficult for us as teachers to properly evaluate students. The claim they have passed that test and because they have they want to move up to the next level. My son in 3rd grade eventually passed e-ken 3 with a 100%. So, I now only let me students move up if they have answered with a score of 90% or higher!

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Oh what nonsense.

Before I moved we lived in an apartment in Itabashi and there was an international preschool next to the park by our place. The teachers would bring the kids to the park most days and occasionally I would talk to a teacher. Every single one of those kids were Japanese and every one of them spoke only English to each other and the teachers. I once asked one of the teachers (from the Philippines I think) how they managed that and she said pretty bluntly that they don't have many Japanese teachers and the few that are there aren't allowed to speak to the kids in English.

So immersion is the answer. From a young age. As if we didn't already know this.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Raise your hand if you're surprised.

• looks around, but doesn't see any hands•

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Esperanto for one year + English for three years would have much greater success than just English for four years. Students need to understand the rules of language as a topic in general, then English in particular. This works for Europeans and is done in others around the world. Gets out of the mind of idiosyncrasies between native languages and just focus on the target language.

You COULD go and look up how other countries achieve success, or downvote informational posts. May I guess which one? It won't change the fact that it occurs, and it works

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Many Japanese students are believed to have trouble learning English due in part to psychology and cultural reasons, as well as the difference in grammar and pronunciation between the two languages

Wow! Miss the point much? These 'analysts' can sit in their offices and make up any excuse they like, but they need to get out of their office and see what's actually going on. The reason Japanese young learners fail at English can be summed up with one word, purpose! The only reason most study English is to pass a test. They have no aspirations of mastering or using the language. I cannot count the amount of times I've heard a young person say, "This is Japan. I don't need English." There is also the style of English education. Every time these unfavourable results come out they recommend more English classes and upgrading the textbooks to include more garbage English. Here is one of my favourite example sentences from a senior high second grade English textbook, "Having finished high school, she died." Seriously! What kind of morons are writing this stuff? Why would you put a sentence like that in a senior high school textbook? More is not better! Better is better!

11 ( +12 / -1 )

"Many Japanese students are believed to have trouble learning English due in part to psychology and cultural reasons, as well as the difference in grammar and pronunciation between the two languages, analysts said."

The tooth sucking, drooling old men at the Education Ministry just lost face BIG TIME.

Shoe on the other foot, we dreaded foreign masses have been able to become Japanese fluent, work in Japan, inculturate, and become assets to the glorious Japanese homeland. So the grammar and pronunciation difference is shot down. So it must also mean we barbaric foreigners are psychologically more developed and our cultures are more conductive to accepting differences. Seems the Education bureaucrats might wanna rethink their excuses.

Chinese and Koreans also seem to have fewer of the "psychological and cultural" booga booga that the Nihonjiron loving Japanese folk. Methinks because their education bureaucrats just may have some, oh I don't know, EDUCATION experience rather than being the old college pal or high school swimming team chum of the Prime Minister. Being able to inherit construction and concrete companies does not mean the tooth picking, toe picking old oyagi knows a thing about education and the learning process.

So it must mean that the Japanese boogey men of China and Korea have better education and English learning ability. I guess sushi and cherry blossoms just ain't gonna cut it anymore.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

suggestions from " experts" including foreign language professionals are thought & discussed ,

Who are these experts and are they really listened to? Every year the same article but nothing changes. I think its because of the test. All the Japanese students focus on is to score great on the test but that doesnt mean their communication skill is great. They need to change the test and of course the lesson material obviously, but MEXT etc dont have a clue because they're all old people.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If the Ministry of Education follows their usual modus operandi, expect to see the Hours of English taught in junior high schools Increase. Because, as ME knows More Hours = More Learning; therefore scores will Improve. Ha!

However, I think Dogdog is right. Abe et al don't want a bilingual electorite, they want Trumpesque voters who hear slogans and think they equal programs, progress, and Deep Thinking.

On the other hand, I've taught first year university students and the first thing I have to break them of is the habit of having to speak Perfect English All the Time or get yelled at by the Teacher who Can't do it either. After a few months of being able to make mistakes, laugh about them, and learn from them, their conversational ability soars.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Me: How are you? Student; I'm fine thank you and you?

