Regarding recent articles and letters relating to English education in Japan: Having taught English in high schools and universities here for the past 13 years, it’s encouraging to see the education ministry taking a few modest steps toward improving English-language education such as by starting lessons early in elementary school. There’s no shortage of students trying hard, but considering all the hurdles they face, one should not expect too much from them or get swept away with optimism.
Starting language education early is critical, so hats off to the schools and teachers for trying, but you have to know something before you can teach it, and few elementary teachers can speak English well. As for high school students who show little interest in learning English despite their teachers’ best efforts to help them, how about making it an elective and devoting more attention to the ones who want to take it?
For those truly motivated to learn, there is plenty of fat that could be cut from the general curriculum and dedicated to English instead. For example, if given the choice between an additional course in English conversation or, say, Old Japanese, which I am told has no more resemblance to Modern Japanese than Old English has to Modern English (Shakespeare wrote in Middle English), I am sure many kids would wisely choose more English.
If the education ministry is truly serious about raising English-language competence, it should also greatly expand programs for studying abroad. Japanese students who spend at least a year or two abroad almost invariably make incredible progress in their English. Far more support from schools and parents for students interested in international student exchange is needed.
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.