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Why Can’t Japanese People Speak English?

Despite many years of study, many Japanese students struggle with basic communication in English.

By 2 min read 271

Is it a question that has been asked many times. Why do Japanese people struggle to communicate in English? Even though English is taught in junior high school and there are thousands of English conversation schools all over the country, the level of English in Japan remains low.

This is especially problematic when Japanese students travel to study abroad. A number of professors at the school I work at told me that their Japanese students often have difficulties communicating in English. These are not students from the inaka parts of Japan but rather international students pursuing doctorate degrees, so it is pretty serious.

But why is it that Japanese students can’t communicate in English? It is the Japanese education system? It is cultural? Or a mixture of both?

Reason 1: Ineffective English Education.

Although Japanese students learn English for six years (starting the first year of junior high school), many of them still can’t communicate in even basic English. This is because the English education in Japanese schools is mainly geared towards helping the students to pass the written university entrance exams.

Japanese students who want to get into national universities have to do well on the “center” exams that are administered throughout Japan once a year. The center exams do not test communication skills, only writing and grammar. Thus the students spend hours memorizing complex English grammar rules but never spend anytime actually using English to communicate.

Reason 2: Inactive Student Participation

As I’ve written about in my previous article comparing the Japanese and American education systems Japanese students are discouraged from speaking up in the classroom. Instead the system relies on rote memorization of the information from a Japanese teacher who themselves are not very good English speakers.

There is very little student discussion or group activity and even in our English class, whenever our teachers asked “any volunteers?,” we were all silent. Having now studied in America, I think that active participation is extremely important in order to improve English communication skills.

Reason 3: Shame Culture

This relates to the reason #2 but because of the “shame based” culture in Japan, many Japanese people have an intense fear of making mistakes or being embarrassed in public. Even when the teacher encourages open communication, many Japanese students are too shy to speak up during class because they don’t want to make mistakes in front of other classmates.

Japanese people are for the most part genuinely interested in learning about other cultures and do wish to communicate in English, but until the government radically overhauls the English education system and Japanese people learn to not care what others think, they will never progress beyond “this is a pen”.

What do you think Japan can do to improve the level of English?

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  • Jonah says:

    You know what? Even the Japanese English teachers are poor at speaking English. Don’t you think these people MUST have the capability to write and speak the language fluently?

  • Lucas says:

    A major problem, in my opinion, is also the fact that English pronunciation is rendered with the Japanese fonetica system called Katakana which distort the genuine pronunciation of English words. This problem combined with the strong tendency to borrow and insert, in an often arbitrary way, English and other foreign words into Japanese language, makes the picture quite complex in my view.

  • Wilson White says:

    Come across here. I’m not Japanese and English is my second language.
    As I can see, when we ask why can’t Japanese people speak English, we shall talk about what’s the point of learning English which is possibly useless in their daily life. The average Japanese can still have a good life without speaking English.I mean, the motivation is much more important than those issues.

  • This is sad ;[ i believe Japanese are capable English is just a language u can learn it i know you can what are you afraid of the rest of the world? Let them say whatever they like they are below you if they just believe they are better just because their native language is English.. demo wakarimashita daijooda min’na makasete! Watashino namaewa tenshi des! taiskitaka min’na san Ashitemasu yo.. Hontoni!! arigatou T-T

  • Starbucks Coffee says:

    I think the best solution is for all the countries to just make English the official language. It will save us all the grief of having to learn Kanji, and various scripts that is too hard to understand.

  • beyond bdd says:

    They don’t want english. They were developed their way. Thats because they think with their mother toung. See India,south asian countries.. this countries will never be developed,the people not creative because they think their own language but they learn or worked with english. I think thats why Japan,China,korea such countries developed and south asian countries never developed.

  • RogueSlushy says:

    “This relates to the reason #2 but because of the “shame based” culture in Japan, many Japanese people have an intense fear of making mistakes or being embarrassed in public. Even when the teacher encourages open communication, many Japanese students are too shy to speak up during class because they don’t want to make mistakes in front of other classmates.”

    As much as we act like it doesn’t, this applies to America as well, just wanted to bring that up. You know that quiet kid in the corner? They’re probably having said fear. Heck, I’ve seen kids scared to participate in class, gee I wonder why. Make enough mistakes, and you’re seen as stupid or a failure by everyone.

  • LM says:

    I don’t agree with the young age being key. I started my second language when I was 14, in high school, and am reasonably proficient (I can work in an all Japanese company and communicate with no problems).

    The reason people take four years of spanish and french and don’t learn anything is the same reason people take four years of anything and don’t learn it, lack of effort and motivation.

  • Cherry says:

    Hi everyone. I’m a licensed Filipino teacher and currently a homebased online English teacher. I’m looking for friends and students,too.

  • abu sufian marzuki says:

    I want to make friend with people throughout the world, especially Japanese, but I don’t know how to start.

  • 大日本人 says:


    • ZeroGravity83 says:

      So you claim you can speak 3 languages? haha nobody is going to believe that.
      If you really were a trilingual speaker you wouldn’t even feel the need to write all this nonsense.

      The truth is that you’re just a wretched middle school kid who really sucks at English in school, and decided to bash this article just because it somehow offends your extremely low self-esteem, when actually you’re just an incompetence. Seriously, you’re a disgrace to Japan. As a Japanese I’m ashamed people like you exist.

    • Lubuntu98 says:

      I am studying English Japanese.This article also is written by Japanese girl.

      Above user is also Japanese, but he is too bad Japanese.

      He talks hate speech. These days, japan is spreading conservatism and thought of national isolation.

      He Abuses like this.

      The Japanese of big / 3 months ago

      This title is Creepy so I don’t read anything and don’t watch this movie, but I want to post a comment. American look down Japanese who cannot speak English. But These guys of American can’t speak English. Even their English ability is suspicious.

      And I think unfortunately boast Japanese can talk only English.

      It must be because of compulsory education, If you can speak English, I want you to quit especial consciousness. I can speak 3 languages, so I tried to write.

      Probably, He can’t speak English. Because he doesn’t speak English. He claims many american can’t speak native language, but he claims himself who can speak 3 languages.

      His thought is contradiction. He has vanity. There are many hate speech users of web in Japan. Conservatism Japanese dislike English and foreign countries.

      They that claims the Japanese must study Japanese language of correct than English.

      • kkob says:

        >Basically his comment is written badly and I don’t agree to him, but I’m suspicious of labeling it as ‘hate speech’ or ‘abuse’.

        > He claims many american can’t speak native language
        This is totally wrong.
        “あいつらこそ外国語話せないだろ” doesn’t mean “These guys of American can’t speak English”.
        It means “These guys of American can’t speak any language other than their native languages”.
        This is a very simple and critical mistake, and it’s incredible that you Japanese did’t notice this…

        • Viel says:

          >These days, japan is spreading conservatism and thought of national isolation.

          I doubt this has anything to do with conservatism, nationalism, etc. Whoever wrote the original comment is most likely an immature school kid with low self-esteem, who sucks at English in school and feels a sense of inferiority.

          This kid was offended and triggered by the article title “Why can’t Japanese speak English?”, and then felt the need to bash all Americans and Japanese who can speak English because he is actually ashamed of himself but doesn’t want to admit that he’s an incompetence. You know, people get mad when hearing the truth they don’t want to hear. He also claims he can speak 3 languages, which is obviously a bluff.

    • Lubuntu98 says:

      I am studying English Japanese.This article also is written by Japanese girl.
      Above user is also Japanese, but he is too bad Japanese.
      He talks hate speech. These days, japan is spreading conservatism and idea of narrow.

      He Abuses like this.

      This title is Creepy so I don’t read anything and don’t watch this movie, but I want to post a comment. American look down Japanese who cannot speak English. But These guys of American don’t speak English. Even their English ability is suspicious. And I think unfortunately that boast Japanese can talk only English. It must be because of compulsory education, If you can speak English, I want you to quit especial consciousness. I can speak 3 languages, so I tried to write.

      Probably, He can’t speak English. Because he doesn’t speak English. So he can’t speak English. He have vanity. There are many hate speech users of web in Japan. In Japan, Conservatism Japanese dislike English and foreign countries.
      Their Claims that the Japanese must study Japanese of correct than English.

  • Ayşe says:

    We have the same problem in Turkey. Since Turkish grammar (very similar to Japanese grammar) is completely different from English, the education system unnecessarily focuses on the grammar.

    I remember my junior school times. We were memorising many rules such “verb comes after subject not to the end after object. put -s after verb if the subject is singular. blah blah”. English textbooks has listening and speaking part at the end of each chapter of course. But, we were listening and trying to fill the gaps in the textbook and repeat the same conversation written in the book just replacing the names with our names for the speaking part. I dont remember we had free conversations to express ourselves. And, I had only one fluent English speaker teacher among tens of English teacher in my life. I saw the same situation in Japan as well.

    I think the Japanese governemnt (and Turkish of course) first fix the English language department at the universities. If teachers cannot have the speaking ability, they cannot teach it as well. I met some Japanese students in the UK. They said that they have to study in a English speaking country from 6 months to 1 year before they graudate from their English laungage teaching course. However, it is not a common and compulsary rule at many universities I think. If this condition becomes common to become a English language teacher, it could be helpful 🙂

  • Fix says:

    Well if the government seriously want to improve english proficiency, then english should be thaught from primary level. I was shocked to find out that they studied english starting from junior high school. From where I came from which is Malaysia, we started english lesson ever since kindergaten. And a lot of parents send their kids too english language courses even before they entered kindergaten. I started to read in english at the age of 3 because my mother made me to read peter & jane almost everyday. By 4 I have finish all collections of peter & jane, not to mention all those tuition classes. and thats why my english is always better then most of my peers.

    • beyond bdd says:

      But your country is still developing country. Your country does not have technology like japanese.your people not creative like japanese. See korea,China,Rassia…

      • Fix says:

        Ok if your people are so creative and such high technology, Why are you guys still having the highest government debt in the world? Why are Japan economy is still stagnating after 20 years of the property bubble burst? Why are wages still stagnating? What happened to technology and creativity? Why isnt it translated into better economic growth and better debt level? Furthermore, my comment is strictly regarding this article. I never for once said, Japan must change their mindset and start to master the English language. Instead I was saying, if you want to improve English literacy among your people you have to start very early. if you dont want to improve English literacy, then keep on continuing doing the same thing. I dont think it really is necessary for you to bring up the whole your country is better then mine thing. I know Japan is technologically better then my country, having said that fiscally speaking, it is the worse in the world.

      • Fix says:

        Japan needs more fdi in order to reduce gov debt. Furthermore the signing of the tppa is really a good opportunity for Japan to attract fdi and boost exports. Simply said, its not gonna happened without having a decent english language command. True maybe we dont have the technology such as Japan. But u people really need to do something and change something before your government is incapable of paying their debt.

    • LM says:

      I dont really think this would make a huge difference. In my country, we only learn a second language from high school high school (for five years) so from the age of 13-18, which is enough to develop at least basic communication and conversation skills in the target language. The goal isn’t to have completely fluent speakers, but just better communication.

  • Adam AI Inugami says:

    here’s what i’ve observed some japanese people can speak fluent english by not forcing them.what shocked me?once i watched a japanese news broadcast but his language was in english(the diction,grammar everything)my mind blew up.

  • Peter Lewis-Watts says:

    There are several reasons for the difficulties experienced by Japanese students in using English fluently: 1. rather than immersion, many English classes are taught using translation (often, there is more Japanese on the board than English!); 2. only one of the “3Ps” is used (teacher’ “presentation” – student “practice” and “production” are lacking); 3. textbooks are often old and outdated, and focus on arcane English; 4. Let’s not forget the responsibilities of SOME EFL teachers in Japanese classrooms (I’ve observed “conversation” classes where the EFL teachers lecture for 50 minutes while the students sit, with nodding heads, and take notes); 5. in my own struggles to learn Japanese, I’m constantly reminded, as has been pointed out by others here, that having lots of opportunities to use the new language in real-life situations (something I don’t have here in Canada!) is essential for success!

  • Denzel Porte says:

    Well the best is to hire an English teacher or someone with an experience abroad and is ready to encourage them. Because living in fear is bullshit. It’s actually a choice living in fear. They could be brave and smart but they are just being stupid.

    • Ainoul Husna says:

      Don’t easily say stupid to them. They are just shy and maybe they need more time to overcome the weaknesses. Also, it depends on individual or her/his passion, whether to practice speak in English at a young age or wait until finish school but it is too late for them. Just like I said, it depends on themselves to think what is good for them.

  • Kat says:

    A person at any age can learn any language. I am 27 years old and learning Japanese just fine. They key is repetition and actually being able to use the language. If you don’t use it, you will lose it. This is why American high school students taking French and Spanish in high school do not speak the language. It was a requirement for graduation that wasn’t taken seriously. You have to continue to use the language no matter your age in order to continue to retain the information.

    • Denzel Porte says:

      But are you happy when speaking it? Because Japanese are so shy and it really bugs me. So I decided to stop speaking it. Only if I need it to get around. But if you can handle that I would need your advice.

  • IndiePundit says:

    I think you covered it pretty well Yumi. I would add a fourth reason stating that Japanese people don’t have a need to use English in their daily lives. It’s not a part of the Japanese experience beyond a bunch of loan words. Japan remains largely a homogenous country so not speaking English doesn’t impact their lives. It doesn’t have to be a priority.

