Japan’s “Bilingual Race” Has Begun
If you put your ear to the ground here, you will here a rumble getting louder here in Tokyo.
This sound is the mix of a stampede to English schools by families with the means to do so, and the grumbles of parents that fear their children will be left behind.
I have been teaching conversional English here since I 2004. I have never seen this such a widespread push to raise “bilingual” kids here. The interesting thing is that the frenzy is only beginning (in my opinion).
As an educated observer, it is safe to say that English is becoming viewed as the defacto “golden ticket” to lifetime employment here in Japan.
Let’s be real. Japan’s economy, population, and global economic standing are shrinking. Slowly, but surely the old vestiges of textbook knowledge, and a diploma from a high status university don’t seem to be enough anyone and parents are starting to freak out!
One shining ray of hope is the Olympics. This event has seemed to catalyze (on the surface at least) to desire for Japan to globalize.
The interesting question is “what is globalization to a socially insulated like Japan?”.
From what I can see, the answer so far seems to be to raise bilingual children that will (inevitably) become vital components in the large Japanese corporations that have begun to recognize to need for English speaking staff.
This push seems to be whipping up a firestorm that is (finally) causing a ripple effect in that even reached as far as the extremely conservative Board of Education (Japan has lowered the introduction of English curriculum to 3rd grade from 5th).
I see this trend becoming somewhat of a polarizing issue in the future. Japan is a country that values group harmony, but what happens when the game of musical chairs begins?
This might seem like a grim prediction, but I am actually quite optimistic about the future of Japan.
Surely this country is headed for a time of upheaval after the 2020 Olympics torch goes out. However, I firmly believe that change will help open the door to true globalism and all of the rapid change and unpredictability that come with it (things that Japanese people are highly adverse to).
For now, the shift in “mood/atmosphere” towards English learning is a clear cut indicator of the major changes ahead in the coming years whether Japan is ready for it or not.