Saori Suzuki’s Dec. 6 letter, “Rare occasions to speak English” (which was a response to T. Mamoru Hanami’s Nov. 29 letter, “Why pay just to learn to read?“), came as somewhat of an epiphany to me. One might ask why so much of the public English “text” we see in Japan is gibberish and why English-speaking skills are in such need of improvement.
Suzuki’s letter, which argues for the compartmentalization of reading comprehension, underscores the connection between these two problems. However, I wonder if this particular misunderstanding of language learning belies a more ominous misunderstanding of education itself. The notion that, because most Japanese students don’t have a chance to communicate in English, spoken English is superfluous is not only fallacious but also dangerous if it is widespread.
Perhaps we can take comfort in the knowledge that many educators in Japan don’t hold such a view. After all, an education that doesn’t address both future challenges and aspirations truly is superfluous. I fear that “Japanese friendliness” alone may not be enough to meet the demands on the horizon.
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