Why do the Japanese not speak better English? 2nd attempt

Finally found a written source that agrees with my own favourite theory:

“Not only do they not practice speaking English, but they do not wish to become too good at it for fear of becoming outcasts in their own society. I have found that business-people from the newly industrializing economies speak much better English, mainly because in their societies they get positive reinforcement for speaking English”

Gaishi- The Foreign Company in Japan, pg xx

Here is my first attempt over on my English teaching blog TEFLtastic:

Why do the Japanese not speak better English?



  1. August 30, 2010 at 8:35 am

    That’s interesting. I’ve heard comments from teacher there before saying the same thing, especially with teens. They get students with really good English, and then, in order to fit it, they start speaking bastardized forms and English actually gets worse in high school classes rather than better.

  2. Jeffrey said,

    September 7, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    The primary reason Japanese speak such poor English relative to the amount of time spent studying is that the Ministry of Education doesn’t really care whether anyone speaks English. Or, have you never pondered why secondary schools don’t offer French, Spanish, German or, much more germane to Japan’s cultural and economic future, Korean or Mandarin?

    I don’t think the MoE really cares if Japan becomes an “international country,” which was the catch phrase back during the Bubble when English really boomed as a fad. You’ll find that the previously respected Japanese education system, public and private are really not much different in curriculum, does just as bad a job in “social studies” classes – geography, history and political science. But that’s a digression for another thread.

    The Japanese don’t really need millions and million of people fluent and literate in English. It’s a completely arbitrary component of post-war education introduced as a sop to the U.S. and in the mistaken idea that it would somehow make them better at international business since it became clear that English would become the new lingua franca.

    The other, more practical reason more Japanese don’t speak English (though there really are a lot more English speaking Japanese than Japanese speaking Americans, Brits, Canadians, etc.) is that there are relatively few Japanese English language teachers who speak and read the language all that well. This, again, gets back to the MoE not really caring. If they were serious about English language education in primary (where is should start anyway) and secondary schools, they’d require university students hoping to teach English to spend their junior years abroad in an English language speaking country, something required in the U.S. for perspective secondary school foreign language teachers. Last I looked into this, you can do this, but on your own dime, it doesn’t count toward graduation, and you are now a year behind your cohort.

    While there are stigmas in Japan attached to academic achievement of one kind or another, I think putting too much emphasis on foreign language acquisition by secondary school, someplace you won’t actually be using English anyway, is a minor aspect of why the country fails in language acquisition in general.

  3. alexcase said,

    September 8, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Here is another attempt at answering the question, this time by Aradou Debito


  4. crella said,

    September 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    How many Americans are fluent in the languages they studied in high school? Damned few, if my experiences are any indicator…

  5. Bill said,

    September 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Good point crella, I studied French for 9 years in school and can’t speak a word of it. 3 years of Japanese and I can get by decently enough in that.

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