    • Denzel Porte says:

      Well, you’ve never been to Japan and you don’t know how hard it is there without English. If only the people were confident. I’m mean literally 65% of Japanese people are shy wtf? Is that suppose to be a thing?

  • Alexander Kotchev says:

    Hi, great article. Not entirely true accurate though. Here are some thoughts:
    1. The biggest problem is that the overwhelming majority of school teachers don’t (read: can’t) speak English at all.

    2. Most learners lack basic grammar skills. “Accuracy” is very low. Even “fluent” speakers are very ungrammatical. They may know “the rules”, but the amount of practice is very small – they don’t do enough exercises.

    3. Most learners lack vocabulary.

    4. Most learners lack reading skills. They don’t read in English, so can’t read well, especially longer texts, such as novels, etc. This incapacitates them to actually use the language for learning other subjects.

    5. In this context of fundamentally flawed approach, “communication” is a very minor worry.

  • Jose Velez says:

    Hello, I’m glad to participate and share my experience; I
    come from a Hispanic background.

    At first I was doing very well at the age of 14, back in the late 60’s a
    “learned” a few words in secondary school in Mexico, so when we came
    to the US, I had to start from scratch! no English background to speak of. At
    first I progressed and could communicate for basic necessities. Then I plateau
    at a rather basic level. The main reason: Spanish stresses vowels while English
    stresses consonants. Second reason: unintentionally, I was not flexible enough
    to successfully make the switch to the consonant-stressed mode of the English
    language. My mind was rather set on expecting to hear the words with a
    vowel-stressed mode. Another big difficulty was how English words are written;
    basically, many letters that make up a word are not even pronounced (their
    silent). This added to the confusion. How did I break the glass ceiling? – the

    I resorted to the American Heritage dictionary
    pronunciation key (which contains syllabication – a very, very important
    aspect, I cannot stress this enough!). Through it I undid everything I had
    learned wrong (pronunciation-wise). In addition, and just as important, I
    practiced, practiced, until I was blue in the face by reading out loud books of
    various levels. I always found this extremely helpful! Whenever I wasn’t sure
    of how a word is pronounced I would key it in my laptop and look it up online
    for it’s correct pronunciation (they even sound it off, if you want to hear it.
    but the pronunciation key is really all you need unless you’re a total
    beginner, then yes hear it pronounced by their linguist!). Naturally, a part of
    this process is to go out there and talk to everybody everywhere you go; make
    friends, practice your English with them. For me, as opposed to a comment made
    earlier, I still resort to subtitles when I watch movies as my hearing is not
    the greatest. Do this and your English will be impeccable. That’s how I did it.
    thanks, I appreciate you people very much; you have a beautiful culture and I
    admire you so much!


  • Itteigan says:

    One very good way to learn English is to watch English-language movies without subtitles. It would take some time to get used to at first but after that it feels natural. Just don’t watch for example a SCI-FI movies with a complex space and technology vocabulary at first. We must also remember that even if you are good at English or any other language which is not your mother tongue, “speaking” is a different thing always. It doesn’t matter if you know all the grammar and words when reading and writing text.. you must speak the language with other people also and that’s the main issue. You don’t usually need to speak foreign language too often in your own country. When you aren’t used to speak the language, conversations (at first) will go like this: Hello, how are you? -I’m fine. -What have you done today? -I went to shopping. -What did you buy? -I bought.. carrots.. … … what is the word.. .. meat and.. … eggs and… what is the word.. that white thing… -You mean milk? -Ah yes that was it. So just speak it when you have a change and don’t be afraid! When speaking for example English, it doesn’t really matter if your grammar is not good, it doesn’t matter if you don’t remember all the words. The main principal is that people can understand you. For example if you meet a tourist in a pub and you have a change to speak with him/her, go for it! It might be a little bit difficult at first but when more time passes, you realize that you speak more and more better English compared to how you did spoke like an hour ago (I realy don’t mean that you are more drunk). It just comes more naturally after a while.

    • Denzel Porte says:

      I think with subtitles it’s much quicker. What are you talking about ma’am?

      • Itteigan says:

        That’s my opinion. It really helps you to learn more without subtitles because if you don’t know some words, you can take a look at the situation and you can make a guess. We can say that this will work with language(s) you are at least a little bit familiar with. Of course that’s not the case with a completely new language you are about to learn. Anyway.. with subtitles you can just read what they are saying and you don’t have to think. And believe me I know what I’m talking about because I’m from Finland and here every foreign movies and series (except some animations) are always subbed. I really don’t mean that it’s a bad think to watch something with subtitles. I do that also often. It helps of course in its own way, but without subtitles also helps in its own way. That’s actually a very much used technique at schools’ language lessons, where teachers show foreign language movies or TV-series without subtitles for students.

        PS: I’m not a woman, so I would prefer “sir” instead of ma’am 😉

        • gabriel_mok says:

          Actually i learn most of my english verb by watching eng-movie with sub and play english online game for communicate with other player..

  • burungberang says:

    Let me add another factor: the popularity of Japanese language among the gaijin? The same way that the popularity of English worldwide de-motivates English kids from learning foreign languages. I watch a lot of Chinese travelogue programmes and the hosts tend to speak to the locals in passable to fluent Japanese. It’s known to me that Japanese is in the high school curriculum in Taiwan and South Korea as an elective but popular subject. I think for speakers of other Asian languages Japanese seems to be a lot easier than English grammatically. Having a lot of tourists trying to speak Japanese might make the Japanese perceive a world that revolves around the Japanese language.

  • james Satve says:

    if you want tochat with english native speakers then join our online school

  • Anders Gnoumou says:

    I watched the Videos in japanese. I don’t understand all,but i fand it very interesting and funny. I shared it with my friends on Facebook. Thank you!

  • Anders Gnoumou says:

    Hello 辞書ボーイ@電子辞書を携帯してはや10年. Sorry i know only a little kanji. So i can’t read your name. Great!!! You learn Many languages! I want to learn all the languages in the world but it’s not possible!! That you said is very interesting.I intersted me on Japanese,chinese,korean languages because of their culture (Documentaries,traditional films,mangas,books…). I’m student. I study german (especially german Linguistics). But i note that out theuniversity and the fellows i have no chance to speak german. So you progress slowly. Internet became one of an important way to improve foreign languages.My english level isn’t good but on Facebook and other communities like Disqus i speak with friends and improve the language level. We musn’t be affraid to make mistakes otherwise we can’t progress. I try to search the words and the video. Thank you very much. It’s for me a real pleasure to talk with each of you.

  • Anders Gnoumou says:

    It’s true that english,spanisch,french,etc. are international exchange languages. However if japanese people have difficulties to speak foreign european languages,why not promote japanese language in the whole world. I think there are no japanese language centers in Africa ,yet people want to learn japanese (and other asian languages like chinese,arabic,turkisch).

  • 辞書ボーイ@電子辞書を携帯してはや10年 says:

    Just expose Japanese students to native English speakers speaking English. This is what I experienced as a child. This is all it takes to enable Japanese students to speak English.

  • 辞書ボーイ@電子辞書を携帯してはや10年 says:

    Students can’t speak English after such a long education of English is because they hesitate to repeat after their teachers. All they have to do to acquire a language is to imitate the way native speakers speak! They are not used to repeat. They should be accustomed to repeat after their teachers and acquire all the phonemes in the target language. This habit enable students to acquire any language on their own.
    The crazy thing about Japanese English education is that teachers focus only on grammar and contents. No one teaches about pronunciation. It’s impossible to acquire a language disregarding pronunciation even if they target at entrance exam. Teachers should be fluent in more than one foreign languages and be ready to study any language of the world.

  • So why don’t teach him to be a brave one? speak up, no shy no care to the other reaction.

  • Alex Uzzell says:

    *It is a question that has been asked many times.

  • Anders Gnoumou says:

    Good Morning ! Professor Nakata is totally right.However I think,that we forget an important linguistic problem i notice. It is the problem dues to the language system. Japanese has the following system : CV (Consonant-Vowel) ,NCV (Nasal_Consonant_Vowel), VN (Vowel_Nasal). My motherlanguage (Bwamu) has the same System. I too and most of the members of our community have Problem to pronounce (not to write or understand) words from languages like French,English,German,etc. when we have a world which don’t respect this system. We have also a strong accent when we pronounce or speak foreign language. So if we have for example a syllable or word which ends with a consonant (except n) in the pronounciation we put a vowel after the consonant.If the world end with “n” it is pronounced as a Nasal “n” [oun].Some consonants like “r” after a vowel become vowel making the previous vowel long.For example Internet becomes “inteeneto” in Japanese,I think. Sometimes in these kind of languages there are consonants called allophones,the same consonant which have differents pronounciations and differents places in the word or in sentence.In Japanese for example we have “R” which is pronounced “L” at the sart of a word and “as R” between two vowels.For me,this problem is the major problem to learn english above all when the influence of the local culture is very strong.This problem concerns not only english ,but languages which system differs from the japanese system.All the vowel and consonants,which system differ from the local system are always replaced by nearest local vowels and consonants. In regard of this problem People from these kinds of languages needed more time more than people from languages with another systems to assimilate the pronounciation.Or simply they can live a longtime in these countries like England,US,France….or live with their speakers in Japan in order to assimilate the pronounciation and the accent. Thank you to share with us the interesting theme.

    • Helen Butt says:

      Inevitably, if the phonology of the source language differs from that of the target language (which it will), there will be challenges to overcome. French and English have different sound systems from each other and share different phonological features with Japanese.

      One area of English pronunciation which causes difficulty is liquids such as /r/ and /w/. At least in standard British English they are not consonants and teaching them as such must surely cause confusion.

      • Anders Gnoumou says:

        You’re Right Helen. I have no problem with japanese phonems except with /fu/. In english i have difficulties to pronounce /th/. I like languages and Linguistics very much.

  • Joe Joe says:

    Those are rather minor points. Class participation, kids ashamed to talk in the 2nd language is everywhere. Teens are teens. The language education sucks but language education is a lot more limited than people think. Egyptian language education sucks, but Egyptians speak better English than Japanese.

    There is no need to speak.
    There no consumption English media because of the abundance of Japanese media .
    Linguistic differences between the languages is setup in a way which impedes communication. (The formality and nuance of Japanese makes them want to replicate that nuance in English which is far more direct)

  • Patrick Kozak says:

    There is also the situation of Japanese students learning British English compared to American English

  • Joe Catcheside says:

    I think the difficulties of the phonetics are crucial. Phonemes like l/r, f/h, v/b, and diphthongs and compounds like ‘dj’ and ‘th’, make it very hard to communicate clearly even if the speaker is selecting the right vocabulary. Plurals, declensions of verbs, and tenses, are very different, too, tying into the same points 2&3 in the article.

  • Gene Ricky Shaw says:

    A number of points:

    – They don’t NEED to speak English well. Unless you leave Japan, it’s rare to use English in a meaningful way.
    – They lack confidence. My students were just too timid to speak up about anything, let alone English.
    – Pronunciation is key. A lot of Japanese who speak English often choose good words but just can’t say them so they sound like English words. I forbade “Katakana English” in my classrooms.
    – English conversation isn’t encouraged (mentioned in the article above). If you don’t interact in English as a non-native speaker, your skills won’t advance.
    – English isn’t prioritized as a subject. Again, since Japan has a very Japan-centric way of thinking, learning English is low on the list of priorities in education.

    How did I counter this?
    – I made sure every student recited things in English directly to me, even if it took the whole class period for all 25-30 students.
    – We practiced making sounds in English that are foreign to Japanese (we sounded like growling dogs at times), but by the end of the semester, many students wouldn’t say “gaarl” but “girl” properly
    – Make each student say English sentences outloud, even with just their friends, in class. This builds confidence.
    – Find subjects the students like to talk about and spend at least 1/3 of class time on those subjects. Students don’t want to speak English sentences about Thomas Edison, but they would speak a lot about their favorite band or Korean actor/actress (it helps if you can drop some names popular with young students, like May J, for example).

    I don’t know if this will help someone or not, but this seemed to help me.

  • Chad Farmer says:

    While hiring more English speakers may seem like a great idea, it’s extremely difficult to hire and retain foreign workers in Japan for important positions. I think a large reason for this is the work culture in Japan being vastly different to most in the world. The collective culture, which strives for 和 (wa – peace) in everything they do rarely takes time off, rarely sees family (particularly the fathers). How does this mix and mingle with other workers. Sure, you can get some college students fresh out of school but if you want effective, well thought teaching with tenure and longevity of both the teacher and the student, it’s difficult to achieve.

  • emeQee says:

    I did my school education in Germany and want to share the way my teacher approached and in my opinion succeeded to give the amount of language skill for good communication. As you can tell my english is not perfect, I do mistakes here and there.

    In short:
    1. English only in English class
    2. Interesting topics
    3. Discussions

    My first lessons started in 5th grade and my teacher first changed in 7th grade. The new teacher forbid the usage of any language except English in her class. Very rarily she used or allowed the use of German, either when she thought the English explanation would fail on the students or a student has no other way of expressing it in English.

    An example: if a student didn’t know a vocabulary, he raised his hand and asked. But instead of replying our teacher asked back the class “What is a drawer?” and many students raised their hands. She usually put on a devilish grin and added “… in English” and most of the hands had been pulled back down. But a few hands still remained up (mostly the good ones). She either picked one of those or randomly pick someone else not raising the hand to not always favor the good ones. But everybody made mistakes and the teacher tried to create a familiar environment so more would build up the courage.

    At some point she used pages and excerpts from Harry Potter, and suddenly the most quiet ones were the one raising their hands the most.

