Career limits due to language

I have spent 14 years in Japan’s academic/research fields. Every morning I get up with three questions in mind: How can I contribute to the science and technology of this country more efficiently? What can be my career path in this country? And what will become of my children after 10 or 20 years?

I am deeply concerned about how efficiently foreigners with limited abilities in Japanese can be part of the activities and development of this nation. Another concern, which is more serious, is how the next generation of Japanese will survive globally and play active roles in the globalization of their nation.

My questions are not just my own. Today most foreigners in Japanese academic, research and technology firms think about these things from home to work and back. In general, how much trouble can the Japanese anticipate with the globalization of the next generation without adequate education in English?

What stops Japan from adequately educating their young ones in English? Are they worried that an English education will open up doors to the world and adversely affect the current system — from day-to-day life to the culture?

Or do the Japanese think the addition of English as a second language in elementary school will overburden their children?

There are nations where students learn two or more languages with an equal sense of importance and joy. On one side, I have heard a lot about the growing needs of globalization and manpower and, on the other side, about the inadequate or slow practical steps toward these goals. Although this opinion is slightly critical, I must state that I have seen some strange looks on the faces of students in my chemistry classes in at least one Japanese university.

As a scientist myself, I suffer from a limited Japanese ability when submitting documents to funding agencies. This problem contradicts the difficulties of students who attend lectures in English. What is the solution? And who can help both sides?

One person who might be able to help is professor Hiroshi Masuhara of the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, who has worked toward solutions by successfully globalizing part of Japan’s cutting-edge research program under the Sakigake program for Japanese science and technology agencies.

biju vasudevan
takamatsu, kagawa

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.

  • doctorshankar

    Japanese language especially the various scripts are far more difficult than English. If a child can learn Japanese then it can master English quite easily. English has only 26 alphabets. I wonder how the Japanese find English very difficult to master.

  • burungberang

    I believe the kanji aside, Japanese can be an easy oral language to learn. I’ve been studying linguistics casually for some time thru Wikipedia, and I may have found why it’s difficult for Japanese and East Asians in general to learn English. To the Japanese, English has its own set of grammatical and spelling peculiarities which cannot be explained in layman’s terms. The biggest culprit could be the irregular past and perfect tense of as many as 200 verbs, e.g. ‘eat’, ‘ate’, ‘eaten’. Japanese has very little of these if any. Holding a conversation about past events can be tedious. The Japanese expect languages that use alphabets like ours to be regular phonologically, sadly this is not the case for English, especially in the basic vocab. Why does ‘one’ or ‘done’ not rhyme with ‘bone’ and ‘cone’? This could blunt confidence in speaking.