Voices
in
Japan

quote of the day

Japan, with a GDP more than 20% larger than Germany’s and with twice as many citizens as Italy has, can still thrive within its own ecosystem. Except for trade, it requires little overseas intercourse

74 Comments

Robert Dujarric, director, Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University Japan (The Diplomat)

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

74 Comments
Login to comment

Change 'they' to 'most' and 'them' to 'most of them' and I'd agree. Japan does need some people capable of speaking English and will probably need more in the future. The majority don't need English. I'd say 80% of the people at my company can't speak passable English whereas everyone in my department is highly proficient. That's enough.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

I remember people saying the same in France in the early 80s.

How time has changed that attitude in France and will do likewise in Japan.

The job of policymakers is not to state the now, but anticipate the future.

9 ( +14 / -5 )

People study language for more reasons that just to get a job. Being able to read or speak in another language broadens your horizons. So this is a kind of strange opinion coming from an educator.

19 ( +24 / -5 )

I agree 100% Been saying something similar for awhile myself

4 ( +6 / -3 )

They don`t need English? In the 21st century? Japan doesnt need it for anything other than trade? What about travel, research, getting info from Internet...and a ton of other reasons. Is this guy serious?

26 ( +29 / -3 )

How does "They don’t need it...Mastering a complex foreign language wouldn’t be more useful to them than Japanese is to a Kansas farmer." square with the government's plans to hold the Rugby World Cup, the 2020 Olympics and to significantly increase foreign tourism? Does he think robots can serve as hosts and hostesses to foreign visitors?

If this man is saying all Japanese students don't need to study English, that it shouldn't be mandatory, then I agree with him. But some people in trade, as he mentioned, and many people involved in tourism do need it.

This quote is uncontextualized, but if it is accurate, I question Temple U's programmes. You would think someone involved in contemporary Asian studies would understand that many Asian visitors to Japan would like to interact with Japanese people. English is lingua franca. Many Asian visitors speak English. Japan cannot be an autarky. More Japanese who speak English well are needed.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Dear Robert, you forgot about the ingrained cultural arrogance and complacency. If the Japanese don't get motivated and learn English then eventually they will have to use Chinese. Choose your poison...

9 ( +14 / -5 )

Certainly the view of most Japanese - and a fair point. However, there is also a worrying majority of businesspeople who want the "international business" skills with absolutely zero interest in English. I deal with them all the time. Sure, domestically thwy mau get by - but this place ia growing increasingly insular and the economy is going downhill fast. In other words, Japan is a "closed" country. Always has been, always will be.

13 ( +14 / -2 )

The study of a foreign language is immensely beneficial in preventing cognitive degeneration - the Japanese people still have a hang-up with mastering English but any foreign language study is advantageous....

7 ( +8 / -1 )

This is an issue that has to be addressed, if Japan wants to truly emerge into the world order as anything but an insular society.

English is, indeed, the language of worldwide business, and that fact won't change. In my travels around the country I am sometimes pleasantly surprised at the capability of some young and elderly people to start a conversation in English, and it makes me smile as we enjoy a true feeling of kindness and consideration. What makes that feeling even better is when I make them smile with my mangled Japanese.

It's all a part of life. Let's not dwell on it, but rather do something about it in a positive sense. As for the quote, it makes sense, from a farmer's perspective. But farming in Japan, as we all know, is a dead-end.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

I totally agree with the author, my coworkers can't speak a word of English but they go on vacations overseas just fine, and there's enough legitimate info / BS both online and elsewhere in Japanese.

So long as a few select industries like businessmen, researchers, diplomats, etc can use English its fine. Spending 100s of hours of tax payer funded mandatory education hours on a language that the majority will use only when travelling or wikipediaing something that doesn't have a Japanese article is bogus. I'm guessing the Eikaiwa teachers here on JT would have more to gain from having that sector kept private too, otherwise they gonna have to run around the streets yellin "THEY TUKKKER JERBZ".

