Regarding the March 31 article “Look overseas to address Japan’s lag in English ability“: As a foreign English teacher, with a Japanese wife and daughter who wish to stay in Japan, I despair for the child’s future when I see how casual Japanese students are about learning English. This country was once dependent on exports for its living and will be so again in our lifetimes as the population continues to age and decline in numbers. To be competitive in the future with emerging market countries, most notably with India, the level of English has got to improve drastically. Last month, on NHK’s “Close Up Gendai,” the camera panned an office where a number of workers sat at their desks trying to read e-mail while going through their translating dictionaries looking up word after word. I could not help but think, at what cost to their companies and the Japanese economy could people be employed so unproductively? I could easily see why Japanese companies require, and pay, so much overtime.
Basic English vocabulary and communicative skills can easily be taught in elementary school, as it is in every other country. At that age children are language sponges. In junior high school they can learn to read the words they first learned to speak. These words are all phonetic, like Kana, so the only way to read them meaningfully is by associating the letters with the sound and the sound with the concept. Having to learn all three at once is a bit much to ask any child. The easier it is to read basic English the more enjoyable it is, so the child is motivated to do it. The advanced academic words can then be taught in high school, so that students are ready in university to do something more advanced with English than to learn how to speak like kindergarten children.
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