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Gregory Clark is wrong about the possible solutions to Japan’s English problem. Japanese university students are usually motivated only for the first three months of study. After that, overwhelmed by the large number of courses covering a hodgepodge of different materials, influenced by the emphasis on club activities, working part time and playing around, and facing the growing realization that all one has to do to graduate is attend at least half the classes and do a minimal amount of work, most students adapt to the environment and lose all motivation for study. This is not their fault, but the fault of those who create and maintain the environment — teachers and administrators.

Japanese high school students, on the other hand, are far more motivated, but their main motivation is to get into university. This is where we find the real problem: University entrance exams for decades have been generally designed not to test practical English but to pose silly puzzles for students to solve.

The education ministry is taking some correct steps: forcing teachers to teach in English; giving them additional training; and introducing the language to younger children, at an age when their ears and minds are more flexible. However, one major step still needs to be taken: the abolishment of English-language entrance exams for university.

If a certain level of English is necessary, proof can be required through standardized practically oriented tests such as TOEIC or TOEFL. Such a revolutionary step would free middle and high schools to concentrate on the language itself. If there are many teachers who do not speak English well, where did they qualify to teach? At Japanese universities, of course. That is where the main problem lies.

patrick l. halliwell

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