    My French classes didn’t follow this principle so it failed for me.

  • Mai Hoang says:

    I think it’s because the language system is not alphabetical so it’s actually harder for Japanese to learn the language. And also, yesss, number 3, in my school, the group of Japanese always sticks to each others and speaks Japanese all the time. Even If I approached them with English, they would murmur in Japanese first before actually give out reply. Like they refuse to speak english.

  • thirdman2002 says:

    We really shouldn’t try to improve English education in Japanese public school system because then thousands of gaijins who flock to Japan every year to teach English at private schools (and, let’s to be honest, to score Japanese chicks) will be all out of work.

  • Hiromasa Suzuki says:

    it is just not nessesary to speak English in Japan and that’s why many people are not good at it. in other words, if we have to speak English in our society, the problem would be solved kinda naturally in my opinion. I think that’s a hint for us to figure out a solution for English problem. just imagine that students start studying so hard when they have to take a exam. that’s basically same logic huh? it is difficult to crate a opportunity where people have to speak English in Japan so far though.

  • Brandon Sherman says:

    Part of the problem might also be that many people in the U.K. and the U.S. can’t do it very well either.

  • Jose Rojas says:

    i guess the english r the most important language in the world, but some countries haven´t great system in their schools but the people can learn alone, so more or less

  • Lauren says:

    In my school we learn Spanish and Turkish, and I take a Turkish class. My teacher is actually Turkish, from Turkey, fluent in Turkish. She is always trying her best to speak more Turkish than English so, we learn more, even if we never look at our notes, just hearing it over and over again makes us learn. Maybe they should try this way 🙂

  • Dane Calderon says:

    Hire me, pay me 40k USD/ year, and help me with moving expenses and visas for me and my wife. I speak English all day, so I’m pretty good. RSVP.

  • 1foxmulder says:

    In the end, it’s all about exposure and participation.

  • Roy Setjoadi says:

    4. English language is unnecessary complex

  • Asia Tiger says:

    most of Japanese people think they don’t need that..

  • Jenny says:

    Hire English Teachers who speak fluent English…
    Encourage students to speak english with their classmates.

  • Mapo says:

    I’m an English teacher in Japan, who majored in Japanese in the US. From speaking with Japanese students, I can say the article is pretty accurate. English education in Japan is about as effective as Spanish education in the US; not very. While it’s true that most Japanese don’t “need” English in their daily lives, the ones that are truly interested get short changed by a system that is ineffective and unresponsive. Before coming to Japan, I worked at my University’s international student center and got to interact with many Japanese students who were there specifically to study English. The interest IS there. The system is simply inadequate.

    By the way, pointing out the incompetency of the system is not the same as criticizing the “cognitive capacities” of the students (looking at Albert Lehner). The question isn’t “why can’t Japanese speak English” so much as it is “why is it that, after almost a decade of English education, most students still fail to hold a conversation?” I became conversational in Japanese in three years–compare that to the eight most Japanese will have spent on English by the end of college. This isn’t a testament to my superior language ability–far from it, this is illustrative of a major difference in the teaching systems of both countries. I was privileged with native teachers, and native teacher aids who served as conversation partners in class, as well as REQUIRED extra curricular conversation practice. We weren’t taught to test, we were taught to speak.

    I have students at the English School where I work who have been coming for years; their English is superior to that of most uni students. The biggest difference is that at my school 90% of the teachers are from English speaking countries, where in Uni most are native Japanese with limited English ability. Mind you that our classes are 40 minutes a week, compared to on average three hours per week in Uni. If that doesn’t tell you the system needs work, then you’re just dense.

  • Richard F says:

    Many countries have people the live in ” Isolation ” … USA , UK ,
    France Russia etc and do not want to learn “foreign ” languages . ? The
    Japanese make fantastic products that Work , Cars Cameras , Computers etc . this speaks to me , I have a Japanese Phone , Computer, Printer/Fax,Copier/Scanner , Car , Camera, Handycam , etc . it would seem to me that the people marketing these products speak English fit for Purpose not just ” this is a Pen ” English.

    Many academics with a class room of individuals do not teach what would seem to have a purpose in use for their students ,somebody just escaped from academia do not understand this , maybe after 15 years or so they might .

  • aka ken says:

    Since Japanese education and occasion of speaking English is not enough in ordinary life, I went on-line to communicate in English. It is worth to try!

    • Robert Jury says:

      Very good! But a few mistakes: Since Japanese education has too few occasions of speaking English in ordinary life, I went online to communicate in English. It’s worth a try! 🙂

  • Harriet Burgess says:

    I think the teaching of both History and English needs to be improved in Japan. Learning by rote is useless students are encouraged to communicate and participate. As for History, the government shouldn’t be so touchy as to what it thinks that Japanese people should or should not be learning. You can’t cherry pick events from History and whitewash over the rest, it doesn’t work like that. As the BBC pointed out all that’s doing is creating generations of people who don’t understand why Japan’s relations with other countries are the way they are.

    Also, please correct the sentence at the start, it shouldn’t be ‘is it a question that has been asked many times’ it should say ‘it is a question that has been asked many times’. After all, you are making a statement, not asking a question.

  • Albert Latorella Lehner says:

    It is depressing to read such deficit-oriented ideas in 2015! I’ve been teaching English in Japan at the university level for 18 years. The students I taught were no different, in most respects, from American students to whom I taught French. If anything, a higher percentage of Japanese students performed well in English than American students in French.

    Not everyone is interested in learning a foreign language. ‘Disinterest’ does not equate with ‘deficit’, or grammatical complexity, or pronunciation difference. Lack of motivation does not equate with lack of ability.

    A better question to ask: Why do so many foreigners in Japan–including English teachers–not speak Japanese?

    Please stop beating up on young Japanese people who may not have the same interest in speaking another language as you or I might. It’s their choice.

    If you think it’s difficult to teach English to Japanese students, don’t try teaching a foreign language–even Spanish, which has practical purpose–to American students.

    It’s one thing to discuss how to change a mind-set, yet quite another to disparage young people’s cognitive capacities. Let’s have a discussion on the former.

  • Made in DNA says:

    The only thing I would add to this: As most Japanese never leave Japan or travel outside of “safe zones” wherein a spattering of Japanese can be used, they don’t need any other language than their own. The Japanese have never truly broken free of their isolation state. It exists even today, and I imagine it will continue to do so until such a state as “Japan” ceases to exist.

    • Richard F says:

      Many countries have people the live in ” Isolation ” … USA , UK , France Russia etc and do not want to learn “foreign ” languages . ? Will this continue until such ” states ” cease to exist. ??

  • Anonymous says:

    Maybe Japanese can try to stop using katakana….This way maybe can help all the Japanese to speak more proper English….

    • disqus_f0fuA42H3o says:

      Katakana isn’t only for foreign words, their use is also for complex kanjis or expressions. This is a poor judgment…

    • Shona Sijin Marion McCarthy says:

      Maybe English speakers should stop using romaji. Maybe then they would speak better Japanese.

      • Mako says:

        The analogy is brilliant!

        • Gene Ricky Shaw says:

          Actually, it’s not. Romaji is used by several languages whereas Katakana is exclusively Japanese. And Romaji doesn’t hinder English speakers learning Japanese; Katakana DOES stymie Japanese speakers’ ability to speak English well.

      • My2ndAngelic says:

        No, why?
        Romaji is something difference.

  • Ket says:

    I’m a pre-service teacher and I plan on teaching English in Japan when I finally graduate. My motto is “In order to learn, mistakes must be made.” we learn from our mistakes.I’d set the rules of, encourage them to make mistakes. that in this classroom it is okay to make mistakes because we’re all equals and we’re all learning and here to learn, so to get up and show me what ya got. From the very first lesson i’d steer them in the direction of wanting and needing to learn English properly so they’re not just “passing” that entrance exam. A good teacher, teachers entrance exam and beyond. My grade 11/12 maths teacher taught our class how to pass the High school certificate exam, but also so much so that we could have sat and passed the highest maths exam course, instead of just our basic exam grade.

    • Gene Ricky Shaw says:

      Ket, this won’t work directly as you’re trying to chip away years of culture with a teaching slogan. However, your aim is in the right place.

      When I taught English, I had to find ways to motivate my students to speak so as to gain their confidence. I did this by making each student speak directly to me and by getting them in groups of three to speak to the whole class. Sometimes I’d break students into groups of 5 or 6 and have them practice English sentences with each other. This helped many of them get over their lack of confidence. Hope this helps.

    • Made in DNA says:

      With all due respect, if you think you’re going to be the first person to try that method, you didn’t grasp A SINGLE WORD of the “Shame Culture” portion of this article. Best of luck; you’ll need it.

      • Ket says:

        I’m autistic im all about shame culture… i know from experience that being bang rattle n shake is the best way to get far… Besides, getting outsides ones comfort zone… especially for someone like me is really freaking difficult… but if i can do it, i don’t see why others cant. i mean I’m not gunna go in there with guns blazing. meet me 1st time and you will see im a really shy quiet person. but i like to help open people up and get them thinking outside the box they call comfort zone. offending you just shows that my way of dealing with stuff works…

        But it could also mean your closed minded to the view of change and moving outside your own comfort zone is near impossible…

        anyways with all due respect back at you… just because how I plan on tackling something now, doesnt mean that when i graduate n end up teaching, that I will initially be how I plan… time does change people… but I’m waaaay outside my comfort zone teaching, traveling and anything else that removes me from the creature comforts of a non australian true blue setting with my friends who actually understand me for whom i am… n what i am for that matter….

        • kayumochi says:

          What I found while teaching in Japan for many, many years is that Japanese educators and administrators will not be pleased with any *innovative* teaching methods that get students to participate.

  • Floyd Turducken Mayweather. says:

    It all boils down to mentality. English is not that important to Japanese. It’s like learning French to an American. It’s a personal reference not a requirement. Unless there is a need for it, 99.9% of Americans learning French would abandon after one semester because there is no need for French.
    Saying why japanese don’t speak english is like saying why noone in america speaks French, or noone speaks japanese in Mexico.
    Saying why japanese don’t speak english is like saying why most americans are bad at math. Not going to happen because americans are not interested in Math and japanese are not interested in English.
    The last thing on a japanese person’s mind is learning English. It’s important to you, not to them. When you’re in japan and you don’t speak japanese, that’s your problem, not theirs.

    • Harry Hirsch says:

      A lot of generalization on your part. Plenty of Americans are interested in, and excel in Mathematics. Don’t let popular culture fool you into thinking otherwise.

      Also, comparison of French and English is flawed here. While the French are full of themselves when it comes to what they think of their own language, English IS the language of global business, science and diplomacy.

    • Drakaath67 says:

      Learning English in Japan is very important for a lot of people. Learning English in the vast majority of non-English speaking countries is a high priority for quite a lot of people. Being a native English speaker whom can speak another language is very good for career prospects. Now imagine being Japanese and being able to speak English, you have access to so much more in the world, not to mention within Japan and it’s huge amount of English speaking tourists it gets.
      I’m saying this as a current socio-linguistics/Japanese dual major student. It is very important to them.

    • Made in DNA says:

      You are correct.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      If learning English is not important as you claim, why are there so many English language schools in Japan?

        • Harry Hirsch says:

          Not entirely. I personally have Japanese friends who attend English schools way past their schooling days. They do so to better themselves, so they can communicate with gaijins like me.

          • Made in DNA says:

            You’re speaking to conversation schools (which is a hobby), not schooling which is what Floyd is commenting on and Anthony is wondering about.

      • Floyd Turducken Mayweather. says:

        The number of schools is not correlated with the japanese mentality of not wanting to learn English. There are many Martial Arts schools in the US, that doesn’t mean martial arts are important to every american. There are many English language schools in Japan, that doesn’t mean English is important to every japanese.

  • Risya says:


    Firstly, I believe that mistakes are a step towards success and they should not ever be embarassed about making mistakes. Even if it does not sound right, at least they tried and if corrected, they are able to improve better.

    I am from Singapore and basically we are encouraged to do well in our English language here. However, my national language is not English. The government encourages us to learn the English language so that we are able to communicate with others easily in the future, for example when we handle clients. In addition, English has been the most used language internationally hence our government felt that it was an mportant subject for us to prepare us in the future.

    Secondly, many of the pioneers in Singapore are unable to converse well in English and some might not even understand them at all. Some of them are only able to converse in their own language and this therefore caused a language barrier when conversing with the the generation these days.

    However, we knew that English is not easy for them to catch and speak easily after years of having to converse in their own native language in the past when English language was not really as important and we try to help them to understand it slowly. Using hand gestures and sometimes trying to make up what they are trying to say helps them to improve on their English. We try to repeat what they are trying to tell us in English and slowly they are able to get the hang of it. Even though their English are not perfect and can be ‘broken’ at times, at least they are able to grasp some skills.

    I suggest that Japan should slowly try to make English a priority. English seems like a hard subject at first but after lots of practice, we are able to understand it easily. I agree that grammar is a bit of a nuisance sometimes but even with imperfect grammar, what you are trying to convey in English can have a meaning.

    Embarassment is part and parcel of trying on a new language. When I first learned Japanese, it was haywire. Until now, it still is. However, with much practice, I can polish up my Japanese little by little. Therefore, I believe that Japanese can grasp the English language well ! They just need a little push to get their gears going.


  • Donna Quinn says:

    I would love to work with teaching English while learning Japanese. Is there a way to connect with people online to do so?