Me: How are you doing? Student: ..... (crickets chirping)

To learn a language requires you to use it. Japan's English education problem in a nutshell.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It's the tests that are the problems morons! This “neurotic dread” that they talk about is a direct result of poor teachers not conveying the simple truth that its ok to have a go and make mistakes. Writing ridiculous sentences on the board, translating cryptic passages, tricky sadistic grammar problems and for what? I actually asked one of the English teachers yesterday if they ever read an English newspaper, in fact anything in English at all in their spare time? Novels, magazines, journals? The answer was obviously no. So if the teachers aren't interested in reading why are they forcing their students to try and learn a skill no one really wants to attain anyway? Oh, that's right, its for the tests...

Simple task based role playing exercises useful for real world situations. string your words together kids and if you get your message across you've had a win. Let the students talk to each other , watch what happens when you throw a bit of fun and humour in the mix. Magic. Unfortunately.. wont even go on as we all know the core problem. 40th out of 48 . There's a ranking for ya JLTs.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Insularity, arrogance and narcissistic neo-colonial attitudes are responsible. I have taught at a Japanese university and found an army of starchy, grey-suited greybeards using really antiquated methods to teach English. One "colleague" I heard as I was passing his class one day told his students with heavy finality "I talk. You listen."

Just as the Brits are/were infamous for their poor language skills, the Japanese suffer from a smug feeling of insularity and superiority. The issue of losing face is paramount, and concepts of global language, communicative skill and the sheer bravado of trying to express oneself in another language are totally alien here. The U.K., Australia, and to a lesser degree, the United States and Canada, are at the forefront of practical language teaching and learning worldwide, but the methods and techniques are contrary to the traditional classroom practices, ethos and atmosphere of Japan, where it is still common for teachers to deliver a sharp smack on the back of the head to the 'less attentive' pupils. Hardly conducive to a friendly, confidence-building feeling in a class ...

Of course there are proficient users of other languages, and Japanese diplomats and Kazumigaseki staff are given excellent intensive, practical training and courses, especially at the Foreign Service Training Institute in Sagami-Ono. Many scientists and researchers speak accurate English (particularly in their fields of interest), but the real issue is the shamefully low level of ANY foreign language among the GENERALITY of people. I can only echo what other contributors have said: "Start again. Watch, experience what other countries do" (But change some of your cultural barriers, too)...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I bet the Eiken is just about as useful as the JPLT.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Surprised by all the experts here, shouldn't be private schools, etc be booming here since they get it right. And why work for schools that don't get it right?

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

they keep pushing for kids to learn english sooner and sooner, but that isn't the problem. the curriculum is worthless because there isn't enough exposure to the target language. when you have only 30 minutes or an hour of "instruction" (and i use this word in the most loose way) during school hours, then students will never have enough exposure to gain proficiency in the target language. you really need a bilingual curriculum to achieve real targets.

and another huge point is that lots of people are not suited for learning a second language. remembering my high school days learning french and 1/2 or 3/4 of those students were crap at it. many brains just aren't wired for it.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Step one. Hire competent teachers who can speak the language rather than just translate it and explain grammar. Step two. Continuing doing step one over and over again.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

What did they expect? They throw ALTs in the classroom, pay them peanuts, usually have them in charge of more than 1 school, limit their contact with their students to once a week at best, have them supervised by a Japanese teacher, and limit their roles to being a human tape recorder over a cirriculum that is decided by the BOE and overseen by the MOE.

What the hell did they expect?

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Finland has great scores all round. Turns out all general teachers are required to have a Masters' degree. If you want good training from teachers, then you make a system only where the best can teach. Wish my country did that!

0 ( +4 / -4 )

"For starters they really need to get rid of the Katakana-isation of learning. Being able to pronounce something like "cake" rather than "ke-ki" goes a loooooong way to being understood"

For starters they need to have the mindset to speak another language. I remember a Japanese person asking me if I found the Japanese pronunciation of 'McDonald's' funny. I replied that I didn't in the slightest - it's how they say it. Apparently the English pronunciation of that restaurant causes a lot of hilarity among many.

