In his Dec. 30 article “English should be an elective,” Gregory Clark’s claim that Japanese “careers usually do not depend on foreign-language ability” ignores the fact that more and more Japanese corporations require TOEIC for promotion and hiring. His argument that “At that [post-secondary] level they [Japanese students] can usually be supplied with good teachers and facilities, unlike in most middle and high schools” ignores the fact that few Japanese college students are motivated to do anything, since it is almost impossible for them to fail. American colleges are better educational institutions than American secondary schools for many reasons; one is the fact that students can flunk out. Not the case in Japan.

Most seriously, Clark’s argument “that there is no need for the entire high-school population to be made to learn English to the standard needed for university entrance” ignores the fact that most Japanese university entrance exams test the wrong things. An English curriculum centered on reading and hearing about English in Japanese can no more teach English than reading about soccer or piano can teach one to play soccer or piano.

Testing the ability to write coherent English would be much more appropriate than testing the ability to conjugate the English subjunctive. Universities should ask students to write English paragraphs for their entrance exams.

john philips

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