There just isn't a demand for english on the layman's level here as there isn't much use for it in the lives of most regular Japanese citizens.

@kurisupisu - Sure the STUDY of one is undoubtedly so, like sudoku or anything else that uses your brain. Doesn't mean multilinguals don't get dementia. Or are you saying old retired individuals who are at risk of going senile should be the main segment to pressure into acquiring another language? If so that's already reality to some extent, tonnes of retirees with time and money on their hands are attending language classes

And no Reckless, the majority of Japanese people will not need Chinese in the future like they don't need English today.

-10 ( +4 / -15 )

I'd like to add that I've been teaching English here (to people of all ages) for almost a decade & it soon became very clear that the biggest problem isn't the language aspect itself, but the the complete lack of interest in anything outside of Japan - be it cultural, sub-cultural or language-related. It astounds me just how little of the world Japanese know, which I put down to their almost-religious obsession with domestic media. Japanese news, Japanese dramas, J-pop, variety programmes - the list goes on. That's fine of course (after all, we're in Japan), but as a language learner myself you simply cannot even scratch the surface of language learning without having at least some interest in areas beyond the language itself.

Learning a language is all-encapsulating. The Japanese education system, nor the public, just doesn't see it this way & this is the problem.

15 ( +17 / -3 )

PTownsendNov. 18, 2015 - 09:06AM JST

This quote is uncontextualized, but if it is accurate, I question Temple U's programmes. You would think someone involved in contemporary Asian studies would understand that many Asian visitors to Japan would like to interact with Japanese people.

The Japanese students at his university definitely need better English skills. Anyone who has done an MBA at Temple will back me up. We worked in teams and always the weakest link in nearly every team was the native Japanese. Not only were their English language discussion and presentation skills weak, their basic investigative and research skills were more akin to a freshman undergraduate than a post graduate.

They were nice enough, hard working and enthusiastic. However for many of them, it was their first exposure to a non-Japanese tertiary environment and approach (many of us on here know how limiting that is) and one couldn’t leave the course without having the suspicion that the course had been slightly dumbed-down for the Japanese students.

In the end if you read the whole article, it comes across as just another porch foreigner voicing what the Japanese elites want to hear. Yet when I meet the children of these Japanese elites, I’m always surprised how well traveled and internationally educated they are.

A North Korean approach to education….what is good for the ruling gander, exposure to foreign language and culture, is not good for the geese.

10 ( +16 / -6 )

There are interpreters and interpretation software. No English needed.

-22 ( +2 / -24 )

Translations software sucks. Translations end up complete gibberish.

17 ( +20 / -3 )

Robert Dujarric is the kind of considered expert opinion that services the nationalist ego, if not the national interest.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Mastering a complex foreign language wouldn’t be more useful to them than Japanese is to a Kansas farmer.

They don't need to master English. But know barely enough get by in contemporary times. Aren't Japanese hosting the 2020 games? A little English (engurishu) could be helpful there.

Some of the most interesting, well-educated and coolest Japanese I've met were Bilingual. The boring ones (about 80%) I'd have to agree, have no need for english or any other foreign language.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

University peeps like Robby here are 100% gonna be defensive of anything percieved as negativity to Japan.

It is basically what they get paid to do.

A foreign face that rationlizes a very Japanese opinion.

Keep up the great work being super polarizing.

Thought teachers were supposed to be more about encouraging debate instead of being so overbearing.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

can still thrive within its own ecosystem

That's what the consumer electronics companies thought, too, while Samsung and LG ate their breakfast and then their lunch by proactively engaging with the world.

Japan needs to gain exponential value for its technology, high up the value chain. We cannot do that through Sakoku.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Well, from what I understand Americans don't bother to learn foreign languages either. So we have at least that in common.

