Japan's english language deficit

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  • Publié le : 4 octobre 2010
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Japan’s English language deficit : why does Japan fail at
teaching English ?

Most Japanese fare poorly in English, as acknowledged by both foreigners and the Japanese themselves. Indeed, the average score of Japanese candidates sitting for the Test of English as a Foreign language (TOEFL) ranks lowest among all Asian nations except North Korea. The average Japanese has undergone sixyears of English-language instruction, taught in middle school and high school, by the time he or she becomes an adult (eight years if foreign-language curricula at the university level are included). Yet a great majority of Japanese people can barely speak English when trying to talk with foreigners. Why is it so ? What can account for this matter ? Why does Japan fail at teaching English and howcould the government address this issue ?

Questionnaire : identifying the issue

First of all, since I couldn’t conduct my survey in the Yokohama campus, I went to a big party in Yokohama and used this opportunity to ask a few Japanese students basic questions about what they thought concerning English classes in Japan. I gave them a questionnaire with 7 questions. 30 students answeredthe small questionnaire, and most of them came from public schools. Although there were some very different backgrounds (for exemple one of the students went to an International school, another one spent one year abroad…-of course these students showed a real interest for English and spoke really good-) it’s very interesting to see that most of the answers pointed out the same problems. Here arethe first answers I got from my questionnaire :

*When asked about a general thinking concerning English classes in Japan, all the sudents answered that the overall system was a problem and that it needed change.

*20 out of the 30 students pointed out a lack of listening comprehension or oral studies in English classes when they were asked about what would need a change.

*When asked aboutwhether they found English classes entertaining or not, 19 students answered « no ».

*When asked if they were interested in English, 18 of the students answered « no ».
*The main reason that stood out is that they can perfectly live a normal life without using English.

*When asked about Japanese teachers skills, 17 students answered that they could be better.

*But an interesting fact isthat 21 students thought that learning English is very important for the sake of the country, at least regarding economics and the Japanese/USA trades. So apparently, most of the Japanese are not denying that learning English is important for the sake of the country, but maybe they count on someone else to do the job.

Later, I interviewed 2 Japanese students one-on-one (qualitative research) toget more accurate answers. I had a questionnaire prepared with 5 questions :
1) Were you in a private or a public school ?
2) How long have you been learning English ?
3) Did you like it ?
4) Did you often speak during English classes and how big was your class ?
5) What did you think bout your teacher ? What else can you tell me ?

I let them talk a lot without keepingto close to my prepared questions.
Both of the students came from a public school and started learning English in primary school. One of them liked English and is still learning it while the other one didn’t like the subject and dropped it right after entering the university. Apparently, one of the biggest problem they both encountered was the size of the class. There were at least 40 studentsin the classroom and everyone didn’t get a chance to speak. Some of the scholars in their class used to sleep during English class. That’s why one of he students I interviewed never got interested in English. The other student had the chance to often see an English-born teacher who was apparently really interesting and spoke really good and he got interested in learning English thanks to him. The...
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