Aug 19

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

As of late there has been much discussion regarding to what extent English should be incorporated into different aspects of Japanese society.  A recent post here talked about the possibility of mandating English in Japanese high schools in 2013, and a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this month entitled “English Gets the Last Word in Japan” highlighted Japanese firms that are conducting their internal business in English.  This is an interesting phenomenon that is especially timely in light of the possibility of the JET program being cut.

The high school teacher who wrote the former article says, “Although many of our school’s students acquire the reading and writing skills needed to pass university entrance exams, I have failed to teach them the skills necessary for simple conversation. In the future, these elite students from high-ranking universities will most likely become our politicians and leaders. It will be a shame to see them at a Group of Eight meeting still unable, for the most part, to speak to other world leaders because of poor English communication skills.”  He argues that it is premature to try to implement such an overreaching policy when most students are not nearly ready for it.

The same might be said of such corporate endeavors.  The latter article describes how at the Internet retail company Rakuten (whose CEO Hiroshi Mikitani was educated at Harvard Business School and speaks fluent English) even the menus in the cafeteria are written in English, causing problems for employees who don’t know what they are ordering.  Mikitani echoes what the teacher above says when he states, “Japan is the only country with all these well-educated people who can’t speak English.  This is a huge issue for Japan.”

Statistics prove that this is true, but it is questionable as to whether a forced English-only policy is the best way to achieve proficiency.  I have a feeling that depending on the skill level of the target group it can lead to more confusion than it is worth, as is touched upon in this WSJ article about  和製語 (waseigo) or Japanese-English words.

On a related note, a brief article in yesterday’s free Japanese newspaper Daily Sun gave last weekend’s JETAA USA National Conference held here in NYC high marks, putting in a quote from Ambassador Nishimiya about what he sees as the great significance of our alumni organization’s role.

one comment so far...

  • Joanna Maguire Said on August 19th, 2010 at 2:05 pm:


    I support your efforts to uphold the reasons to keep JET alive. As an AET in Yamagata-ken in the very first year of JET in 1987 I remember the pioneering first successes and the sense of mutual appreciation of the experience. But our foremost task was to help Japanese teachers of English acquire better oral skills for their teaching beyond our presence. Is there not room now, 23 years later,for a revision of the schools language curriculum and the introduction of better language skills training for language teachers which might include six months abroad. may be it is time for MOMBUSHO to become a little more autonomous and introduce a programme similar to the ERASMUS exchange programme in Europe, for its own language teachers.

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