4 ( +11 / -7 )

"Except for trade" is a pretty massive caveat for a country that relies on exports for 60-70% of food, has an enourmously successful manufacturing export sector, and whose major corporations have recently been on overseas M&A sprees. It's certainly true that you CAN get by in Japan without English fluency, but why anyone would want their kids to is beyond me. The simple fact is that failure to develop English competence will limit their career options, sometimes in unpredictable ways. Even if you work for a formerly very domestic company you may find yourself suddenly catapulted into international business (e.g. Beam Suntory merger). Why wouldn't you want to be ready for that?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Where is this 'don't need English' from in the first place? Thousands of western people (including many expats on JT) came to Japan teach English. I love people who don't know anything about Japan talk about this country as some sort of experts.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

'Why do so few Japanese know English?' The answer is simple: They don’t need it...Mastering a complex foreign language wouldn’t be more useful to them than Japanese is to a Kansas farmer.

Only Kansas isn't hosting the 2020 Olympics and I have never heard of a Yokoso Kansas campaign

Somebody needs to tell Robby that suck-ups in Japan will not win a free Toyota.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Clearly this guy MUST be trolling. The primary reason most Japanese don't speak English is because they still use grammar translation in most schools, a method that fell out of favor in what, the 1960s? It has convinced most Japanese that learning English is an impossible task for most of them, because IT DOESN'T WORK. Anything else I'd want to say about this tool has already been said by everyone else...

7 ( +8 / -1 )

"Where is this 'don't need English' from in the first place? Thousands of western people (including many expats on JT) came to Japan teach English. I love people who don't know anything about Japan talk about this country as some sort of experts."

My barber, the staff at my local dry-cleaners, my landlord, the owner of my local izakaya, my local bicycle repairman, almost all the SDF members I met in the izakaya near my house, my dentist ( actually he knows English vocabulary related to his work but can't string together coherent sentences ) and 80% of the staff at my company are some of the people who don't need English and make a living without it.

The time and money wasted on English education at school is ridiculous. Teach it up to High School and make it an option for those with interest in it. The result of 7 years of English education is cracking the hilarious gag "Hello!" when a gaijin walks in the bar or hilarity at the pronunciation of "McDonalds" for many.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

This guy wrote an article for the Diplomat last year. His opinions now appear to be in conflict with those in this piece. He stated that

"many Japanese politicians don’t know how the rest of the world thinks" and "Japan has an excellent but minute corps of diplomats and bureaucrats who excel at interaction with foreigners. Beyond this, though, most of its officialdom, including many in the Foreign Ministry, have not received the necessary training to, as the American expression goes, “make friends and influence people” overseas. The root causes lie in the inward-looking education system. Unfortunately, the government is blind to the requirement to provide extensive multi-year “remedial education” to the graduates it hires to ensure they are capable of functioning in a non-Japanese setting."

Makes you wonder if fluency in English would help to address these problems.

http://thediplomat.com/2014/04/japan-a-sheep-in-wolfs-clothing/

7 ( +7 / -0 )

gokai_wo_maneku

Gokai hit it on the head.

I love studying languages though. I learn so much more about people that way...Mostly, that most people want the same things in life except ISIS.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

That most Japanese people don't need English in their everyday lives is so obvious as to not be worth mentioning. However, the overall level of English in Japan among those who do need it, or would benefit from knowing it or knowing it better, is insufficient. This has become more so with the recent expansion of inbound tourism, which is a large and unqualified benefit to Japan, and the upcoming Rugby World Cup and Olympics will only provide further impetus.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It's been at least a quarter century since Japan "thrived".

8 ( +10 / -2 )

"Except for trade, it requires little overseas intercourse."

Except that trading is a MAJOR thing, and so when those people cannot speak English it poses major problems. What's more, this kind of thinking is not really good for this day and age, when more and more work is being done, or at least WILL be done in the future, in groups assembled from and residing in, overseas countries. They don't NEED English in all facets of life at all, or in that many for that matter, but they DO need it for anything that will involved a group effort, and that's going to be much, much more in the future.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

I could talk at length about monolingualism in English speaking countries but that's a separate matter.