  • candy kendie says:

    hello.. I’ve been teaching Japanese and other Asian students English for about 3 years now..like any other nationalities, many of my Japanese students have difficulty learning the language.. But most of them have the diligence and passion to learn. Like what i have learned, the grammar-translation method doesn’t work for some students.. What I do is i encourage my students to keep talking in English. I wouldn’t care if there were a lot of lapses. I just want them to focus on vocabulary building first, then grammaar second.
    Japs are shy students and tend to fear some teachers. But, hey, who doesn’t,right? I’d be shy, too if the teacher is strict and all..

  • Kai says:

    Crazy idea: Let’s say the government would completely absolish Katakana. Every katakana label on every product would have to be replaced with regular latin letters. I think it would take 1-2 painful years, but soon everyone would get much better at reading english day in day out, speaking would improve, english wouldn’t be so “foreign” anymore. There are so many english words already “japanesified”, it’s a good basis. Well, just a really crazy idea 🙂

    • Manuel says:

      It wouldn’t work.

      As a writing system, katakana (as much as well as its counterpart hiragana) is a visual representation of the indigenous sounds of the Japanese language. Not the way round.
      Put it in other words, katakana is more the “sypmtom” than the “disease” (if you allow me to make such a comparision).
      That said, katakana is used for many, many other things than to render foreign words.

      • Kai says:

        Ok, so what if it was only forbidden to use Katakana to transcribe english words? That would only fail because culture prevents it like “Made in DNA” explained, right? I mean, we don’t use Japanese letters in Europe for words like Kimono, Sushi or such, because nobody could read them. Japanese people can read the Latin alphabet though! 🙂

    • Made in DNA says:

      You’re right, that is crazy. Wouldn’t work. The problem isn’t katakana (which is a writing and reading system long before foreign words ever reared their ugly head in Japan); it’s a culture. A culture over 2000 years old. You don’t erase that in a year or two.

  • Chuck Reindle says:

    I’ve yet to encounter a discussion that applies educational psychology to Japanese learners in an English as a Foreign Language setting. Achievement Goal Theory is a hot topic in many fields of research. This theory shows that Japanese prefer the Performance Goal strategy. An individual strives to perform well in front of others with this strategy. This means that the individual will even avoid looking better than others. After all, no one likes an individual who thinks he/she is smarter than others. This mindset fits perfectly with the behavior of preserving the harmony of the group. In other words, western culture defines happiness as high self-esteem based on positive illusions. Whereas eastern culture places priority on group harmony over satisfaction of personal feelings. In conclusion, a teaching method that maintains group harmony is preferred.

  • Carol Tezuka says:

    I am an English teacher willing to help =)

  • Pro says:

    I strongly recommend japanese people to learn English. It makes me crazy when I talk with my japanese friends and cannot communicate with them. They are awesome people but unless they don’t speak english people over there will be isolated. They should show then movies and serials, and comics of their own choice dubbed in english. Unless they hear the real conversations and speech in english, all grammars are useless to be learned . I myself have learned english by this way and really it’s an awesome way to learn english. (implemented in schools)

    • Madison Janelle Martin says:

      I strongly recommend you learn some Japanese, the Japanese education system does not set students learning English as a second language up to succeed in proficiency. It similar to how English speaking Canadian students take 7 years of French, but almost none become fluent due to the structure of the general education system. How we learn language across all cultures needs to be challenged and re-imagined.

    • Richard F says:

      Many countries have people the live in ” Isolation ” … USA , UK , France Russia etc and do not want to learn “foreign ” languages . ? The Japanese make fantastic products that Work , Cars Cameras , Computers etc . this speaks to me , I have a Japanese Phone , Computer, Printer/Fax,Copier/Scanner , Car , Camera, Handycam , etc . it would seem to me that the people marketing these products speak English fit for Purpose not just ” this is a Pen ” English.

    • Noriko Matsuura says:

      ‘Unless they don’t speak English’? …’movies and Serials’? …’The real conversations’? …’All grammars’? …’by this way’? Hum… ?

  • Raphael Seltzman says:

    A point of view from “one of the most difficult languages” speaker:
    Despite all the cultural/educational reasons, the problem is in lacking the consonants. Although, English is a simple language (the main difficulty is to learn all the pronounce rules etc) but has the particles which request consonant (is, of, out). The Polish language is almost impossible (I think that harder would be French) for speak to the Japanese. Except complicated grammar, it has many ‘two-characters’ like ‘ch’, ‘sz (similiar to sh, し)’, ‘rz’, ‘ż’, ‘ó and u (both of them are う). But the harder languages are Hungarian and Finnish (やれやれ!)

  • A. Yusuke says:

    I generally agree with those reasons. Since the Japanese grammar and pronunciation is completely different from English, sometimes they would like to abandon their practice. I think one of the solutions is to discuss in English more in their classes. That would be helpful for their improvement.

    Let me be honest about your article, I found some little bit offensive expressions, such as “can’t speak” and “the inaka parts”. Because the word “can” implies someone’s ability, “can’t” sounds like Japanese is somewhat inferior to me. So I think “don’t” is better. And you know, any people won’t be judged by where they live.

  • Alex Escomu says:

    Another reason: wrong lingua franca. Let’s teach Esperanto, no phrasal verbs, no spelling contest cause that would be a nonsense, no irregular verb lists, no impossible pronounciation, watch THE CHAOS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1edPxKqiptw

    Just a 2nd language for everybody conceived for everybody. A Lego language. 500 roots and they’ll understand 95% of everyday’s Esperanto. Watch the speech from a UNO/WHO translator https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU


  • アレキサンダー スティーヴェン says:

    Reason 4: Lack of proofreading. 😉

    “But why is it that Japanese students can’t communicate in English? It is the Japanese education system? It is cultural? Or a mixture of both?”

    IMHO, proofreading written words help with “how” you speak.

    Is it the Japanese education(al) system? is it cultural? a mixture of both?

    Remove the conjunction “or” in this case. The rules are vague but some scholars consider the “add-on” questions incomplete sentences, therefore you do not capitalize the first letters.

  • Kentaro Hoshigaoka says:

    I think that the main cause is ‘culture’ of being shy. But to be honest I am a lot proud of that ‘shyness’. Shyness is ‘omotenashi’ in a way.
    Apart from the culture, I think we should discontinue the English education in school curriculum.

    • Myu tube says:

      Yeah you could do that and further isolate Japan from rest of the world. Do keep in mind that Japan lives on exports and the economic growth bubble bursted long ago. More and more companies want their employees to be good at English, so yeah, discontinuing English does seem to be a wonderful idea.

    • Shyness is clearly not ‘omotenashi’. Shyness is a state of inactivity, while omotenashi is clearly an activity, though it could be hidden or obscure. If people are not able to speak in any language due to shyness then they never able to omotenash’ the other people.

    • アレキサンダー スティーヴェン says:

      I agree. Why make it part of the public school curriculum if students are not learning it correctly? Privatize it completely and focus on quality. Better Japan have a few who can understand and speak English well, hence spread it, than many who butcher it to hell, making little progress. 🙂

  • Arlette RV says:

    i think not only japanes students are shy and worried to make a mistake in front of the class , also many students in many countries fell the same , but it depends on our way to think , personally I’m a shy person who many times don’t want to be a volunteer because i fell bad when i make a mistake .

  • Quentin Givens says:

    First thing to deal with is social. Shame culture has to stop. For now, though, the best thing would be a long-term pen-pal program. It would provide an opportunity to interact with native English speakers.

  • Jurijs Nesterovs says:

    To improve the language they should start with the psychological issue here… well, that’s my opinion about this… if they will not learn how to accept things as they are and accept the thought: “yeah, i made a mistake, but it’s correctable!” – what i mean here is that you should not care about the error, think about “why did i make a mistake here?” etc. As was mentioned in the article that “japanese people fear of making mistakes” – they should change that thinking into “who doesn’t make mistakes?”. In my life i have not met a person who has not made any mistake… Maybe japanese people are too tense about small things and take them too close to heart…

  • Inesa says:

    You know, I also had this kind of problem in Ukraine and in Portugal… UNTIL… my best teacher! She made us talk only in english during the lessons as she did. The first step was also about the embarrassment, but well, she made everyone read loud the exercises and some lines from the text, and she always said to those who would laught: “It’s not bad when you don’t know and search for the knowlange, it’s much worse when you don’t know and stay in ignorance because you’re a covard. it’s better to mistake and learn, than be an idiot by chioce.”
    so that’s how my class (and many others) created trust between us and no one laught anymore on someones mistakes. 🙂

    • Ryan Bardahi says:

      This is actually what we do in the Philippines. During our English classes (from gradeschool to university years), we are encouraged to speak only in English. No matter how unnatural and laughable our English may sound, we still use the language. 🙂 We are taught to think in English whenever we use it.

    • アレキサンダー スティーヴェン says:

      Great answer

  • Alejandro Ridruejo says:

    Dear Yumi, Konnichiwa. I have been learning English since the age of 8. Now, almost thirty years after, I must say I’m STILL in process of learning it. In fact, learning a language NEVER ends. For that reason, I think that the key to increase your level or knowledge is that you have to enjoy learning it. Someone has said that I am the teacher of myself. And it is true. A second important fact is the possibilities you can reach with a second language. Take this words as an example. I am talking to a very beautiful japanese girl. And the third important fact: culture and language come together. If we want to speak a language we should pay particular attention on the way people use it (this also means to learn the way they speak and pronounce it, to learn how to produce the phonemes they use), the culture of the people who speak it, what they like, love, hate, their habits, daily routines, parties, celebrations, sports, their history, their sense of humour. As soon as you discover this you become involved in a neverending journey in which almost everything is up to you.

  • Well, my answer to this is “Welcome to the club. Many other people in the world don’t or cannot speak English, so stop worrying.” Actually, stop thinking that it is a “only-in-Japan-thing”. English language education programs all over the world, as far as I know, have not been providing the kind of efficiency we expect of our machines. If you take one class of 40 students anywhere around the world where English is taught as a foreign language, there is a very strong probability 4 or 8 years later only 10? 20? let’s be generous, 40% of them would be able to communicate in English. Imagine somebody tries to sell you a machine for making sandwiches and he says “Well, from all the materials going into the machine, we expect a maximum of 40% to end up as sandwiches, the remaining 60% you’ll have to throw away and start with a new batch.” Would you buy this machine?

    Why do we have this situation? First of all, notice that my production machine analogy above treats the input stuff (materials: bacon, cheese, bread, salad etc.) as having no possible role in helping you (the sandwich producer) to make more/better sandwiches. This is why this is an apt metaphor for (English) language teaching, because that’s how students (the “materials”) are treated by teachers (the “producers”). Of course in the real world teachers quickly realise that you get better results the less you treat them like passive matter to be moulded, so they adapt and try to support them, help them identify their strong/weak points, encourage them to describe their learning styles, etc. etc. etc.

    Notice how the teacher is still the agent, the person in charge of accomplishing the task of making you, the student (= passive subject) a “proficient user of English”. Well, I have news for you students in Japan and across the world: It is YOU who are in charge of teaching yourself English, because (unless you’re really rich and can afford 10-15 hours of private language coaching every week) you simply cannot get enough time to communicate in English in Japan (or your country where English is a foreign language, i.e. not heard on regular TV channels, the supermarket you shop at, not spoken by the taxi drivers, politicians or musicians in your society).

    1, 2 or even 3 hours of English instruction (=lessons) a week will not make Japanese students more proficient in English; the only thing that can accomplish this with better efficiency is a reform of the way Japanese students see themselves as learners of English. Become a responsible learner, stop trying to find the perfect learning material, textbook and/or English conversation school. Start with the following procedure:

    1. Ask yourself WHY you need English? If you cannot give a good, convincing answer to this, then you probably don’t really need English. End of the story. If you do have good reasons to get better at English, move to step 2 below.

    2. Ask yourself HOW MUCH TIME can you spend each day interacting in English. This interacting should include 4 things: reading something you find A. interesting and B. understandable to you (try Googling the movie script of some movie you watched, e.g. “Tonari no Totoro” in English); listening to some spoken English (YouTube the kind of situations where you imagine yourself in a position where you need to use English); writing in English on a website that provides you with native feedback (e.g., lang8); and, lastly, speaking in English (if, like most people, you cannot find somebody to practice with, I suggest shadowing which means you first listen to somebody speaking in English and then repeat in a loud voice trying to imitate that speaker).

    3. Keep an input (reading/listening) and output (writing/speaking) record of how much time you have spent EACH DAY interacting in English (with content you have chosen / produced).

    4. Take whatever questions/problems you have in English to your teacher (if applicable) and get the feedback you need to improve your ACCURACY.

    5. Use the Internet, because that’s where you can find all the material you’ll ever need and much, much more FOR FREE and, what is more important, because that’s the ONLY way to find the material you, personally, are interested in.

    In case you need tutorials (in Japanese), have a look at this

  • Robert Horsting says:

    It’s my experience that many Japanese I’ve met are able to write in English, but lack the confidence to speak. English is my second language too, but I started learning it at age 6, when I moved to America. For those friends that are eager to learn, I enjoy teaching them about words that have double meanings or slang, which allow them the opportunity to engage in the humor of word-play. I feel that if you can find the humor in a topic, it makes learning fun. Another aspect of this is the confidence and comfort of understanding the joke, as opposed to the insecurity and suspicion of feeling that the joke might be on you.

    I’m happy to see that the students in this video not only had the confidence to make it in English, but that they are speaking up about their belief that there is a better way to learn. Their conviction holds the promise that one day their six years of English could result in a great benefit for all students…speaking English!