I'd accept badly pronounced English rather than no English at all. I remember being in Sicily and being treated to a barrage of badly pronounced English from some very helpful and enthusiastic locals - lovely.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Part of the problem is the sterilized method by which most kids are taught. The Eikawa's and the alt schools are so afraid of law suits that anything that could be seen as different is banned. I teach on a volunteer basis and the first thing I teach is it is OK to make a mistake and to enjoy learning. I also vary my lessons up: if the weather is nice we go outside and learn about nature or sports. I use movies and cultural context to teach. Then we have snacks. I have had several parents tell me their child's test scores and confidence had increased. In short the PC culture has really blocked creative approaches to learning. I teach a class of around 20 students ranging from 3 to 89. All are at different English levels and I do not teach at I teach to each one based on their needs.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

It's the economy, stupid! No, seriously. Why do other Asian countries seem to do better at English than Japan? Why are Kyoto Obaachan shop owners suddenly studying and speaking more English? Money and the promise of profit. I met a man with an 8th grade education in Indonesia who spoke nearly perfect English. Why? Because he felt he needed to learn to get a good job in the service industry. Until the Japanese youth are encouraged to embrace English (i.e. people stop saying English is too hard for Japanese to learn - BS!), when there's demonstrable proof that learning and using English WILL get you a better job with better pay, the Japanese will continue to just shrug their collective shoulders and implement yet another textbook, workshop, way of team teaching, etc.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Nicholas PoetkerAPR. 06, 2017 - 08:36AM JST

I have many students who have become very competent with their verbal and listening comprehension over the years but, when it comes to test, like E-Ken they still perform poorly

Here is the link to the actual test questions for Grade Pre-2 conducted in last January. One needs to correctly answer 60% to pass the written exam to move on to the interview test.

http://www.eiken.or.jp/eiken/exam/grade_p2/pdf/201603/2016-3-1ji-p2kyu.pdf

Here is the link to the interview test.

http://www.eiken.or.jp/eiken/exam/virtual/grade_p2/pdf/grade_p2.pdf

I cannot think of someone who is competent in English but scores poorly at the test.

Ricky KaminskiAPR. 06, 2017 - 09:37AM JST

It's the tests that are the problems morons!

What is wrong with the test?

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

I remember when I first went to Japan and was catching the train from Narita airport to Tokyo. I noticed the Japanese lady sitting next to me had the same airline baggage tags as I did. I said to her, "did you just come from Australia?". She replied, "yes I did, I took a group of students to Cairns". I then asked her, "how did you like Cairns?". She said what? I asked again. And again she replied what? I then said, "did you like Australia?". She said, what? Then I said "Australia good?". She said, "yes very good". After some more confused chatting I asked, what work do you do? She replied, "I'm an English teacher at a private high school". I smiled :-)

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The Eiken test is awful, in my experience. I just wrote a whole post about why but it vanished before I could post it!!! Aaaarrrggghhh....

1 ( +2 / -1 )

IllogicalAPR. 06, 2017 - 10:28AM JST

She replied, "yes I did, I took a group of students to Cairns". I then asked her, "how did you like Cairns?". She said what?

I do not like how Australians pronounce "Cairns". It is so confusing.

-8 ( +2 / -10 )

Neurotic dread. OK. Yes, that would be psychological and cultural torture? Not a nice thing for a country. Maybe they should change to plastic dolls for teachers?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@thepersoniamnow

you just totally described this picture I took last year! This is what the english education looks like in this place!!

http://oi66.tinypic.com/254v4pk.jpg

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"I do not like how Australians pronounce "Cairns"

Nobody likes how Australians pronounce anything, but I don't see what's confusing about it.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Dear's good apportun'ity to stud'ents by the great goverment

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Eiken levels 5-3 are not bad, but above that and it's just a list of vocabulary - you either know it or you don't (the latter far more likely).

The TOEIC is vastly more realistic as the questions provide multiple hints about which word is most suitable. No one can be expected to master the entire lexicon no matter what language they're studying; contextual clues are priceless. Learning to speak around an unknown word or guessing it based on knowledge of grammatical context - and vice-versa - is exactly what mastering a language is.

The Eiken upper levels should be scrapped as a benchmark (won't happen - it fills too many pockets in Japan) and replaced by the TOEIC, and education should be made more enjoyable by encouraging fulfilling comprehension of not just what is correct but why.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Jim King, an expert in linguistics at Leicester University in Britain, claims many Japanese students have a “neurotic dread” their English is not up to scratch and feel that if they try to use it they may “lose face” among friends.

