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English education is an issue of critical importance for Japan in view of today's world situation. A simple and powerful initial step would be to raise university exam levels to the global standard.

22 Comments

Rakuten President Hiroshi Mikitani, calling on the government to introduce external exams, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, as part of university exams. (Jiji Press)

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The simplest and most powerful initial step would be to have English taught by qualified teachers. I don't think it should be forced, though, but rather an elective that's considered by parents and students to be worth the effort - that way, the teachers would have students who care about their proficiency in what's unarguably the world's language of business. And business is something the Japanese understand, unless it's the business of unpaid overtime and 'company' loyalty over personal satisfaction.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

English is taught by qualified teachers. When I came to Japan, I thought high school English teachers must be terrible. Later I realised this was not the case. They were and are still doing their job, which is to get students to pass university entrance exams, and that is where the problem lies. That is also Mr Mikitani's point: the exams are the problem as they test the wrong things.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Typical Japanese way of thinking: passing a test means you are good at something.

Dumb idea. Raising university entrance exam levels will do nothing. Just give kids another page or so of words or grammar they have to remember for a test, then forget after the test because passing it was the only reason they studied/cared about Engilsh.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Great step would be to dump the whole entrance exam system. It is the greatest generator of mediocrity in this country. Teachers don't really teach here; they drill students to pass exams.

That aside, the mess called English education in Japan needs a complete overhaul and not just a quick fix at a particular level.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Ah, the car crash that is English education in Japan gets another attempt to fix it. I've been hearing this kind of thing for years. We can at least fix the problem of wasting time and resources by making it optional. My barber, dry-cleaner, local izakaya owner, landlord, almost all staff at my city office, the staff at my train station and I'd estimate 70% at my place of work ( I could go on ) seem to get along just fine without it. Those wasted hours in English class could have been put to better use.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Oh deary, deary me.

TOEFL is a business-focused test. The vocabulary it teaches isn't useful for non-business students. Requiring medical students, science students, social work students, etc to take this test would be idiotic. Mr. Mikitani isn't off to a good start in his comments.

Teaching to the test is the REASON that Japanese students are so awful at English. It astounds me that the Japanese solution to beating your head against a wall is to stand back and say, "Hmm, we have a problem. We are clearly not making progress by beating our heads against the wall in this fashion".... and then reach the conclusion, "Obviously the answer is to beat our heads HARDER against the wall!!"... *facepalm".
1 ( +4 / -3 )

What the heck does that mean: "...today's world situation"? Is English suddenly more important today than it was yesterday? Or, I dunno, twenty years ago? Given today's world situation, wouldn't Chinese be a better focus?

The whole English education in Japan thing seems like a red herring, or a convenient hullabaloo to me. It's the same rallying or hollering points it's been for, what, thirty years, more? Has there been any substantial improvement?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

TOEFL is a business-focused test.

Indeed, deary me.

TOEFL is an educational test mainly for qualifications to study overseas.

TOEIC is a business-focused test.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thank you Slumdog, I was about the post the same thing.

The last thing MEXT needs is some guy who isn't involved in education spouting off opinions about English education. Is the system broken? Yes. Should something be done? Yes. Is this the guy who MEXT should be listening to? Hell no!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Not that the government is going to listen to this guy, because Rakuten is doing the thing I believe they fear most, encouraging 'crazy Western' business practices such as encouraging employees to have work/life balance.

Like others said, the methods are just all wrong. The school system focuses mainly on methods that help people obtain information from English and use it for purposes in Japanese. From my experience, people who have become good at speaking English in Japan have found some motivation or study outside of the system.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

slumdogMar. 02, 2014 - 04:27PM JST Indeed, deary me. TOEFL is an educational test mainly for qualifications to study overseas.

I could have sworn it said TOEIC when I looked at the article earlier.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Rakuten, isn't that the company that isn't claiming that they are doing everything completely different from other Japanese companies but are doing exactely the same? ;-)

From personal experience, I had to take both Toefl and Toeic and I would say that the Toefl is a bit more accurate in measuring actual levels ...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I could have sworn it said TOEIC when I looked at the article earlier.

You wrote TOEFL, not TOEIC. So, I am not sure what your point is.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Agreed that not everyone needs to be proficient in English. Why not offer other languages, as well? Korea and China seem pretty close by.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The testing system in Japan has students/adults hating English and I'm sure that won't change by introducing TOEFL.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

'Agreed that not everyone needs to be proficient in English. Why not offer other languages, as well? Korea and China seem pretty close by.'

And bugger all three languages up? The more the merrier I suppose.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Other languages ARE offered. At university.

TOFEL... a test that many Japanese English teachers would not do well at. The very notion of them even trying to teach for it has me in a fit of giggles.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

'The very notion of them even trying to teach for it has me in a fit of giggles.' To teach 'for' it? That would probably have the students in a state of bewilderment.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Really, only about 20% of Japanese actually need English for the good of the economy. It's a waste of public money to teach the rest. If they want to learn, private companies do a better job than the government. There's also the issue that teaching everyone English will open them up to other worldviews, which really isn't a good idea.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

'The very notion of them even trying to teach for it has me in a fit of giggles.' To teach 'for' it? That would probably have the students in a state of bewilderment.

You do know how the system here works, right?? Teaching for tests. This would be no different.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Rather than being the cool, exotic destination it was ten years ago, Japan is becoming an embarrassing choice for teachers (both qualified or not) to come to. Fukushima and fascism are not real crowd pleasers. "In view of today's world situation" Japanese politicians are making Japan increasingly irrelevant internationally, hence English education becomes more irrelevant in Japan. This is a shame because Japan does have a lot to offer. But an increasing drift to the right not only makes it less attractive a proposition for teachers, but also makes English less relevant in a world that may be less interested in forging a relationship with Japan.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The concept is right. However, TOEFL ibt is too difficult, because the test is made for studying abroad. TEAP provided by EIKEN Foundation is the best test I've ever seen. The level is appropriate for 18-year-old students.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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