  • Ryan Nelson says:

    don’t feel bad, many people in america can not speak English, despite being born here, and going to an English speaking school for 12 years! At least you have one language to fall back on!

  • Natkip says:

    With the rise of the internet and the opportunity to communicate with people all over the world, it’s a shame there is not the chance for Japanese youth to talk freely and casually with people who speak English (native or not), chat and effectively practise. Because they will have to think and be creative, textbook sentences can only get you so far. I see Japanese blogging sites and even though I understand none of it, I feel sad they do not branch out much, likely from that insecurity and “keeping it together”.

  • Ted says:

    I didn’t read all the comments here but I’d like to submit another reason:

    There are many examples where education and practice are focused on process and memorization. Has anyone ever watched Cooking With Dog? Or any other cooking show/cookbook? They actually tell you how to cut a carrot.

    Conversely, Marc Matsumoto, Chef John and Mike Ruhlman teach technique so that styles and variation can be accommodated for. Yes we memorize the multiplication table, but we can’t be expected to memorize 1234/567=?

    As in lots of (what I’ve seen from) Japanese culture, there is a focus on disciplining oneself to mastering(conforming to) the optimal path in order to reach perfection. Great for cutting wood in a straight line, but perhaps not great for the flexibility and non-conformity that is personal expression?

    Maybe I’m way off here…

  • Interesting article. In my podcast, All Ears English, we emphasize “Connection not Perfection!” That means it’s necessary to let go of perfect grammar in favor of expressing yourself as best you can and engaging with people in a real life imperfect way.

  • Jiyuan Zhou says:

    All my experience of studying English and Japanese, or living and travelling in different countries, tells me a truth, communication and speaking is much important than grammar. I studied Japanese for 5 year on my own without knowing deeply about grammar. But when I visited Japan, local people can understand me when I speak. After I started officially taking Japanese class in college, my Japanese skill just improves incredibly. English works the same way. I never care about complicated grammar structure when speaking English, and other people talk in the same way. But my English is becoming less fluent since I left America in May, so use it or lose it.

  • rivetgunner says:

    “Why can’t Japanese people speak English?”
    Because it’s difficult.

    Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers

    “What do you think Japan can do to improve the level of English?”
    Same old question. Same old answer(s).

    だから日本人は英語が話せない! 日本の英語教育がダメな10の理由

    • E S says:

      Same old questions and same old answers perhaps because Mombusho still hasn’t listened. As we teachers managed to get them to change how the TOEIC test is made, and actually include native English educators in the process, first a very in depth paper had to be made citing all the reasons that changes needed to be made. As well, there had to be solutions included in that paper. Simply posting an answer or two at a time will not get their attention. The only thing that will happen is someone will see a long list of people giving different complaints and no solutions for change.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Thank you for sharing these websites!

  • Rick Saito says:

    I go to school in Japan but many students just aren’t interested in learning English. Many even hate English class. The classes are too memorization oriented and the quality of the teachers and materials is very low.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I know what you mean.. ^_^; I went to a very academic high school in Japan and it was even worse than junior high school because of college entrance examination.. lots of memorizations..

      • Rick Saito says:

        Everyone has these thick vocabulary books with the red sheets to hide the meaning of the words. I mean it’s great to study vocab. but that’s really the only thing they are studying… I never see them practice their speaking skills outside of class (and even there not many have the chance/ are confident enough to speak)

  • Vangie Magdaong says:

    My observation is nobody speaks English outside the classroom. The media for instance (e.g tv and radio programs, newspaper, print ads) are all in Japanese. How can you train your ears if you have a limited chance to hear the language? Pronunciation is difficult part for them because no one gets to practice their listening and speaking skills constantly unlike in other countries where kids grew up watching Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer for instance. Kids are fast learners if they are exposed to English speaking environment, constant practice and early education could help them comfortable in speaking the language.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I agree..I wish Japanese kids get to hear native English speakers speak more frequently but it is very challenging in Japan..

  • Spencer Suzuoka says:

    @mark_garrett:disqus Wrong! Now they start at age 10(5th grade).

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I left Japan many years ago, but it is great that they start at 10..maybe even earlier? 🙂

    • Mark Garrett says:

      Not exactly Spencer. Maybe our definition of “start” is different. It’s true that there is a new mandate to begin English education at the 5th grade level, however it only consists of one day a week for about 50 minutes. This can hardly be considered a true start.

      • Yumitolesson says:

        I started learning English when I was 13..we even had an American English teacher but once a week isn’t enough, I agree…

  • Mark Garrett says:

    The main reason, not mentioned in the article, is that after age 7 there is a systematic decline in language acquisition ability, and after puberty (around age 12) our ability falls off the map. And when is English taught in Japanese schools? Starting in junior high, age 12. Hmmm…

    • Yumitolesson says:

      I would love to hear more about the scientific explanations as to how children learn a foreign language more quickly than adults.. ^_^

    • Yumitolesson says:

      But you are right about that though..

  • Kalisto Angelique Hart says:

    What I want to do is teach English in Japan and have my son (four now) grow up there, it is going to take me a couple years but you don’t give up on a dream.
    This post about the what is going on with the English curriculum has further spurred my interest in this dream. Seeing that there is a place for someone that not only wants to teach children a language but give them there only words to speak, sing or write with. I call grammar the math of English, it is important but there is so much more.
    Thank you so much for this video.

    Kali Hart

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Japan is a very unique society and there are a lot of benefits to grow up in Japan..it is definitely different from western societies.. ^_^

  • twitchit says:

    The Bottom line is that the Japanese school system is designed to produce social cohesion, NOT free thinking individuals. Social cohesion and population control cannot be achieved with a whole bunch of foreign language savvy citizens running around sharing ideas, because language is knowledge, dangerous, foreign knowledge. And knowledge is critical thinking, is dissent, is power, is a threat to The Order Of Things.

    By deliberately choosing to begin teaching English Way Too Late, making sure to hire only Japanese native speakers who’s English is poor in the public school system, and ensuring that what they teach will never enable communication the Japanese government has found a way to save face- pretending they are making an effort to be international- all the while ensuring it will never happen.

    Add to that the eikaiwas that hire teachers only on the basis of being native speakers (and possibly also for their looks) regardless of the fact that most new hires have zero teaching experience, and not even a degree in something relevant like linguistics, often themselves also monolingual so with no first hand experience learning a second language, and the plot to never learn English is perfect.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      This is very interesting…it is true that English conversation schools hire native speakers (preferably American English) and they don’t always have teaching experiences.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      All comments are held for moderation before being posted to the site. You don’t need to post the same comment a dozen times.

  • twitchit says:

    Although it paradoxically appears to be true in regards to language learning, “shame culture” is notoriously absent from more traditional modes of learning. For example in the arts and crafts, traditional performing arts, or martial arts etc. it is considered perfectly normal for the beginner to be precisely that, and not the least bit shameful to make mistakes in front of everyone. The sempai leads the kohai and the kohai is encouraged to perform as soon as the slightest ability is attained. In fact, Japan is probably the least embarrassing place on earth to master new skills because everyone is so encouraging towards beginners making an effort. So where does the so called “shame culture” in English class come from? Certainly not from Japanese culture itself

    • King Rat says:

      That is good insight. One difference English has with karate is that English classes are divided by year so there is no sempai safety net.

      Another difference is that (in high school) structure shames all but the “top” students at the top “subclass” at the “top” school.

      Perhaps if English were taught more like martial arts and crafts we would see a huge improvement in English proficiency.

  • Mattis Bygdén says:

    The media dubbing everything from movies to news into japanese is definatly one of the bad guys. I learned a great deal of english from watching movies and being on the internet. Katakana is also not helping

  • Colin Kozik says:

    It’s a cultural problem that will never change. Language shouldn’t be viewed as a subject as it’s way to complex for that. They got it right where grammar and vocabulary is important, but you only really need basic grammar and up to intermediate vocab and the rest will fall into place when you actually try to use it on your own. After you memorize the basics (which is a must) then you start to use it speaking and reading…which will add to what you already know or reinforce it. Japanese have an image of what is supposed to be (on many things for that matter), rather than just taking the proper steps and going for it. Also they do to many things at once and learning a language needs a lot of focus. If are around Japanese long enough you will see that it’s not just their English but how they deal with many things in the same manner. The only people who can do well are the weird ones who step out (at least a little) of the Japanese box (or shall i say WA) lol.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yes “wa” is extremely important in Japanese society. I do remember not raising hand so I don’t stand out and don’t bother my teacher or the classmates..Also college entrance examination makes it very difficult for students to go outside the box because it is very stressful. ^_^;

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni says:

    In India, ‘Roman Hindi’ has been much popularized like: ‘Vande Mataram’ for ‘वंदे मातरं’. On the same lines, Roman Japanese should be encouraged – on bill boards, street names etc.
    This will help many English words to ‘trickle’ into the Japanese minds. Here (in India), we see ‘Central Railway’ followed by its Hindi version:सेंट्रल रेल्वे’, and gradually get accustomed to many words in English. Soon, we start speaking in ‘Hinglish’ : like – ‘लेफ्ट टर्न (left turn) लेओ’ =’turn left’ etc.

  • Bettý Díana Combs says:

    Engrish 101 can’t be so hard!

  • Steve Davis says:

    I think it’s the verbally, hard to learn any language, when you don’t have to speak it. I live in Texas and meet Spanish speaking people who have lived there for over 20 years and still can’t speak English well. Because, they have Spanish community, stores and jobs were English is not required. I should be able to speak Japanese well, because my wife and kids, speak it each other in our home and I take japanese classes, but because they speak English to me I don’t learn well, and I don’t have to speak it, when I am in Japan my japanese language skills are 100% better and I learn so much Japanese caused, I have to speak it to my family and friends. So, I don’t think it is the text part of English it’s the verbal practice. A lot of people try to talk to me in English when I am there in Japan, I always ask them to speak in Japanese So I Can Learn their language. I always want them to know am the foreigner not them.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      That is a good point..I see many people from Mexico who speak no English..a lot of them are living here illegally and unfortunately the first generation immigrants don’t have the luxury of studying English but their kids seem to communicate well. Maybe it is different in Texas. You should definitely speak Nihongo with your wife. ^_^

  • Calcifer says:

    As a teacher in Japan I can tell you that also the curriculum for Jr High is just insanely hard and poorly organised. They don’t learn past tense until second year, but then in third year they are learning really complex grammar points like “This is a man who has travelled the world.”

    I think that there should be half the amount of grammar in the curriculum and more time for each point, and leave room for communication classes and for things like watching English dramas and listening to normal conversations. The conversations in the textbooks are unnatural as hell because they desperately want to create examples for rarely used grammar points.

    My Jr High actually had very high level English speaking teachers, but the rote memorisation style and overwhelming amount of rarely used English the students had to learn meant that 80% or more of the students had given up on ever thinking English was something worthwhile to learn by the time they got to 2nd year of Jr High.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yes it is the reality and I really hope that the curriculum will be modified to encourage Japanese children communicate more in English. Learning grammars is important but in order to speak, you actually have to practice..

  • Shinjoly says:

    Not need english exam for any entrance exam to school in Japan.
    Too many Japanish word in town , tv and books .
    Terrible pronunciation even ABC…..Z . (We read it by Japanish pronunciation)
    So, we’ll not be able to speak English forever.
    Very bad English system in school still now since I felt it over 30 years .
    Many English school in Japan and many people are learning but still can not to speak just waste big money , hahaha .
    They should to study and stay in English country for a year , then could be speak English quickly . but we are very Shy people so we hesitate to stay in other English country .
    Very disappointed , We are living in International world now , but can not to speak .
    What a OOOk Japanese young generation now . Mmmmmm…..

    • Yumitolesson says:

      yes I agree with you and thanks for your comment. I hope that some changes will be made to the current English Education system in japan.

  • Jasmine James says:

    I dont think its natural to try and teach grammar and reading and speaking and writing all at the same time…When we learn our first laguage as babies, we ONLY spoke. And it was in One word sentences, and fragments. Enough to get the point across. That is communication. The most important part.

    Then we learned proper sentence structure “I Feeded it to dog” turned into “I fed it to the dog”. We learn how words mean different things in conversations “No talking” vs. “Shut up” Constant conversation, trial and error and ALOT of mistakes. Then we learn to read and write our proper thoughts. Alot of language classes tend to be so focused on tests…that students are afraid to mess up which is normal.

    Heck most americans mess up words. Or pronouce it wrong, Use improper structure….

    • Shawn says:

      “Heck most americans mess up words. Or pronouce it wrong, Use improper structure…” Agreed. One of the many sentiments I have as an English instructor (I’m a non-native English speaker) is the preference (if not discrimination) to native English speakers. They ignore the fact that being a native speaker doesn’t mean they have perfect English nor the ability to teach the language effectively.

      Another issue is how employers gauge a potential instructor via qualifications that are only good on paper (i.e. TESOL). Certifications like TESOL are indeed useful for both employees and employers to be confident in hiring but treating it as “if you don’t have this then it’s impossible for you to teach” makes it inflexible.

      Why take note on flexibility? Because being flexible and adaptable relates the English language itself! Forgotten languages like Latin went extinct because it did not adapt, unlike English which borrowed a lot of words from other languages. Since the English vocabulary is so immense and it still continues to evolve, teaching & learning English becomes more challenging and therefore there is a need for new teaching requirements.