What does this have to do with passing the test? I mean, when would they use it among friends anyway? Do they expect the kids to teach themselves?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Honestly I don't know what the problem is with Japanese people and English. There have been commenters before who have said that the situation is the same as it's ever been; I'm starting to consider their point very soberly. In my own opinion, it really does have to do with Japanese culture and their unique approach to anything not Japanese. It is true that centuries of isolation has given birth to a particular culture of Japan, but just like anything--light, dark; hot, cold; healthy, sick--there are good and bad points developed because of the isolation. Japanese culture and mindset, in my opinion, have rendered Japanese people unable to function outside of a Japanese context with few exceptions. Japanese simply cannot operate unless it's with another Japanese person; they cannot understand any other language than Japanese. When they do study a foreign language, they are unable to step out of their mental box momentarily. That's why there's katakana-isation, the need to have a word for word translation of every word, the dissecting of grammar structures to the atomic level to see how it compares to Japanese instead of just learning, and remembering phrases and chunks of language. Anyway, it's true: this is Japan, and most Japanese will never have a need for English. They need to stop torturing these poor students.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Surprised by all the experts here, shouldn't be private schools, etc be booming here since they get it right. oops seems you haven't been taught English properly as well!?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@ CH3CHO (Apr. 06, 2017 - 12:12PM JST)

I do not like how Australians pronounce "Cairns". It is so confusing.

You don't like how the people of a country pronounce the name of a city in their own country???

Aren't you one of those folk who keeps complaining about non-Japanese telling Japanese what they should do?

Oh, the irony!!!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I do not like how Australians pronounce "Cairns". It is so confusing. I do not like how Japanese pronounce "Coffee". It is so confusing.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

blvtzpkAPR. 06, 2017 - 01:07PM JST

Good point. With all the respect to the formal pronunciation of the city, I still do not like it because it is confusing. I cannot tell if they live in cans or in Cairns.

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

With all the respect to the formal pronunciation of the city, I still do not like it because it is confusing. I cannot tell if they live in cans or in Cairns. With all the respect to the formal pronunciation of "Coffee" I still do not like it because it is confusing. I cannot tell if they want to drink "Coffee" or some drink the rest of the world has never heard of before!?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Tests are OK if it is just for the test. Believing that Eiken Pre-2 equals knowing and using English is not realistic. Unfortunately though this belief is omnipresent.

A couple of posts are about people having to use English to get money are spot on. Fortunately for a lot of English teachers this intrinsic need in Japan is not actually really pervasive. If it were, I think results would be quite different.

When I first came here in the good old bubble economy days without a qualification I taught English in a mix of how I learned Latin at school and mimicking my favourite teachers. After proper study training and research over many years everything I do is different. However, I do think that lots of teachers actually teach (or institute learning) they same way they did it and also how they learned English. For instance the almost universal translation of English into Japanese - at least in my Latin classes there was about 70% English-into-Latin translation, which meant at least that we had to convey meaning in the target language. Though it was a dead language and we never had to speak it, we had an excuse. But as long as the top-down non-teaching bureaucratic morons in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Technology treat English - and other foreign languages - like it is dead and not used today, nothing will change.

Actually lots of people in Japan have a pretty good command of English, even when they have little need such as for getting money. However, that proficiency commonly was obtained through their own individual choices of approaches and effort, not what they were given at school. Even choosing to do a test is a valid reason to do study something. If an English test, getting knowledge of live, relevant English is really a byproduct and not the primary. But until English is "done" and used extensively in classrooms and also in life here, the unsuccessful language-learning hegemony of non-teaching bureaucratic morons in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Technology is going to prevail.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@wtfjapan:

As a teacher, the problem is both in the management and the parents' expectations. I could spend 1/3 of my class time talking to the kids about their week, asking this and that about what video game they're playing or what band they're into, but if the management thinks its a waste of time..well, they pay my bills.

Similarly, the parents have these ridiculous goals along the lines of "I want my kid to pass Eiken Pre-2 in a year", yet only allow for 1 hour a month and no home support. It's like expecting to have a sexy body by only hitting the gym once a week or so.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

So much for having teachers with an English degree.. Japanese learnt more Engwish singing PPAP (Pen Pinapple Apple Pen)than they have in the whole time the JET program has been active..

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Why study something you will never use. Might as well be basket weaving. Same difference.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The education ministry should stop making excuses and go to Taiwan to see how they have managed to get such a good level of spoken English in youngsters there.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I noticed a few comments above about ALTs. The public school situation in Tokyo with ALTs is absurd! They have cut the salaries to less than 2 million yen per year making it a totally unliveable amount. As a result, over 90% of the ALTs in public schools in Tokyo are from non-native English speaking countries. The Philippines heads the bill, with many more from Indonesia, Russia, India and some from China. In many cases, the JLT speaks better English than the ALT. In most cases, the public school ALT is nothing more than a human CD player with little or no bearing on the style of English education being presented.

