National

English schools look to teach Olympians, expand business ahead of 2020 Games

by Shinichi Tokuda

Kyodo

Language schools are tying up with sports associations to help improve the English skills of Japanese athletes in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The push is aimed at overcoming concern about struggles to communicate, while the schools see it as an opportunity to tap into a new market.

In January, major English language school operator Aeon Corp. signed a contract to become the “official provider” of services for Japan Rugby Football Union players learning English ahead of the Rugby World Cup, to be hosted by Japan in 2019.

The company will create a special textbook for the Japanese team that is expected to include phrases often used at airports and hotels, technical terms related to the sport and phrases that can be used when players are being interviewed by overseas media.

Aeon also plans to offer free English lessons with the help of smartphones and send English teachers to training camps, it said.

“Learning English is just like muscle training,” said Aeon President Yoshikazu Miyake. “Although the athletes are busy, I am sure that their English skills will definitely improve if they can study during their spare time.”

While English proficiency in Japan is relatively low, Noriyuki Sakamoto, chairman of the rugby union, said English skills are necessary “to win at the world level.”

“They (players) will need to speak English when communicating with coaches and non-Japanese players. Conversations will take place in English during international matches,” he said.

Aeon’s textbook, which will also include phrases used at hospitals, is expected to be completed by this summer.

Starting with the tie-up with the rugby association, “We hope to promote cooperation with other sports associations to expand our customer base,” said an Aeon employee responsible for producing the textbook.

Hitoshi Ono, who has played on the Japan national rugby team, said he is looking forward to trying the smartphone lessons when traveling to away games.

“English will also be useful for my second career, so I am determined to study hard,” he said.

EF Education First Japan Ltd. has a language training partnership contract with the Japanese women’s ice hockey team, which has qualified for next year’s Pyeongchang Olympics.

The Japanese arm of EF Education First, a global language school operator, started offering online lessons in April 2016.

In November, the firm sent teachers to a training camp of young female players held in Hokkaido. About 30 athletes took part and learned how to pronounce technical terms along with gaining some other English skills.