      In summary, to be effective in teaching English today means you are not only a master of the English subject itself but also on other subject matters that are conveyed through English. A teacher should be conversant on other subjects too so that students will be engaged participate in discussions. No matter how “shy” or hesitant you are in joining a conversation, if the topic is interesting to you and you can relate to it then you are bound to speak up! I DID NOT learn English in my “English” classes alone, I also learned English in Math, History, Chemistry, Physics and etc.

      I admit that what I’ve said here is not clear enough but I sincerely hope the current system could change and be more flexible and open-minded.

      From an English instructor that got turned down for a teaching position in Japan because although he had the passion and skills to teach, he did not have a TESOL certificate. 🙂

      • bartonim says:

        I wholeーheartedly agree with you about the current emphasis on things like the TESOL certificate. While it’s admirable to see that some teachers wish to improve their skills, not everything is coming up roses in this increasingly insular world of JALTーattending professionals, who I think have almost singleーhandedly changed the game plan, by instilling this belief that if you are in the realm of teaching theory, you are suddenly more qualified to teach the language than somebody who might not subscribe to some of the more abstract, and at times impractical, teaching approaches in vogue todayーat least in Japan.

        I don’t want to come across as meanーspirited, but I have attended JALT and found it to be a mixed bag of sorts. There are always a few good ideas out there, but as you mention, Shawn, flexibility seems to have fallen to the wayside, which I felt was lacking in the growing bubble world of ‘language professionals’ and their at times impractical ideas. I often wonder what the students who are unaware human guinea pigs make of some of the lessons they have been put through. We’ve all crashed and burned with spectacular failures, but tend to move on to ideas that work. I get the sense from some who unconditionally swear by the value of these conference presentations, that they have reached a point where the security they’ve been granted now has forced the real needs of the students into the background. In other words, it has become a kind of ‘my way or no way’scenario, yet we want to fault the students for their inherent cultural shyness or the Japanese education system’s failures.

        Just today, if I can grab my boasting rights for a brief moment of vanity, I entered a classroom to cheers. Not because I’m the world’s greatest teacher, because I know better than that, and I know far better teachers. It was because I have achieved one thing credentials and lofty qualifications can’t guarantee: I have connected with the students. I balance what they like with practical language learning as best I can.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yes Japanese English Education is all part of the hell entrance examination for college. So English teachers are pressured to prepare their students to do well on these exams.

  • Becky L says:

    in Florida everything in school is centered around the FCATs but any
    extracurricular activities seem to stick better. perhaps they can join
    some kind of club that does DIFFERENT things to learn English rather
    than the normal classroom; maybe something like getting an English
    speaking pen pal or something.
    group activities are really important.
    I hated group activities in Spanish class but I now realize those were
    the most beneficial in learning.
    teachers should call on students
    at random unless students participate. making mistakes is a good thing
    because you learn faster from them. if you make no mistakes it’s harder
    to learn–plus nobody’s perfect.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      It would be effective for Japanese students to have an additional conversational class in which students are focused on conversing only..with native English speakers.

  • DanteK says:

    “…until the government radically overhauls the English education system and Japanese people learn to not care what others think, they will never progress beyond ‘this is a pen’.”

    Wait; Government overhaul? Japan?! Not caring what others think?!

    You, OP, are proposing a *revolution*. These things don’t happen in Japan.


  • DoctorFedora says:

    Golly, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that everyday life requires zero English, could it? Nearly 100% of Japanese broadcast TV is domestically made, as are the bulk of books published/sold and a very large portion of the music sold.

    You may as well lament that American adults can scarcely speak any Spanish, French, German, or Latin despite studying through middle school and high school. To a large extent, it’s not much of a mystery. Instead, it’s apparently easier to demonstrate lazy and/or provincial thinking and romanticize/mystify The Uniqueness of Japan, pretending that something like “people are afraid to make mistakes” is something that’s somehow not basically universal to some extent or other.

    • Robert Neko Mendenhall says:

      It’s not the same as America. Japanese children are required to learn English from elementary school (this is a more recent change) through high school, where in America the foreign language requirements are very lax depending on your school. My JHS and HS only required 2 years of foreign language education each, and it didn’t even need to be the same language! That’s 4 years compared to the 12ish the Japanese kids now go through. Also, English is one of the most useful languages to learn so there is greater incentive/benefits to learning it than German or French would be to an American. Even in Asia, Japan lags behind on English proficiency so it isn’t a universal failing. Japan’s greatest failure is trying to hone a skill-set that society only cares about for the narrowest application (exam passing).

    • Yumitolesson says:

      Yes the fact that Japanese people seem to struggle more with English conversational skills than even other Asian people so I just explored the cultural reasons that may be contributing to the issue. But there is no need to speak English in Japan..so it is hard.

  • Claudio says:

    They should listen to the Beatles

  • Soha Eldeeb says:

    It is the same in Egypt. Schools teach grammar and translation, but they don’t teach English. Teachers get paid when students pass, of course they would only concentrate on exam questions.
    Taxi drivers working in and around touristic areas in Egypt speak better English than college grads just because they use the language.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      That is a good point because Taxi drivers actually get to communicate with his customers in English as opposed to most students who just study grammars.

  • DJ Rich Diliman says:

    This is a HEARTFELT video from Japanese students who want to learn English. I am not really sure what’s really happening inside their classroom, but it is true,Although “ENGLISH 101” is included in their curriculum, Japanese in this generation still can’t converse with English. I don’t know who to blame, but I think, you can really never learn the language if your heart is not in it. Wish I can help tho.

    • Yumitolesson says:

      many Japanese students are very interested in learning but the combination of Japan’s English education system and their culture is likely to contribute to this issue..

  • Oliver Jerome S. Basalo says:

    Been working here for 4 years and I have overheard 3 women who could speak english well. One in particular I beleive to be very fluent. Eigo perapera na. Honto. One reason I could probably be their system of “Kana” used in Japanese writing and “Kanji” characters is incomplete to provide for the distinct sound and spelling in Romaji characters used in the English language. The other thing is that the structure of the Japanese sentence follows Subject – Object – Verb form while English it is in Subject – Verb – Object.

  • geraldshields says:

    Japanese and English syntax and structure are very different. For a nihonjin, going from a “subject-object-verb” structure (Ex: She him loves.) to a subject-verb-object structure (Ex: She loves him.) must be as difficult as when I’ve started to learn Japanese.

  • Matthew McEntire says:

    that is almost true. They do not have the best education system in the world. On a worldwide test they were shown to be in the top 5 but not number 1. Number 1 was a European country where they do not even give out homework surprisingly

    • Andy says:

      As someone who has lived in Japan for 6 years and who has 2 kids going through the education system I’d like to correct you here. The education is actually quite poor, the reason kids do so well in these international tests is that they spent a lot of time in cram school. A lot of teaching looks out dated and poor but they make up for it my spending a large amount of time studying outside of school. This is never commented on and so gives the impression that the Japanese education system is great. It isn’t! To save money and to give our kids some time to play, we are doing a paper based course that gives them the extra practice they need. If the state were doing a good job we wouldn’t need to do this.

  • .... says:

    English is the first language of most Americans and we still have to take years of grammar courses.

    • Robert Neko Mendenhall says:

      And the Japanese take Japanese. Not all language is learned just by living.

  • Steven S says:

    Sponsor me to teach English in Japan so I can be with the woman I want to marry!

    Remind them that learning is making a mistake but to keep trying till you don’t anymore – not a shameful act to improve oneself … the shame aspect is hugely restricting … perhaps a special parent teacher group for interested students to encourage active open learning in class from the home? Not saying to change an entire culture but a different perspective to the learning environment of a different language class.

    I hope that made sense lol

  • GrouchyGaijin2 says:

    This article pretty much sums it up.
    It is socially acceptable to not be able to speak English in Japan. This is similar to the way the ability to do math is seen in the United States.

  • AniRave says:

    I thought part of the problem was the fact that the English language has so many sounds that actually don’t exist in Japanese. It’s hard to get a sound down when it doesn’t exist in your language.

  • James Lowrey says:

    It’s because they don’t need it, same reason westerners suck at Japanese.

  • Aya Watanabe says:

    I remember that a lot of teachers in japan couldn’t speak English well.
    They taught us Fake English.
    So we had grown up without hearing reality right English … if you want to get “Right English” , you had better to leave from Japan.

  • Aryan Mari says:

    Why not instead of starting to learn English in first year of Jr. High to pass in high standards uni’s, why don’t they try to teach kindergartens and nurseries exe: Dog, Cat, English nursery rhymes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars just like in my country. By the time they reached Jr High they will be able to at least speak a bit fluent in English and would just probably be a common language for them to use. Just my suggestion.

    • nekorodeo says:

      I live and teach in a Japanese town where English is taught from 1st grade in elementary school. The kids are very quick learners. (I teach elementary 1st through 6th)

    • Jossiel Morgan says:

      That’s how I learned English and it worked fine for me ! (I’m French)

  • Mr Usopp says:

    Have a more effective teaching of English, be participatory in class and stop being sheepish. Bye!

  • Tina Aziz says:

    Hi GaijinPot,

    In my opinion, I believe they should learn proper ABC. The problem happens because they used Katakana to define pronunciation. I guess it couldn’t be helped these days generation, can’t speak because they’ve used to it. Lets just suggest them learning English from 6 years old & let them speak English among them in class. That also need a proper monitoring. Once they used to it, I guess it will be fine. Starts with today generation.

    Oh, BTW, do Japan broadcast many English TV programme? I hardly seen any when I was in Japan in my 2 weeks stay. Basically,

    • DoctorFedora says:

      Japanese broadcast television shows virtually zero non-Japanese programming. What little that isn’t from Japan is primarily kids’ cartoons that have been dubbed into Japanese. It’s like trying to find Swedish TV programs on American TV.

    • I guess it’s already well known that they cannot pronounce “r” and “l”, but the problem is deeper. Most japanese people are not able to pronounce/distinguish between C and “she” correctly. Nor do they between “pledger” and “pleasure”. Current English education system in Japan lacks even the most basic training on the pronunciation. sigh.

      In my personal experience, there were little or no monitoring on the pronunciation in the class, or it’s just there were no one who can check it.

    • 竜マイロ says:

      The earlier one practice another language, the easier it’s going to be learning. My mother tounge isn’t english, and I never left my country, yet I’ve had contact with the language with many stuffs (videogames, internet, etc). In fact, I never saw use a foreign language as “just another school subject”. It’s been PART OF MY LIFE. (seriously, it’s been the subject that I’d studied the least, and I still had very good marks!) And hey I also noticed when I was just a kid that I could access a lot more of information being just bilingual, oh and talk with many more people.

      • Tina Aziz says:

        Haha. True enough. I’m also not from any native country. It’s easier to learn when you are still young. In my case, I watched animes with English dub when I was kid & also non-English shows with English Sub. It’s sooooo easy to watch English shows/documentaries here, that it helped me to be able to speak English confidently & I do use it daily 🙂 I hope one day, Japanese TV won’t just show Japanese-only programs & Japanese dubs’. Engage the Japanese people into speaking English among each other more. バンザイ日本!

      • sonic_sabbath says:

        That’s great! It also shows your commitment to the language.
        That is one point though – NOT EVERYONE is that interested in learning language.
        Heck, there are a lot of people who cannot even speak their native tongue proficiently, and do not care. Being truly bilingual takes a lot of time and effort. Not everyone can be bothered taking that time and using that effort to get to such a high level.

    • Fran Almonte says:

      They tend to dub everything

    • Jesús Ramírez says:

      Totally agree with your comment.

  • Anthony Joh says:

    Just because they move abroad doesn’t mean they will automatically pick up the language. I’ve met tons of Japanese and Chinese in Vancouver who don’t speak a lick of English.

    They live and work in Japanese/Chinese communities and once their working holiday visa is up they go back to their home country with the same level of English that arrived with.

    Just as with foreigners living in Japan, it takes effort to learn a new language no matter where you are living.

  • Ali Eltanani says:

    I do not think so, it is Japanese cultural not education system because
    Japan has the best education system. So it is not problem that all of
    Japanese people struggle to communicate in English except a few. This
    few people do the job of communication with other people from different
    nations and different culture by English. Therefore, It is not problem
    and I think it is a good point.

  • crella says:

    Why do so few Americans speak a second language? I tire slightly whenever I see an article like this…I could just as easily say ‘Why are so many Americans unable to speak Spanish despite so many high schools offering Spanish classes?’ just fill in the language of your choice…Europeans often speak two or three languages, and it’s expected.

    I mean really…you could take the sentence ‘ Although Japanese students learn English for six years (starting the first year of junior high school), many of them still can’t communicate in basic English.’ and say ‘Although Americans study Spanish/German/French for 4 years in high school, many of them still can’t communicate in basic Spanish/German/French’. This is always discussed as if it’s a unique Japanese problem…it’s not. Rather than trying to analyze it as ‘why can’t the Japanese speak English? research instead why most *people* do not retain high school language skills.

    • Soha Eldeeb says:

      True. Where I live, most people speak 3 languages.Speaking Arabic and English is only natural and expected. Salespeople, cashiers, taxi drivers, waiters and just about everybody can understand both languages just because it is expected and needed. They may not understand grammar nor proper sentence structures but they are fluent.
      I myself studied at the German university in Cairo, Egypt, and attend German lessons for 2 years but can only remember a few sentences and the numbers. The main reason for this is that I am not interested in visiting Germany.

    • .... says:

      Most US schools only require 2 years of foreign language (any language, so they could take a year of spanish then take a year of french and never actually learn anything beyond a few basics).

