Public school English in Japan

Japan is falling behind. The state of English education in public schools isn’t very good right now. I don’t think it ever has been. It’s curious how this country teaches English through junior and senior high school, yet the average person can barely speak any English. Why?

It’s quite simple. The way the students are taught English is for tests. They drill them on grammar and vocabulary, as well as reading comprehension, but not speaking. Tests are everything in Japan. Unfortunately, tests don’t show how well someone can use the knowledge in practical situations, they show how well they can study. This system doesn’t encourage independent thought. Independence is something that threatens Japan’s culture of following the group. It may be good for teamwork, but it’s terrible for innovation. Many people don’t seem to understand this. This attitude is changing, but traditions hold strong still. And this is hurting education, which hurts industry. As one student I’ve taught said, “Japan is full of sheep.”

Unfortunately, a lot of English teachers in public schools don’t actually know English very well. I saw a junior high school textbook and couldn’t believe the awkward and unnatural English it used. You can’t expect someone to be good at English with that kind of education.

I’m not surprised Japan has the lowest TOEIC scores amongst its neighbours.



Filed under Culture, Japan, Teaching

5 responses to “Public school English in Japan

  1. I hear you, loud and clear: We had our JHS textbooks changed from New Horizon to Sunshine this year and while I thought the NH ones were bad, Sunshine is infinitely worse! I will be blogging about horror in the next few weeks. Also, I’ve just taken my second JLPT in Japan…no speaking component! When I studied Japanese at school, we were tested in all capacities…reading, writing, listening and speaking. I firmly believe that’s how it should be, with an emphasis on speaking and listening. It is a LANGUAGE after all…

    • Very interesting reading your blog post. It’s pretty much as I’ve heard, as I have taught Jr High school English teachers whose English is very good, but they question the more traditional older teachers in their schools. One even said that the teacher she was taking over from drilled it into the heads of the students that answers must have a certain number of words to be correct. When she started teaching them, they became very confused and couldn’t understand why she didn’t specify the number of words. I guess she’s one of those newer teachers who actually wants her students to learn English and speak it.

      I’ve taken JLPT a couple of times before, and while I did pass the old 3kyu, I really can’t speak much Japanese.

  2. Pingback: New Challenge of My Eldest Daughter | Life in Kawagoe

  3. It’s true. I barely speak English though I have been studying English over 6 years.
    I don’t believe public school. So I’m trying to teach my children English.

    • Good luck teaching them. I see you have your daughter doing English lessons on the internet. That’s a good start, especially if she’s speaking to native speakers.

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