I noticed another comment about private high schools. These are a totally different kettle of fish. The private high schools only teach for university entrance exams (juken). All this involves is, memorising ridiculously obscure grammatical structures and vocabulary. I teach in a private high school. The principal has become quite openminded towards English education and has given the native English speakers quite a free reign over what to teach in classes. It is all solo teaching, not ALT. However, they still don't quite understand the importance of reading comprehension and writing. Our directive is to make them speak with the goal of the senior high classes being able perform a debate. I'm still not sure what the other 30 students will do while the elite are performing their debate (roll eyes). They just don't get it! The students are studying absurdly difficult grammar structures and vocabulary with little or no comprehension of any of it. This is where they fail!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Taiwan to see how they have managed to get such a good level of spoken English in youngsters there. forget Taiwan go to Singapore or Hong Kong , the majority of the natives are bilingual, speak English fluently or close too. Both countries/territories also have a very strong international business presence there, fluent English population played a big part.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I cannot think of someone who is competent in English but scores poorly at the test.

Probably because the one's who truly are competent never took the test!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

My wife scored 98% 5 yrs after we came her, she felt her english had declined as she did less travels(also fluent in korean and spoke a few other languages).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Eiken is an amakudari company that should not be used to judge the English level of Japanese students across the board. That's the political class lining their own pockets.

As everyone says, there are huge problems with English education in Japan. So much time and effort wasted just to cram some largely irrelevant vocab and obtuse grammar into the short-term memories of students who actually study hard and are willing to learn. They deserve so much better.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

In the UK we have teaching assistance, these are made up from people who may be retired or students, or members of the public wishing to fill in at a school for various reasons, the TA's can bring a lot to a school, also they don't get paid the full amount as they are not fully qualified teachers, so why doesn't japan schools take on TA's they could be a English person who could help out with the English lessons? they, we have the best understanding of the English language, it would be a win win situation for the schools and students! a English person would be able to listen and teach students how to pronounce words correctly.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

As a student, I studied Spanish for 7 years. The sheer quantity of information I learned is well below what Japanese students are asked to memorize, in terms of grammar and vocabulary. I'm amazed at the large/difficult words that I see students studying on trains. However, despite the fact that I learned a lower quantity of language, I believe that I learned a higher quality of language. I came away being able to competently and confidently have basic conversations in Spanish. I could introduce myself, talk about my family and hobbies, ask about the cost of some fruit, understand directions of how to walk to the museum or which train to take. Japanese students - who are tasked with translation of much more difficult texts than anything I ever faced in Spanish classes - aren't able to have those basic conversations. Why? To agree with much of what has been said above - the Japanese educational methods are at the heart of the problem. I was pushed to not just remember, but USE what I learned. And as a result? I could use it. It really is that simple.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Try going to South Korea, China, or Taiwan and understand how their English is better

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My wife scored 98% 5 yrs after we came her, she felt her english had declined as she did less travels(also fluent in korean and spoke a few other languages).

On what? It sure wasnt the Eiken as it isnt a percentage based test

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

OK, I like cans if they have some beer left in them.

Looking at the excellent link above to the modern Eiken, I was impressed. It has definitely changed. I would now like to say that it used to be awful! (I used to have to teach for Eiken.)

Having said that, I still remember the words of a Japanese friend who was on the judging board for the spoken section. He told me that the rules for the judges stated that a longer reply is worth more points than a short one, even if the answer itself is wrong. In other words, a simple yes or yeah reply is worth little.

The example he gave me was something like the following.

Question by examiner: "Is the Statue of Liberty in New York?"

Answer 1: "Yes." = correct but low score.

Answer 2: "No, the Statue of Liberty is in Washington D.C." = incorrect, but higher points than scored in 1 above, evidencing more ability to use the langauge.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Try going to South Korea, China, or Taiwan and understand how their English is better

By comparison, Japan spends double (or more) on English education than any of those countries you mentioned. South Korean education is far worse than Japanese. They still use the stick in SK and their last year of high school is military school. It's difficult to make comparisons considering the major differences. There are 1.3 billion people in China and a large percentage live in poverty. How can their education be compared to Japan? Taiwan actually does quite well, for a relatively small country.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The Original WingAPR. 06, 2017 - 04:50PM JST

As a student, I studied Spanish for 7 years.

I came away being able to competently and confidently have basic conversations in Spanish.

You may have seen this chart.

http://www.effectivelanguagelearning.com/language-guide/language-difficulty

600 hours of learning is enough for the Spanish language because it is "closely related to English".

In contrast, 2,200 hours is required for an English speaker to be able to speak the Japanese language, because it is "exceptionally difficult for native English speakers." It is difficult because the language is totally different from English in terms of linguistics and culture.