Until learning foreign languages is incentivised, it won't happen. I despair in my own country around monolingualism, but at the same time on a professional level being trilingual hasn't benefited me at all. I use English 99% of the time at work apart from when someone asks me for some language help. I get nothing extra for my language skills. Nothing at all. Japan I suspect is very much the same.

Little wonder people don't bother when there is very little incentive.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Mastering a complex foreign language wouldn’t be more useful to them than Japanese is to a Kansas farmer.

How many articles of scientific research are published in Japanese?

How many articles of scientific research are published in English?

Unless you're going to propose no farmers or Japanese people ever need to see scientific research, it's pretty clear one is more useful than the other.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Sure, they don't need it, apart from those living in English-language countries, who does. They certainly can benefit greatly from it though.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

20% more than Germany and still can't afford reparations for comfort women.

(Hope you don't try to count that money given to Korean oligarchy in '65, who knows where it went or how much came back in kickbacks?)

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

AkulaNov. 18, 2015 - 03:38PM JST

Little wonder people don't bother when there is very little incentive.

You can say that pretty much about most businesses in Japan. However the most notable area for me is in software development.

Any Japanese worth his/her job in software development - by the way for those naysayers, English language skills are also essential in software development – gets a single-way plane ticket, on graduating or finishing their OJT, to the USA and a good job in Adobe or Google. They leave Japan Inc in the capable hands of the hanko-using bucho, who finds using an e-mail account beyond his working abilities

Within Japan, their place is taken by some second grade Indian engineer. Not all Indian engineers are second grade, it’s just that Japan is far from the first choice for most Indian graduate engineers and that resource is quickly running dry as India develops its own software industry and the need for engineers is growing in more attractive locations such as North America, Europe and Australasia

This was just a very ill-thought article written by someone entombed in the ivory towers of academia and wanted to please his Japanese masters. I can name 10 industries, just of the top of my head (which incorporate hundreds of professions) in Japan in 2015 where English is essential.

Scientific research…. educational establishments…. the airline industries…. the steel industry…. the financial services industries…. tourism….many other IT industries…….the communications industries… the entertainment/media industries…the diplomatic services…..

You know something is dreadfully wrong when you’re working in Toranomon and in your local Macy D the white collar foreigners are all being served by low paid Japanese. In my country it’s the immigrants who do the low paying low esteem jobs, not the other way around.

The days when Japan could manufacture its way to prosperity and maintain that prosperity through manufacturing are long gone; unless they want to pay themselves the same salary of an ex-Chinese or Vietnamese farmer.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Japan is barely connected with the world conversation. Things that have been debated for decades in the English-speaking world and the rest of the west have barely got a look in in Japan. Just read any quality newspaper or watch some of the best TV in English and see the range of ideas and topics discussed (drug legalisation, role of royalty, death penalty, ... )and then compare that to the general ignorance of even the existence of these debates in Japan. From the point of view of the gatekeepers of knowledge - generally the bureaucracy - this is ideal. They interpret and disseminate adulterated and attenuated versions of the debates where needed and on their terms (human rights anyone?) and are not about to allow too many people direct encounter with the great debates. It is for cynical and political reasons that the standard of English has never improved. If it were otherwise you can be sure Japan would have found a way.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Sure, ignore English and be a a part of the world that is out-of-the-loop and ignorant to much of what goes on in the world in the next, science etc.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

The trend is for every language to become more and more like English, especially Japanese. Just looking around the room I'm in, I can hardly see anything that your average Taro couldn't name in English: table, chair, carpet, curtain, TV, cup, computer, book, sofa, cushion.....