    • Stremon says:

      I totally agree with your comment. Being french and having been in Paris many years, I got extremely annoyed by English native people coming in Paris and getting mad at french people who sometime don’t understand them speaking in English… And I was sad to discover that it is even worse here in japan. But how many languages do they speak? Most of the time, only one.
      Is that laziness, or because they think everyone should speak their language, or is it a lack of education??
      But I truly think that going to a foreign country and expecting people to speak your language is extremely disrespectful. When respectful people come to a country, they learn the language, learn the traditions and culture, they try to adapt and be part of it.

      Now there is another aspect that is forgotten in this article, English, as every western language, is extremely difficult for Japanese people. It already take them many years to master correctly their own language (I still have many trouble using it themselves), which as a grammar, a structure, and even a way of thinking completely different than any other language.
      It is as hard for them to learn English than it is for us to learn Japanese.

      But still, personally, I have seen many Japanese with a very good English, and many non Japanese with a good Japanese, but NONE English speakers with a good Japanese…

      • Kristy Wolfy says:

        I am an aspiring English speaking American high school student. I know first hand many of us Americans are lazy, But i have 4 books to help me learn japanese along with a Japanese language course in high school prepared. I have always benn interested in Japanese language.

      • Stephanie says:

        I know lots of first-language English speakers with good Japanese and many more who are learning and trying to get good at it. And, like you said, I also know lots of Japanese speakers who are great at English. Oftentimes they downplay their English and say it’s not good or they want to get better when really they are doing an absolutely fantastic job of communicating clearly and efficiently and I really think that’s the goal of second language learning. Having an accent or struggling over some vocabulary is not a big deal if you can make yourself understood. The rest comes with time.

        Also, I don’t think this article is trying to downplay the challenge of learning a second (or third or fourth…) language. As a native English speaker, I’ve studied French and Japanese at the university level and I totally understand how hard it can be. Each language brings with it a new challenge (I found in French it was the irregular verbs and in Japanese the writing system) and we shouldn’t downplay that for any learner of any language.

        Of course, not all Japanese students will care to continue their English use/studies past the mandatory level. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think it’s a fair question to ask, for those that do, what can we do to help improve their education system. As the video at the top of the article shows- it’s clearly something students desire.

    • Gretchen Scheidenhelm says:

      Hm, well there is still a problem with this point, as well. Whereas the Japanese have English as a core class for six years, Spanish (or whatever language) is not at all a core class in America. It’s an elective. Whoever takes it chose to take it. Some take art. Some take music. Others take a foreign language. The point of the article evaluates that Japan has this as a mandatory class but it still doesn’t actually teach them English. They won’t be able to communicate in English if they need to, even with six years of classes. With Spanish classes here, usually the students who opt to take it can effectively speak in Spanish and even travel. However, hardly any students take foreign language as their elective anymore because getting good grades for just singing in a chorus despite how good your voice is is much easier for them and they want an easy pass. It’s sad. Anyways, my point is that I can understand the frustration that Americans usually only speak English and I admire Europeans if they can truly usually speak other languages, but it is not an equivalent to this article.

      • crella says:

        My objections are to attitude, and careless assumptions. My point is that Americans have no right to blast anyone else for not speaking English when in most cases they don’t speak, or care about speaking, any other language. They come to Japan and are suddenly ‘Why can’t these Japanese speak English?’ without ever reflecting on the attitude of your average American towards foreign languages. I’ve been seeing these articles for years, each new crop writes one.

        It’s like the repetitively recycled ‘honne and tatemae’ articles, another ***sigh*** on my part. Americans have honne and tatemae just the Japanese handle it differently, but people new to Japan are all agape in astonishment at this ‘new concept’. You’re not really going to tell your boss in the US that his toupe looks like something died on top of his head, are you? Of course not. ‘Nice color’ you might say (before running away screaming). Someone you can’t stand invites you to a party, and you have ‘previous plans, I’m sorry’, not ‘I wouldn’t be caught dead at your party’. The thing about American ‘tatemae’ is that it’s so ingrained you don’t even realize you’re doing it. If some thought were applied people would realize that every culture has its social politenesses and little white lies. I guess my point is that too many people who come to Japan fail to actually THINK about things and are happy just labeling.

        To go to many colleges in my home state, two years of a language were required, and we were encouraged to take more. I took German for 4 years, 5 days a week, and can get by in German if I have to for simple things like asking directions and ordering food..notice I said ‘get by’; my Japanese is much better than my German ever will be, and the reason is the level of immersion, without a doubt. I’ve studied German in an American high school, and traveled to Germany and Switzerland twice, but I’ve lived in Japanese, moved, married, had and raised a child, been on the PTA for more years than I care to remember, worked in my husband’s office doing bookkeeping, am caring for my ill MIL and interact with the hospital staff…the Japanese are in the same boat with English that I am with German. Study it 5 days a week for years, take a trip, then try to use it 20 years later. When do they get to use it? Exposure is another key component. I don’t think that the Japanese have these funny brains that don’t allow them to learn English, which I find is an undercurrent in many discussions about the English abilities of the Japanese.

      • .... says:

        I wonder if the fact that Americans expect to find a large portion of english speakers in other countries contributes to them not caring to learn the language there. If I know that all Japanese need 6 years of English (and so expect most to be able to understand me) I would be less likely to learn Japanese than I would be to take another language that I felt would be more profitable to me.

    • Zewla says:

      Trouble is that Japanese people are using a lot of english words, because english is really popular there (and of course, they have a lot of english words in their common language). And if you are listening for example some japanese popular music, usually there are even english sentences in the lyrics. And usually isn’t only the pronunciation bad, but also the sentence doesn’t mean sense. So when they want to use english, they should be able to do it properly. And I know that there are a lot of people, who want to speak properly, but they just weren’t able to learn them properly.
      And don’t you think, that when they are learning english for 6 years and lot of them are not able to make sentence properly, even the easy one, it was total waste of time and effort? Like why they are learning the language when it is good for nothing?

    • Joss Fox says:

      Europeans excluding English people.

  • Joern Moeller says:

    “What do you think Japan can do to improve the level of English?”

    Hire English teachers who actually speak English.

    Easier said than done, of course – because university grads with fluency have plenty more attractive career opportunities than to become overworked and underpaid JHS/HS teachers. Still: Nobody wouldn hire tone-deaf music teachers who can barely play “Mary had a little lamb” on the piano – why is a similar level of skill deemed sufficient for the teaching of English? Ratchet up English teacher education to four years, mandate a minimum score on the TOEFL test. and insist that they spend a year in an English-speaking country. Then hire qualified candidates at a higher pay grade.

    At the very least, the Department of Education must help the current generation of teachers improve their English skills. Don’t squander their after-class time with coaching the baseball team – let them take English classes! Don’t let them waste the summer doing paperwork, send them abroad, so they can actually use the language they are supposed to teach. Measure the teachers’ performance, and insist that they skill up.

    Also: Reduce class size, and group students by competence. A good third of the students in my JHS classes take private English lessons in juku, eikaiwas or with private tutors; their English is frequently better than that of their teachers. Similarly, another third is so hopelessly behind on English that they cannot follow the class anyway. Let the better-qualified Japanese English teachers teach higher-ability students and use those who don’t speak English well to teach minimum requirement classes. Not everybody needs to speak English well. But those who want to learn shouldn’t have to pay extra for the privilege.

    • sonic_sabbath says:

      Then, what do you do when you don’t have enough teachers? hmmm?
      Of course EVERYONE wants what you are saying. That is the GOAL of the BOE.
      However, in REALITY, there are only so many teachers compared to the number of students.
      Heck, there was one English teacher I was working with in a Jr, High School last year who was originally a science teacher, but because there weren’t enough English teachers, he was asked to teach English. Of course not something everyone WANTED, but there was no other choice!

      Just to give you info as to why this is possible: to become a permanent teacher you need to have both your main subject you teach, and be a professional in that subject, but you also need to have a minimum amount of knowledge in ALL the other MAIN subjects (science, maths, social studies, english, japanese, am i missing any? maybe) so that when the need arises, you can teach the other languages on a temporary basis.

      Also, his way of teaching was rather good! Not the best pronunciation in the world, but his method of teaching was rather interesting, and he actually had most of the students interested and involved. Was very nice to see 🙂

    • Dita Dzm Gzk says:

      I couldn´t agree more with you

    • Stephanie says:

      I think this is a great point. To some extent, the JET Programme (which I am going to be a part of this year) is trying to help fill this need by 1) putting native English speakers in the classroom and 2) giving Japanese English Teachers a chance to practice English more.

      In Canada, we learn French as a mandatory second language from grades 4-6 (I think… it’s been a while). I also took it in University. Most French teachers are fluently bilingual. For many, French is actually their first language and English their second. I think this is a great system. I would rather have my french teacher be perfect in french and so-so in english than the other way around. I already know english so I don’t need to learn it from a french teacher. Perhaps Japan could benefit from a system like this. But I imagine it’s harder to find fluent English speakers in Japan than fluent French speakers in Canada.

    • A general problem in Japan is that the majority of people misunderstand the concept of “fairness” and “equality”. They were too much equalized during the economical growth through mid-60s to 80s that they forgot what fairness is all about, because they feel as if “equality” is provided by default.

      It makes noticeable number of people object those kind of skill-based class partitioning because they are not used to being treated differently from the others (they feel insulted). Is it possible to change their mindset? I’m not sure, but I hope the time solves the problem…

  • GeneralObvious says:

    I largely disagree with most of this article, with the exception being that Japanese people are shy (just like everyone else, when trying to speak a foreign language they aren’t comfortable with). From my experience while living in Japan, Japanese people gain an incredibly large vocabulary from Junior and High School study. Enough in fact to understand basic everyday conversations. When I was first struggling with Japanese nearly everyone I met (even in inaka areas) would use Japanglish or straight basic English when talking to me and I usually could understand exactly what they were trying to convey. You could also simply go out on a Friday or Saturday night, alone (it rarely happens when I am in a group), to a red-light district in any prefecture (again, even in inaka areas) and watch how fast you are approached by random drunk Japanese guys trying to have conversations with you in English.

    The women usually know even more English than the men, but are too shy to speak it at first. If you are struggling to talk to them for a while in Japanese, they will almost always try talking back in English (and I’m not talking about in Gaijin bars either); English that is usually far better than your broken Japanese. Interestingly enough however, the better your Japanese becomes, the less English people will speak to you. Maybe because it’s not required for the conversation anymore or maybe because they don’t want to embarrass themselves alone (i.e. before you are both embarrassing yourselves with poor foreign language skills, whereas now only 1 person is and there is no real benefit to it.)

    I also disagree with anyone saying that Japanese people studying abroad have difficulties communicating. This may be true initially (just like for anyone studying abroad in any language), but every single Japanese person I have met who has studied abroad, for at least 1 year, has come back almost completely fluent. I cannot say the same was true for me or most other foreigners in Japan. I would say the average time to become comfortable speaking Japanese is roughly 2 to 3 years.

    on a side note, I took French from grammar school all the way up to my junior year in high school (7 years straight). I was completely uninterested in it and only studied barely enough to pass the tests. I could not have even the most basic conversation in french at the moment, nor could I after high school graduation. So the argument of time when coupled with forced language education is moot.

  • Anthony Joh says:

    This is an interesting image. I wonder what the stats are for Asia?

    • Stremon says:

      Interesting but I don’t think it only has to do with the educational system, but also about how languages works.
      What I mean is most of European languages are Germanic and Latin based languages, for instance English or German are Germanic based, French and Spanish are Latin based.
      You can easily see that people speaking a Germanic based language speak more English, it is more easy for them to learn it because of all the similitude (even if the reading and pronunciation is not the same).
      Same thing also works between Latin based languages, learning Spanish or Italian when you are french is far more easy than learning English.

      • sonic_sabbath says:

        Finnish isn’t a Germanic language but has such a high percentage of people able to speak English.

  • jennifer says:

    Interesting article. My son is in Japan, teaching English, through the JET program, as an ALT. He teaches in two public junior high schools. I will have to send this to him. I do think, though, that the English language is hard for anyone to learn. It often makes no sense.

  • Fumiko Motozawa-Giordano says:

    But still Grammar is important. We have to try to use PROPER English. There are many Native English Speakers who can not speak proper English or spell English words properly. That’s a shame.

  • Kol says:

    I think this is a common problem in Asia. China has same problem. Chinese teacher also pay more attention to grammar, they just help students to pass the “college entrance examination”. And I think the other reason that Japanese people suck at communicate in English is that Japanese language borrowed a lot of vocabularies from English, and they pronounce it in Japanese way. They already get used to pronounce it in Japanese way. For example, “toilet”=”トイレ”.

  • EvesHumanMom says:

    Hi. We live in Japan and hubby is Japanese. My son says you get shamed if you make a mistake, but also if you speak too well (kids like himself and returnees) He and his older brother’s ALT teachers used to have them translate for the Japanese teacher. He especially hates sticking out. Guess that’s why he is much better at listening than speaking.
    I don’t think it is a problem of not needing it. More companies like Uniqlo require it. However, I think some senmon gakko (As opposed to eikaiwa)(vocational school vs conversation school) do a better job with practical English IMHO.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      This is the irony of the education system here. If you are too good you stand out, if you are too bad you stand out. The goal is to be just average, even if the average is not very good.