The difference works both ways, and it is said that 2,400 hours of learning is required for a native speaker of Japanese to be able to speak English.

You may be better at Spanish than Japanese students are at English, probably because the required hours of learning is much shorter for you.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Agree, difficulty of learning a new language depends a lot on your mother language.

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I am not a teacher and I have the good fortune to be a native English speaker, but I can't help feeling that Ricky Kaminski is right, reading is the key. As a kid I devoured books, uniformly in those days written in good English. Consequently today I find that my English is commensurate good. I can see now the same trends in my grandson.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@CH3CHO

Thanks for the information. However, what that chart is referring to is achieving the level of proficiency. I'm not proficient in Spanish, and I'm not asking Japanese students to reach the level of English "proficiency." I'm talking about vocabulary and grammar that are learned in the early stages of education - in both education styles. Japanese students learn all the necessary details about how to hold conversations about all those general topics that I mentioned, but they aren't able to perform them (to your point, yes, it likely took Japanese students longer to learn those concepts, but they DO learn them). The inability to apply information learned speaks directly to failures in the educational methods.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As a kid I devoured books, uniformly in those days written in good English. Consequently today I find that my English is commensurate good. I can see now the same trends in my grandson.

Commensurately good, I believe it, but here reading for "fun" is the furthest thing from a Japanese student learning English. They dont do it, They could learn a lot by just reading but they dont.

When I first came here, the suggestion given to me to learning Japanese was read manga.....it helps. Reading skills are highly beneficial in picking up a second, or another, language.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Try going to South Korea, China, or Taiwan and understand how their English is better

By comparison, Japan spends double (or more) on English education than any of those countries you mentioned. South Korean education is far worse than Japanese. They still use the stick in SK and their last year of high school is military school. It's difficult to make comparisons considering the major differences. There are 1.3 billion people in China and a large percentage live in poverty. How can their education be compared to Japan? Taiwan actually does quite well, for a relatively small country.

Don't study their whole school system - just study how they learn English better

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Eiken results are a crock. The exam was designed by Japanese people, conforming to Japanese testing methods (Ever take a look at one? It's like no English test I ever took in school). Plus at the higher levels of Eiken there is a TON of vocabulary that most native speakers either don't even know, or would never use in normal conversation. Yet somehow people who can't actually speak English are able to pass the Eiken 1st grade..!

Throw out the Eiken test. It is garbage.

Tests such as TEAP, BULATS, TOEFL or IELTS are a far better way of measuring real ability. TOEFL and IELTS are especially good since the examiners and graders are native speakers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The ALT system has now turned a race to the bottom mentality; it is not about getting a qualified teacher, it is about getting the cheapest native English speaker possible. I could fix the Japanese education system in a month:

  1. Fire all ALTs
  2. Recruit English teachers
  3. Pay them 400,000 yen a month
  4. Make English compulsory one day a week, no Japanese all day.
  5. Parents to be trained in English.
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The ALT system has now turned a race to the bottom mentality; it is not about getting a qualified teacher, it is about getting the cheapest native English speaker possible.

Spot on.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

They way they teach English is odd. It is a very rare occasion that you find someone you can understand what they are saying. As a syaing, "Japanese speaks English, only Japanese can understand it." Well, there is Singlish, so might as well add Japlish in there. I am pretty sure there should be Chinlish and Vietlish as well. It is very difficult to listen to some Chinese or Vietnamese speaks English as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The textbooks are terrible. The teacher training is non-existent. Ask American foreign language publishers to present their ESL textbooks to the teachers. A distinct difference is the repetition of vocabulary throughout the book in American textbooks. Greeting, weather, clothing, food, etc cannot be taught in a chapter, then never used again. There are at least 10 different responses to "How are you?" Japanese textbooks only present "I am fine, and you?" Almost all Japanese cities have "sister cities" in the USA. Send as many teachers as possible EVERY year for two weeks of paid vacation or establish exchange teachers for a year. Simply put, someone in the government needs to contact the department of education in the sister cities to talk about what can be done to improve English instruction and USE in Japan. A former ALT at the Tehama County Department of Education in Red Bluff, California, is ready to help on this issue.

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When Nakasone introduced it years ago, I thought the ALT system doomed to failure. Mostly what happened was the pet gaijin was dragged out in front of the class to perform like a circus monkey. Didn't make the slightest bit of difference.