Give it a couple of hundred years and the entire world, for good or for bad, will be speaking English.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Except for trade..." I don't get it. Can Japan continue to sell to Japan and "thrive" over the next 50 years? If so, then there is little incentive to provide opportunities to broaden the mind. Perhaps it is fine to just work and die. I can certainly see it. Perhaps as far as Japanese policy-makers are concerned, Japan would thrive on Mars as well.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

One of the benefits of internet is can be useful for information. Much of the internet is in English. It's an advantage to be able to use as much information.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan has a 20% higher GDP than Germany but with a 50% higher population. Perhaps this is significant. Contrary to popular belief, Japan is much less driven by exports (and imports) than Germany (in fact than just about anywhere except the US). As a percentage of GDP, the value to Japan is around 12 or 13% for both exports and imports while Germany is above 40% for both. Germany is much more plugged in to the world economy than Japan and benefits accordingly, whereas Japan does not. I have no doubts that average German language skills far surpass Japan's.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

@Moonraker

Heck, yeah. I've seen three-year-olds in Hannover running around speaking fluent German. Amazing!

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

17 thumbs down for my comment about interpreters and translations software? Sure, Google translator and its like are comedic, but did you see the news recently about the megaphone that can interpret words spoken into the mouthpiece and blare it out in another language?

With the offspring of Google glass and Google contact lenses or whatever they're cooking up, we'll all soon be able to have an embedded interpreter somewhere on our head. Berlitz and ECC, beware. Your days are numbered.

And just because someone can speak English doesn't mean they are any good at business. Make CEOs and salespeople learn English. Let the engineers, who are the real reason behind Japan's emergence as a world economic superpower, concentrate on making state-of-the-art toilets.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

What is your point, Moonraker? That's why he says Japanese don't need English.

As a percentage of GDP, the value to Japan is around 12 or 13% for both exports and imports while Germany is above 40% for both.

Then it could be said Germany is more vulnerable to overseas economy.

I have no doubts that average German language skills far surpass Japan's.

How about in Chinese language skill?

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Jalapeno: 18, actually. And do you know what English interpretation you'd get if you had written what you did in Japanese and wanted it in English? Something like, "The soft clothes and translation is over there. The English is not necessitated", and I'm likely making it better than any translation software would.

As was well said by Gary and others above, it's not just Trade where English is necessary, and where translation software, even in the decades it would take to be even remotely intelligible, would be nothing but a detriment.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Extremely odd statement from a university lecturer. As many people have said, mastery of a second or third language has many benefits.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It's not about "need". It should be about "improvement".

❝One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.❞ ‒Frank Smith

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Maybe he is being sypathetic? He probably knows Japanese spend exorbitant amount of time/money/energy in learning English.

-10 ( +1 / -11 )

I guess the argument here is that to facilitate an Orwellian, or Huxleyean, society, where little actualization or growth exists, outside ideas and perspectives are unnecessary. It's probably true. Does Japan need more global participation as it's population shrinks and ages? In a way it's wishful thinking for me that Japan would need to globalize and be more open-minded to compete in its situation. But maybe not. It already has an education system designed to rtard "spiritual" growth. Maybe it's fine as a more insular, perhaps somewhat poorer, place. BTW, the word rtard as a verb is not offensive (contrary to what JT thinks).

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I bet they'll get more use out of English in the future than say... chemistry, classical Japanese or trigonometry. This is just another excuse for the Japanese lack of language ability. I know more bilingual Americans than bilingual Japanese people so let's not try and use GDP as an excuse either. Japanese people are taught from very young that nowhere is better than Japan, no culture is better, no food is better, etc, and that idea is reinforced CONSTANTLY. It's no wonder that a large chunk of people think there is no use in learning another language or immersing themselves in another culture is a waste of time. Heck, my in-laws travel overseas every couple of months and they always go with a Japanese tour guide, stay at the recommended hotels and eat at Japanese restaurants. To a lot (not all, but a LOT) of people here, the outside world is no different than Disneyland.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@savethegaijin Yeah, it's a fairly close-minded, cold and banal society. I wonder if it's just wishful thinking on the part of many foreigners and progressive Japanese that it's some kind of economic imperative for Japan to be cosmopolitan. In the age we live, people are like fish in water. Many Japanese are comfortable "being Japanese," regardless of what conditions are like. I only mean that insofar as they believe that being Japanese is a natural state rather than a construct. But without a critical or curious mind, "being Japanese" is as far as it goes. Nothing deeper need be said. More contact without outside perspectives and experiences would change things for the better. But it's not necessary for the farmer in the dell (As Mr. Dujarric says).

