Why English Proficiency in Japan is Among the Lowest in Asia

With the Olympics coming to Japan in 2020, it’s no surprise that the Japanese government has already begun its attempt to increase Japan’s English proficiency. Japan’s score in the most recent English Proficiency Index came out at 51.69, trailing behind countries such as Indonesia (52.94), Vietnam (54.06) and India (57.30). So why is it that Japan has such a low English proficiency and what can be done to improve it in the future?

1: Faults in the way English is taught

Although learning English is compulsory for Japanese students from junior high school onwards, Japanese English proficiency remains low. Often, if Japanese people want to learn English, they are forced to do it in their own time and with their own money. One of the reasons this is the case is because English classes in schools are crafted to teach students how to pass university entrance exams. In order for students to do well in these multiple-choice tests, JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) have no choice but to teach a curriculum which, rather than actually teaching English, teaches students content to memorize in order to do well in exams. As a result, students study English but end up with no ability to communicate it.

In response to the low level of English proficiency, the Japanese government has begun an initiative where learning English will become compulsory from the 5th grade in elementary school. However, without a change in the curriculum and approach to how English is taught, who knows if this on its own will be enough for English proficiency in Japan to improve.

2: A perfectionist culture

The fear of being wrong is also another more rigid societal issue that prevents Japanese people from freely practicing the English they learn. In the perfectionist society that Japan is, individuals often feel that rather than practicing English and making mistakes, they would rather not practice it whatsoever. One of the key aspects to learning a language is exposure to it and the fear of making mistakes in front of peers is something that prevents this. Changing the environment to somewhere where students feel they can practice English freely and make mistakes is not something that can be done overnight but is a good first step in changing the way individuals learn.

3: Lack of exposure and motivation

Another problem for students learning English in Japan is the lack of exposure and motivation towards the subject. Outside of the classroom, there are few opportunities for individuals to practice or use English. Exposure to English language through reading books and watching TV is a simple yet effective way for students to consolidate what they learn in class. However, a common mindset that individuals have is that there’s no point in learning English as they will never use it anyway. Perhaps the issue is that there is not enough emphasis made on how beneficial English can be for students in the future.

For these reasons Japanese English proficiency remains extraordinarily low in Asia. With the Olympics being held in Japan in 2020, it is evident that the government has already implemented various initiatives to increase English proficiency. However, simply changing the age that children begin to learn English will not make a large difference if what is being taught is the same. If learning English is made to be more enjoyable and individuals are given more opportunities to practice it, English proficiency will undoubtedly increase in the coming years.

Sources: Education First Japan

Originally published at moving-japan.com.