Having gaijin teachers was not a bad idea, but they should have used them to teach the JAPANESE TEACHERS OF ENGLISH. And they should have had a team of experienced and effective native and Japanese teachers draw up a curriculum that would enable students to actually acquire the listening, speaking, dialogue, reading and writing skills that are demanded in today's world.

In a business that was failing, heads would be put on a pike and people hired who could get the job done. If a hospital produced more sick people than healthy, heads would roll and there would be a shake up. Why isn't something like this done with the Ministry of Education? They have failed miserably. They should be sacked.

Forget people who graduated name universities, hire people who can actually get the job done, write a realistic curriculum and work out how to deliver it so that students can get the skills they need.

It isn't hard.

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The rest of the world uses regular English and then there's Romanji English for Japan. The Japanese learn this useless form of English from elementary and hope some English teacher can help them convert to regular English somewhere down the line. It's no wonder the Japanese are the worst to learn English. The order should be reversed. Regular English first while the brain is still developing and Romanji English should be an option offered much later. It's necessity is even questionable.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@M3M3M3 I had a German exchange student from Dresden in my high school French class who spoke fluent American/Canadian English including idioms and cultural references. Most of the school didn't know he was a foreigner as he spoke perfect English without the slightest hint of an accent. We also had a Finnish exchange student who spoke who sounded like to us perfect British English. Also, large chunks of America have significant Spanish speaking populations. 1/4 of my high school were native Spanish speakers or spoke Spanish at home.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the best way for Japanese to learn english is during their elementary grade if that is the goal of PM Abe and JGov. It should be included in their curriculum. Learning english in High school is quite late. It's like placing a 12 year old kid in a place for the first time. Start elementary english during their elementary. 30 minutes a day is not that burden to kids. So they can understand and pronounce correctly . Japanese alphabet cannot be merged into english alphabet. Vowels and Consonants may sound alike but phonetics will not. Because they will pronounce it as in their japanese alphabet. Hot for HOTO, English for INGLISU. I know Japanese are smart and intelligent. One thing I noticed with japanese english. they are used to merging it to their japanese alphabet. Their only single letter are their vowels. And it is even re-arranged. I do also wonder why Japan have 4 different ways of writing. Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana and Romaji. Why, I don't know. How many countries have 4 ways of writing... IMHO

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The order should be reversed. Regular English first while the brain is still developing and Romanji English should be an option offered much later. It's necessity is even questionable.

Romaji is taught in ES because the kids have computer classes and the standardized keyboards all use the alphabet.

Romaji itself isnt the problem, it's WHICH romaji that is taught and imprinted on everyone's minds that is a HUGE problem.

There are two main ways of writing Japanese using romaji, the Nihon-shiki style (Japanese Romaji) and Heburn style, which is closer to English than Japanese. For example, using the former, read this aloud, and then the Heburn style and you will instantly see the difference, (This is a girl's name) Tinatu.....Chinatsu.

It's F-uped kids for generations, and still today too!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

there's Romanji English for Japan.

Romaji. No 'n'.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

noriyosan73: "Send as many teachers as possible EVERY year for two weeks of paid vacation or establish exchange teachers for a year"

The idea is great, but no-one really gets vacation. Any teacher sent abroad at present has to submit a plan for every day they will be there, and then they have to write a summary at the end of every day, in Japanese, which takes up the whole evening. This kind of demand means that they carry the Japanese environment around like a heavy shell during their sojourn abroad. The responsibility and pressure of such an assignment means that the majority do not want to go abroad, and they are somehow expected to complain about it to their colleagues when they come back.

A teacher who can go abroad and rise above this is a rare and refreshing gem indeed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The best is to start young - motor skill. The latency and difficulty are when you encounter one language, translate it to your native language, understand it, then based on your native language and translate it back. I do not think I do any translations in my mind between the languages I speak. I doubt my sons do that either. English is not that difficult comparing to some other languages.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just face it, all. English is a hard language. Learners whose native tongue is a 'pure' language invariably will have issues. I have heard that Czech or Polish has uncountable pronoun variations, but like mathematics, just learn the damn thing. English ain't like that. Real hard*ss language to master. Now, the way this country is going about it certainly creates an enormous burden for kids who are otherwise fairly motivated and up to the task. Yes. English is an immensely difficult thing. Read a little of Thomas Hardy, why don't ya? Yes, very cumbersome language indeed English is. Don't forget it or underestimate this fact for even one moment of your professional life. Be happy that you can follow the just of it all. Ha But the BOE are the real criminals here. When my own kid speaks Japanese, sounds like a numbskull to me. I gotta take my kid out of the local school soon...before they become mentally damaged beyond repair...nxample kidding! Japan is a perfect model of post-war controlled socialisation. A real marvel! Again, read a little Thomas Hardy for an example of what learners are up against. And my last and final word is this: All testing should be done on a stage.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Have a look at an English lesson in Japan:

https://www.facebook.com/moefreak/videos/1254950954600734/

1 ( +1 / -0 )

earners whose native tongue is a 'pure' language...