2 ( +3 / -1 )

absolutly correct mono language mono culture and mono race!!! japan is smart!

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Jalapeño,

Make CEOs and salespeople learn English. Let the engineers, who are the real reason behind Japan's emergence as a world economic superpower, concentrate on making state-of-the-art toilets.

21st century engineers must be customer-centric, or risk going down the state-of-the-art toilet. 

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Let me just say that I'm really glad I learned English, and not just for my job. The job was a side effect, not the motivation.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I don't think the utility argument is very convincing. It completely ignores the fact that the average Japanese person does actually spend years learning English by the time they finish highschool but has almost no language ability to show for it. I doubt Robert Dujarric is suggesting that the average 12 year old has already surveyed Japan's self sufficient economy and decided that making an effort in English class isn't very important for his/her future career.

It seems to me that the more plausible reason is simply that English is hard for Japanese speakers. The grammar, the pronunciation, the additional features that don't exist in their own language make it extremely difficult, and most people give up on doing difficult things. Perhaps people rationalize their choice to give up by saying that English (or any other language) isn't important in their economic lives, but I doubt it's the real reason. Afterall, most people agree that being bilingual is 'cool' and nobody wants to be monolingual if they can avoid it.

From a European perspective, every year huge numbers of French people decide to start learning Spanish and Italian, but very few of these people ever plan to work or do business in Spain or Italy (some of the worst performing economies). The reason they decide to learn these languages is because the grammar and vocabulary are already so similar to French that it's almost effortless for them to become proficient. Likewise, if foreign languages weren't so difficult for the Japanese, I suspect more of them would be motivated to keep learning regardless of any economic incentives.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Moonraker has impressed me above with:

"From the point of view of the gatekeepers of knowledge - generally the bureaucracy - this is ideal. They interpret and disseminate adulterated and attenuated versions of the debates where needed and on their terms (human rights anyone?) and are not about to allow too many people direct encounter with the great debates."

Japan is a high trust society. low crime, high consensus. this is a good thing i believe. Of course the junior high kids slaving away as if they were college students on translation certificates is highly amusing, but equally troubling, 'cause children can't reason well enough to tackle translation issues. thankfully they will only ever apply those skills to troubleshooting an exam...their naive love of the foreign face ever present in their classrooms will betray, in the future, their feeling or belief that they are on the road to English mastery. But hey, those J teachers are extremely impressive in their method, except that they are often times simply applying Japanese grammar terms to a hopefully English equivalent...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

the more plausible reason is simply that English is hard for Japanese speakers.

It's hard because of the way it's taught, not because English and Japanese grammar or vocabulary are different. If that were the case, English speakers would have just as much trouble learning Japanese. English is taught here in the same way as maths or chemistry; there is one correct answer and one correct answer only, and the more difficult the problem you can solve, the higher your score in the test. Never mind whether the more difficult bit of grammar or vocabulary is actually natural, modern English...

I do some work proofreading supplementary English textbooks, and I long ago lost count of the number of times I have crossed out some obscure, pre-Victorian expression with a note that we simply do not use this kind of language, and have it come back to me marked, 'But we have to teach it because it's in the syllabus for the test...'

The 'English' that is taught in schools bears only a passing resemblance to the English used in the English-speaking world.