  • NotawhinerHere says:

    Chinese may be the language of the future it seems. ASEAN I believe was consdering which language to push as a second language to use between those nations. It will be interesting with the gradual decline and influence of Western powers if the language needs change also. Sorry, about the bad nickname, need to change it. Haven’t used google to authenticate for a long time.

  • Kraschyn Thek'athor says:

    My japanese trachers were very correct in showing us the grammer, a bit like software code. Which hampered our abilities to learn japanese. You could easily observe, those in our university with an japanese partner spoke and learned far better. So, it is also the other way arround. Japanese teaching other people Japanese, is not very efficient.

  • Laura says:

    There’s also the issue of the English teachers themselves not speaking English. I once asked a German friend a hypothetical question: Say you’re in your 3rd or 4th year of English class in school and your teacher writes a simple sentence on the board “I went to Tokyo to go shopping.” would they then write the same sentence in German under it? Her response was of course not! Even the worst student in the class could understand that question. But in Japan the teacher translates everything into Japanese (as seen in the picture) students don’t need to learn English because it’s written out in Japanese for them.

  • bartonim says:

    Reason 4: You’re not paying attention to the Europeans. If you have ever visited Holland, for example, you’ll know why the Dutch are considered exceptional English speakers. You can probably say the same about the Scandinavians. If Japan would adopt the European Standard, English might be more successful. I’m not putting Japanese people down. I just think if you yourselves feel you English skills are poor, adjust your system.

    I might add that per capita, more Japanese are adept at English than people in Englishーspeaking nations are, on their own turf, at other languages. You say your American friends are puzzled at the poor levels of English in Japan, so ask them about how well folks in their country do at Spanish, or ask Canadians to show off their French skills. I guarantee you will find it could be better!

    I mention the Dutch because they are exceptional at English. In fact, their English is beautifully delivered. Furthermore, Japanese who live and study in Europe generally do well with other languages, as well.

    I’ve been in Japan for nearly 20 years. Trust me, while there is always room for improvement, the English levels are not really bad at all.

  • dieLegende says:

    Why should anyone bother to learn something, when there is just no need to?
    The Eikaiwa-buisness is just a grotesque concept to guarantee employment for foreigners (especially americans who can’t speak proper! English themselves), who don’t have any kind of qualification and failed to get any other job to live from.

    This nonsense should be stopped immediately!

    In contrast the question should be: Why do 99% of the foreigners in Japan don’t bother to learn proper Japanese and are just ignorant towards anything concerning the Japanese culture?

    • AmericaninJapan says:

      I’m an American. I speak proper English. I worked in finance for almost 7 years and I made a decent living working for a well respected global firm. I decided to quit my job because I love Japan and it had always been my dream to work here. I just wanted to point out that not all Americans are slouches who couldn’t string together coherent sentences if their lives depended on it. My love for Japan is what brought me back here.

      Also, I’m studying to take the N2 level of the JLPT. Not all Americans are completely ignorant as the world thinks. A few of us care about other countries and don’t consider ourselves above the rest just because we were born American.

      • dieLegende says:

        and i am happy that those Americans exist! Of course its not “all of the Americans”, but unfortunately a lot, and all of the ones i met so far. Im cheering on your Japanese studies and wish you the best for your life over there!

        sorry for the delayed reply, i am not using this board very frequently –> already just reading the Japanese News.

    • Mystearica says:

      I think because, they want to at least established communication with the foreigners, specially those students who pursue tourism courses. Since English is a universal language, maybe they have the feeling that it will help them to introduce the Japanese culture to the other countries. 🙂

      on the other hand, we cannot actually say that 99% of foreigners in japan didn’t bother to learn proper Japanese because here in our country there are many institute and learning centers who offer Nihonggo class and I have a friend who enroll in that course. I myself wanted to enroll in that class, it’s just that I’m still earning money to be able to enroll 😀

    • Jeffrey says:

      My, are we having a bad day?

  • Gaijinn says:

    Japan is self sustained country. You don’t need English to get a job or more importantly sustain a life which is far more comfortable than western/Europeans. So, Japanese people are like;
    English??meh….Fuc*k it.

  • PenguChan says:

    hmmm… difinitely, it’s hard to learn English… I can relate to that. even I am struggling in speaking english, but that doesn’t mean to not nourish your skills.
    I am Filipino, and let me tell you that I am learning Japanese too… though it’s hard for me to learn that certain language, I still am trying. I have Japanese friends and some Japanese accompany, and I speak Japanese though I know it’s so embarrassing saying wrong words and grammars… I am trying to speak, and it’s really hard to memorize the vocabularies and when our Japanese teachers ask for volunteers, embarrassing as I am, I would go up considering that my Japanese classmates were watching.

    teachers should encourage students… set a rule? during english class, they should speak english… and english only to communicate…? because thats what we do in our country…

  • Clayton Plater says:

    Have an English assessment for the Japanese English teachers by a native English speaker, and if they fail, boot their ass to the curb. I worked for 4 years as an oral communication course coordinator in a famous private Japanese high school that had a head of English department who needed translation for what the native English teachers said in meetings. Test time was a farce, if students failed their test, we were told to make an easier version so they could pass. It’s all about the money the schools get, not the education. English education in Japanese schools is a joke! I’ve since become a cook.

  • Delphi Oracle says:

    There is a wonderful kids show, The Magic School Bus, or something like this. The head teacher, Mrs. Frizsle, likes to say “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” Japanese students are discouraged from doing those things. They face the same problem I face when trying to study Japanese. If I make even the smallest mistake using は が で – and yes, I know how important could be the proper use – the person who teaches me immediately slams me, interrupts me and corrects me. It builds pressure and I prefer not to try. Same happens with the Japanese when they try to learn English. Their teachers insist on the 100% proper use of grammatical terms, and forget – foreign language is learnt by practicing. The more, the better. So, here you have it.

  • sonic_sabbath says:

    The main “problem” is that English is not NEEDED in Japan.
    If you do not need a skill, you will not be able to use it. It is that simple.
    Japan does not need English. THE END.

    The minority who do need English will learn how to use it through having to use it.
    Foreigners who come to Japan should learn Japanese, as that is the national language. It is simple.

    • GeneralObvious says:

      I agree completely and despite that fact that it isn’t really required, many Japanese still have an incredibly large English vocabulary. They may not be able to speak fluently, but they sure can understand a lot, as well as supplement their Japanese with English words you may not yet know.

    • Shreddr says:

      Not to mention the Katakana writing system, their “comfort zone” which saves them the need of using the actual English.

    • 英語先生 says:

      It’s not needed in China or Sweden, but they can speak it better than Japanese. Go figure…

      • sonic_sabbath says:

        English is needed MORE in China and Sweden than in Japan.
        For example, a large number of companies in both of those companies require the employees be able to speak English because of a larger diversity of the workers. To put it simple, there are more non-Chinese and non-Swedish people working in companies in their respective companies than non-Japanese people working in Japanese companies. This, naturally, increases the need for these people to be able to speak the language.

        You also find Chinese and Swedish people communicate with people outside their country (internet etc) than Japanese. Japanese tend to stick to Japanese people – I’m sure if you have been to a university with a large number of Japanese exchange students, you will have seen how they tend to stick together, thus reducing their need to use English even in an English speaking country.

        Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Not at all. If you can manage to get by this way, and are not bothered, then go for it!

        Also, if you have actually been TO china, you will have seen that a lot of Chinese do not speak English AT ALL. I have been to China (with work) a great number of time, and the number of Chinese who do NOT speak English at all is large. Every time I went to a restaurant, I had to order using the old-time favourite finger pointing and gesturing because the staff could not speak English. Why? Because once again, it was not an area where there were a lot of foreigners, and the civilians in those areas did not need to be able to speak English.

        Through need comes ability.

        • 英語先生 says:

          You said, “Every time I went to a restaurant, I had to order [by] pointing and gesturing because the staff could not speak English.” Then in your next reply (to Eleni) you said it was the guests’ responsibility to learn the local language, not the hosts’… “When in Rome…”

          By the way, it’s “to put it simply…”, not “simple.” It’s ironic you make so many English mistakes when preaching…..

          Oh, and I have been to China and I agree that many locals cannot speak English. I didn’t suggest otherwise. I said that Chinese people can speak better English than Japanese. This implies that it is generally true. My experience is that, of those Chinese people who can speak English, they do so better than Japanese people. It might be that Chinese grammar has some similarities to English grammar and syntax?

          • sonic_sabbath says:

            “You said, “Every time I went to a restaurant, I had to order [by]
            pointing and gesturing because the staff could not speak English.” Then
            in your next reply (to Eleni) you said it was the guests’
            responsibility to learn the local language, not the hosts’… “When in
            Rome…”” <- I didn't mean that the staff at the restaurants should have been able to speak English. I was merely explaining that many locals in China cannot speak English. Also, it WAS my responsibility to learn the local language, and by the end of my stay I was picking up simple, small phrases and was able to order a beer without any problems by the end of my week long stay.

            "By the way, it's "to put it simply…", not "simple." It's ironic you make so many English mistakes when preaching….." <- sorry for not spell-checking and grammar-checking my posts each and every time….. I can assure you that I am much more careful in class :p

            I agree, the back-to-front nature of English grammar compared to Japanese grammar is a big hurdle. When I first started learning Japanese 14 years ago, the word-order was the biggest hurdle. It took a few years to get a handle on it. It also took a lot of time and effort, and probably more time and effort than a lot of people would like to spend.

    • Eleni says:

      I think that English is needed in all countries. Yes, we have to learn Japanese if we stay there. It’s just the way of living. (I personally study Japanese, so I quite understand their mentality.) But English is the global language, even if we like it or not. 😀

      Millions of tourists visit Japan each year and in the next years many more will visit it, thanks to the forthcoming Olympic Games. So, Japanese MUST learn English to enforce their hospitable fame. 🙂 Let alone their economic/political relations with EU and USA. From personal experience, it’s too frustrating to ask for help and no one understands you or hesitates to speak English in fear of embarrassment. I hope by 2020 they will have changed their mentality so that everyone learns English, not because they need it, but because they like it. 🙂

      • sonic_sabbath says:

        A lot of countries manage to keep economical and political relations with each other without being able to speak English. One of the famous examples is the French. During political debates, highly skilled interpreters are available so that conversations can run smoothly.
        Heck, even the UN recognises that just “one medium” is not sufficient, and allows 6 different languages as the official languages which official documents are printed in.

        “Global language” is a much too overly-used term, and with more people speaking Spanish as their mother-tongue than English, I think it is ridiculous to EXPECT the whole world to speak a single language. With globalisation also comes terrible effects to culture, as can be seen in Singapore. Singapore has basically lost all of its original culture in order to become a “globalised” community. Very sad.

        Even if it is a “global language”, I do not think that Japanese NEED to be able to speak English IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY.
        Going to a foreign country, not being able to speak the language and having to TRY and learn the local language (through pocket dictionaries and the like) is half the fun! Heck, you might even learn something.

        As far as emergency situations go, there are English hotlines (for ambulances, lawyers etc) setup, which everyone can use. There is a reason why some people go to the trouble of learning English. There will always be that number of people who are interested in learning English and will strive to learn the language at a higher-than-average level. Let those people deal with the baka gaijin.

        (As for having to learn English to “enforce their hospitable fame” – I CRINGE everytime I see that “omotenashi” video sequence. I personally believe in “when in rome do as the romans do” – so it is THE GUEST’S responsibility to learn the language, NOT the host’s,) <- I have put this into brackets because I realise it is VERY debatable, and not really the crust of my debate, just a little bit of an "extra" on this post 🙂

        • 英語先生 says:

          The “crust” of your debate? Don’t you mean “crux?”

          • sonic_sabbath says:

            Yes, sorry for making a mistake.
            English is sometimes difficult even for us native speakers. Especially after living in Japan for 8 years, and only using Japanese most of the day, except for when in class.

  • zoomingjapan says:

    I don’t find it surprising at all. I’ve been an English teacher in Japan for the past 7 years, but I’m German. That means I once studied English in school as well.
    When I first came here I was shocked to see that most junior high school students could barely introduce themselves in English while we had to write essays about Romeo and Julie and whatnot around the same age.

    The simple answer is: they don’t learn how to USE the language.
    Japanese students learn for their tests – which might work well for most other subjects, but surely not for a foreign language.

    In Germany all English teachers have to spend some time studying abroad in an English-speaking country. Japanese English teachers don’t.
    I remember that we used mostly English in class even in early years. That helped a lot, too.

    Of course, most other European countries have it easier to study English as it’s closer to their mother tongue. However, other Asian countries show clearly that it can be done!
    Japan really needs to renew their English educational system ASAP!

    Another problem is that most people lack motivation. Many don’t see the point of studying English as they don’t need it in Japan – and if they travel abroad using a tour offer, they don’t have to bother either.

    • Eija Niskanen says:

      Some Japanese repeat the mantra of how Japanese language is to different from English, this being the reason for them not learning English? But how come us in Finland learn fluent English, although our native language is not at all related to English or other Indo-European languages?

      • zoomingjapan says:

        This is hilarious, although it shouldn’t be because for many it’s the sad truth. 🙁

        I have a few adult students who have studied English for about 10+ years, but since they started working, the little bit they still remembered also magically vannished. If you never use it, you lose it. But how to keep something in your head, if you’re not even using it properly while you’re “studying” it??!!

        I understand this phenomenon perfectly fine, though. I studied Latin in school. It’s ALL gone now. Why? Because we never spoke Latin in class, we never used it in a real conversation … and I never had a chance to use it once I was out of school. But Latin is a dead language, English is not. T_T …..



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