Jump-starting the use of English

Amy Chavez’s May 25 column, “English education and English sheepdogs,” gives a clear-cut reason why Japanese people usually have a lot of difficulties speaking English.

As she points out, common Japanese people have few opportunities to speak and use English in their daily life. On the other hand, only a few people — “few” considering Japan’s economic power — who work for certain divisions of multinational companies, or for very exceptional companies such as Fast Retailing or Rakuten, are proficient in English.

While a large number of Japanese people have studied English at least six to 10 years in school, it is regrettable that they scarcely make good use of it. Speaking and using English is generally considered such an unusual thing in their daily life that some people treat it as a traditional accomplishment like arranging flowers or conducting the tea ceremony.

This situation has led to the establishment of a lot of chain English-conversation schools, some of which regrettably operate under the spirt of commercialism, not education.

But I feel that Japanese society these days is starting to change so that we will gradually be getting more opportunities to speak and use English. People are finally realizing that without English skills, Japan’s economy won’t survive in international society.

May I suggest a remedy for the problem. If Japan’s central government and its municipal governments started accepting applications or reports written in English from Japanese citizens and companies, not only government workers but also ordinary Japanese people would begin to study and use English.

Already there are Japanese people who often consider these government documents so evasive and difficult to understand in Japanese that it would be a little easier for them if they could complete the documents in English.

Many people may dismiss my suggestion as impracticable and ridiculous, but the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will require that Japan open its public procurement procedures to overseas companies, so I suppose there is some possibility that my idea will be put into practice.

shuichi john watanabe
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.