It's no wonder most people just give up.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

@cleo

It's hard because of the way it's taught, not because English and Japanese grammar or vocabulary are different. If that were the case, English speakers would have just as much trouble learning Japanese.

Yes, I'd definitely agree that poor teaching methods in schools make it much more difficult.

But your second point raises an interesting question: Is the difficulty level the same for English speakers learning Japanese as it is for Japanese speakers learning English? I'm not a linguist or an English teacher but I take the view that Japanese is objectively easier to learn at the beginner level. So much of the grammar which is mandatory in English is either omitted or left to context in Japanese, whereas Japanese speakers have to learn to add many grammatical features which don't exist in Japanese. (I'm sure some linguist somewhere has done scientific research on this question?)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Portuguese language was once the "Lingua franca" for business trading in Asia...just saying...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

As I said, if Japan really wanted to teach English it could. It is nothing to do with the difficulty of English. Why not start kids young if that were the case, instead of waiting until JHS? The fear, of course, is that Japanese identity would be diluted then. And this is important for the rest of the ideology that will keep the people in place later, an ideology that would also be exposed if people had easy access to foreign concepts and thinking. So Japanese bureaucratic elites quarantine the people from the outside and innoculate the people against potentially subversive (from their point of view) ideas.

Yes, Tina, Germany may be more vulnerable to the outside. But your thinking illustrates the way insularity is imposed on the people with the idea that the outside is dangerous or bad. With more stake in the international trade and political architecture, Germany has incentive to make sure it survives intact and it will do so by diplomatic engagement. Germany helps. It is not just a bludger. And engagement means foreign languages and an outward perspective in a positive feedback that helps its economy be 25 % larger than Japan's on a per capita basis.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Is the difficulty level the same for English speakers learning Japanese as it is for Japanese speakers learning English?

I can't speak for all English speakers obviously, but personally I found Japanese not that much more difficult than the French, Latin and Ancient Greek I studied at school - and I'm a lot more fluent in Japanese than I ever was in any of those languages! To the beginner it seems daunting, of course, with all the kanji and different word order, levels of keigo etc., but in a sense I found that made it easier to 'abandon' the life-jacket of English and, as it were, jump in with both feet. With the other languages I studied, the strategy was always to translate almost word-for-word as we went along, which makes it seem easier at first - but only at first. That way lies not fluency. With Japanese, once I was past the absolute basics I was more or less forced to throw caution to the wind, abandon English and tackle the Japanese head-on. That led to lots n lots of mistakes at first, but helped my Japanese develop independent of my English to the point where I often now find myself thinking in Japanese. If at that stage I'd been forced to produce 'one answer and one answer only' work, I'd probably have thrown in the towel.

And the thing is of course that schools in Japan try to teach English in the same way that we teach the Romance languages in the UK (or did, at least, when I was a kid - dunno what they do now) - through the medium of the dominant language. And whether it's J-E or E-J, that simply doesn't work, it just makes things more difficult.

So much of the grammar which is mandatory in English is either omitted or left to context in Japanese,

The thing is, mandatory grammar is what makes the language understandable, once you understand how it's used. But trying to explain English grammar in terms of Japanese (or vice versa) doesn't work because, as you say, it's different. You may as well put blue-tinted goggles on a person and ask them to differentiate different colours - they'll have a heck of a job.

Japanese speakers have to learn to add many grammatical features which don't exist in Japanese.

Another problem here with the teaching! In the early stages (this is feedback from my proofreading, and a regular bugbear) something like (e.g.) the present perfect is 'too difficult' for learners, so in order to provide interesting topics passages are rewritten with the simple past substituted willy-nilly for the present perfect. The kids get high scores on their tests, and everyone is happy. Then the time comes to learn the present perfect, and the kids are lost and bewildered; what was 'correct' yesterday is now getting them marked down, and the teachers cannot explain how or why something that can (supposedly) be expressed with the nice comfortable simple past now has to be expressed using this new weird tense with no direct equivalent in Japanese. The teaching method adds a layer of difficulty, instead of trying to provide clarity.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Maybe it's not only the teaching methods but the educational institution in general.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Robert Dujarric is the kind of considered expert opinion that services the nationalist ego, if not the national interest.

