Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Poor English skills in students and teachers in Japan

Today, I read the report Taro Kono, a politician belonging to Liberal Democratic Party, wrote about the current situation in the education of English in Japan.

Gomame no hagishiri: Taro Kono's Blog [Cry for the moon] (in Japanese)

According to him, many high school students are poor at English. He introduced the 70,000 students' data of the result at Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR).

In this graph, the achievement level of the applicants is classified into for grades: B2, B1, A2, and A1. B2 is the supreme, matching 72-94 in TOEFL-iBT. The original CEFR has additional levels: C1 and C2. I am not sure whether no participants got the C1 or C2 grade in this exam, or they were not examined with an advanced module to detect C grades.

Council of Europe: Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR)

This result shows the disappointing ability of English in Japanese school children at a glance. However, the participants of this exam were limited to the students of public schools. In Japan, as similar to other countries, most talented children choose to enter a private school. They might achieve better scores if compared.

On the other hand, Kono suggested the poor standard of English teachers. According to him, many teachers fail to achieve the requirement in English examination. It is rather a serious issue.

The government encourages English teachers to achieve 80 in TOEFL or 730 in TOEIC. In my opinion, this standard is quite poor. Although my mark is above of this standard, I have considerable difficulty to use English correctly.

My past entry: My fourth TOEFL

However, it is noteworthy that Japanese English teacher are generally good at understanding the grammar of English. The importance of good knowledge about grammar has been emphasized in English education in Japan. Recently, this policy is criticized as underestimating listening and speaking. But, I think leaning grammar is essential in order to read articles for experts. Even living in the UK, I have more opportunity to read English articles than to listen to English speech. It is not easy to decide which should be prioritized, conversation or grammar.

Indeed, we have rare chance to use English in Japan. But this situation will be changed. Not a few people will have to use English frequently. Therefore, English education seems crucial for Japanese children.

However, I also expect the development of translator programming. Google translator and other similar services are now available for free. Their quality is not satisfactory now, unfortunately. But a couple of decades later, they will be much improved so that there is no more barrier of communication, I hope.


  1. The biggest problem in Japanese English education is "speeking" and "listening". As those are nesseary skills for using English, the Japanese system should be improved. English skill will be needed for everyone living abroad even when Google translation much developed, I think.

    1. Yes, your opinion is rational. Nonetheless, I dream of the day everybody can communicate with each other without language training.