Not language today is "pure".

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"The idea is great, but no-one really gets vacation." EXACTLY. Japanese parents prefer to have teachers serve as parents to their children. In other words, children are being raised by teachers. Therefore, the teachers' children are raised by other teacher. Moreover, why is there such concern about overtime in industry? How about overtime for the teachers? It is absurd to ask teachers to work on Saturdays and Sundays to attend sports events or any other event so that they can raise other parents' children. For those who think English is difficult to learn, try learning Russian. There are many exceptions in English spelling and pronunciation, but if English is presented as Spanish, French, German, Russian, Vietnamese, etc are in the USA, then anybody can learn to be proficient in English. Change the textbook publisher to a competent publisher, and watch to proficiency improve.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Now this is welcome news, this means we all get to keep our jobs as English teachers. We are more economically viable now that the students our failures at English.

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There is pride in Japan to use the English language over-the-counter at service and retail places, the employees are both quite respectful and helpful. The heart of the question is national pride. Students are required to study English, but how is this to be accomplished without sacrificing their national pride. As a result memorization of English pretty much becomes the rule-of-thumb so that the student does not risk criticism (overtly or covertly) from teachers and students alike for not being Japanese enough. National pride is the "heart" and English skills "over-the-counter". If the target or aim is to have a Japan that has both national pride and English skills then why is it such a struggle? Make the national pride with English skills a marketable item that embraces and includes in the classroom setting and mind-set. Japan prides itself in excellence, this is something that does not have a price tag.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

In Japan, ALT's are native English teachers that are basically used to model the target structure during lessons. The Japanese English teacher is in control of what is to be taught and how to teach it. This means that in most cases there is very little emphasis on speaking skill. This is a problem when it comes to passing the Eiken which is the goal of MEXT. I teach speaking and pronunciation as well as the other skills needed to pass the Eiken. The ELT must be given more control over the English curriculum to ensure all skills receive attention.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Again, I think it's cute Japanese people butcher the language to no end. Not every country needs to speak or sound like a westerner.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It doesnt matter what happens in elementary school, if the curricula at JHS and SHS do not change. The teachers at JHS will just start at ABC again, the kids will be frustrated, and they will rapidly learn to hate English.

The problem is the gap between policy and implementation. There is no incentive for teachers to do anything other than teach to the entrance tests for SHS and university. The easy answer is to remove English from the list of compulsory subjects and also from university entrance tests, except of course for those trying to enter English language departments. Make it an optional course and that would free up the curriculum, and also the classes would be full of more motivated and interested students.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Who’s fault? The dusty old men in smoke filled rooms who think they know educational policy. No. They ARE WRONG. Have been for the last fifty years. STOP letting money connections and cozy relations dictate English language policy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

In Singapore many speak Chinese at home and English in school. Once I spoke with some high school students who were browsing the fiction section in the huge Kinokuniya bookstore. They told me that they read English books for pleasure in their free time. In Japan English is considered "benkyo" (an ugly word, I might add) and outside of school avoided like the plague. Very few Japanese read English for pleasure hence they can never learn the vocabulary needed for language competency. Of course, it should be added that students in Japan are driven to breaking-point by a relentless schedule of homework, test prep and bukatsu that robs them of their free-time resulting in teens with stunted personalities (all work and no play makes Taro a dull boy!) entering university as damaged goods and detesting English as a subject. Education here is a Japanese Tragedy!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese dont learn English, they study it like science. Disecting the grammar to a point that it just becomes like a gutted toad.

start at 1st grade elementary, using English in every subject taught, maths= numbers & symbols, Geograpahy = countries, languages ,nationaliies and geograpahical vocabulary, mountains volcano etc. Im not saying the whole lesson, 1st grade may perhaps be 5 minutes at the most. This may help to nomalise English rather than the build up that happens so often, "The ALT is coming today yey yey" hands clapping and ends up being a bore fest because the students cant really produce anything that isn`t a controlled,teacher focused unnatural learning of English.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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