Ad hominem like this isn't a legitimate argument. Most people in these comments are either using outright fallacies to dismiss the statement, or intentionally ignoring the (economic) context.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

I think to speak a foreign language is very useful for everyone. My English sucks but I guess I am able to express myself someway. I'd like to speak it better, indeed this is one of the reasons why I write on English sites. I like Japanese language sound very much, it's rather similar to Italian about pronunciation, but I never studied it and I guess grammar and kanji, hiragana and katakana must be very complicated. I believe Japanese people should improve their English skills, but it's also true that China is close to be the first economic power in the world. So, Japanese could find easier learning Chinese, that is very useful for business as well.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Mastering a complex foreign language wouldn’t be more useful to them than Japanese is to a Kansas farmer.

I don't know about a Kansas farmer, but as an Idaho farmer it was important to me. English was also important to the FFJ home stays who came over every year. I always feel guilty about how easy it is for me to travel in Japan compared to a foreigner in the US.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm not surprised about the title here stating that English is about as much use for Japanese people as Japanese is to a Kansas farmer. I asked a group of English majors in a Japanese univeristy classroom why they were majoring in English, and, by a show of hands, over half of them indicated that it was because they wanted to travel to a foreign country for sightseeing. Some, not all, of the other half said they studied English because they wanted to marry a foreigner.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@stormcrow, both reasons are exactly why I study Japanese! Go figure, eh?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

That title though....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Alex80: I think your English is quite excellent, truth be told. It's easier studying English for an Italian than a Japanese or person from another Asian country, or should be, of course, and as such I agree as well that Chinese might be easier and more useful for Japanese. Fact remains, though, that English is the international language for now, and its necessary for far more than trade. even if ONLY trade, trade is the only thing keeping Japan going, and if it wants to excel in any other field that requires international presence (science articles, etc.) it needs English. Abe is currently in Europe pushing Japanese tech and infrastructure on Asian nations, and while he may have translators with him the language of choice on the ground for such projects would often be English (sometimes Japanese, since some Asians study it for work with Japan). Without all those projects, Japan would be toast.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

@TrevorPeace

No, it's not so surprising. Fun and romance should be at the top of the list for why people do lots of things. At the other end of the spectrum, I remember hearing one of my Japanese students let out a shout after I'd just stepped out of the classroom. I came back and asked what happened, and the student who had just shouted, a young Japanese man, said, "It feels so good to be able to express myself!" He went on to tell me that he couldn't express himself as freely and in the same way in Japanese as he could in English, so to each his/her own.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I agree as well that Chinese might be easier and more useful for Japanese.

More useful, yes. Not really easier though - Chinese grammar is closer to English than Japanese. Chinese is actually easier for English speakers to learn than it is for Japanese speakers, with the exception of course that Japanese will already recognize a number of hanzi.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It appears that Robert's French roots are a bit prevalent in his thinking. Scapegoating the monolingual foreigners asking about English was just too easy and simple of a target.... shame Robert.... you should be smarter than that. On to "except trade". Amazing, the Japanese are obsessed, or at least have been, about trade. You just made it seem like its no big thing. Yes Japan is doing quite well spinning the wheels of its own "eco-system", and there are fits and starts, but how long can Japan continue to run deficits? How that got to bee quote of the day I don't know. More like.... controversial quote of the day by a French sympathizer.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

German GDP per capita: 46,269 Japan GDP per capita: 38,634

Say no more.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I'd rather take the higher per capita GDP than the overall GDP. Politicians will not agree of course...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

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

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites