New teaching guidelines released by the education ministry call for high school English to be taught primarily in English from 2013. This conversion from traditional methods to a more active and communicative approach is decades behind the rest of the world. As China, Vietnam and South Korea have moved ahead, Japan's English education policies have languished. It may be a case of too little too late. Japan's position in the future internationalized world will be determined by the nation's English ability.

That is not to say that many teachers have not already moved ahead on their own. Many have already instituted what the government is just now starting to recommend. Excellent-quality English programs exist here and there and, generally, English-teaching methods have improved. However, ministry guidelines for increasing conversation, upping vocabulary levels and offering more active learning, admirable as they are, must be put into practice broadly and completely in more classrooms.

English education in Japan has been hobbled by an overemphasis on grammar study, pressure to pass entrance exams and over-reliance on translation. As a result, years and years of English study typically produce more anxiety than communicative ability. Changing the tradition of explaining everything in Japanese by creating more active English-based approaches will not happen overnight.