• Toda, Saitama

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Regarding Shihoko Goto’s Nov. 7 article, “Japan as a role model for civility“: It would be wise to bear in mind a distinction between volitional “civility”, and the Japan-centric tradition as a compliance culture with a hive mentality. This is worth mentioning because transitory societal behaviors can look the same regardless of which of the above is the more fundamental motive.

Regarding second-language choices among Japanese, it is worth examining current second-language programs in Japan’s schools — more specifically, the ostensible mandatory teaching/learning of English in Japan’s elementary through high school curricula.

Current English-language curricula throughout Japan place virtually no emphasis whatsoever on speaking English, but rather on intellectualized (and often incorrect) English grammar skills. This invariably results in students leaving high school with between six and eight years of English-language education, but with virtually no ability to speak or understand spoken English.

I could point to numerous examples of students who graduate from Japanese universities today with degrees in English, but with virtually no ability whatsoever to hold a simple conversation in English with English native speakers.

I know this because I occasionally interview Japanese university graduates for jobs in both Japanese and foreign companies here in Japan. These graduates have been exposed to English-language course work for between six and 10 years. Any student in most countries (outside Japan) who studied any language for four to 10 years would be expected to hold a simple conversation in that language — or they would flatly fail their course work requirements.

The point here — with respect to choosing Korean or Chinese as second languages among native Japanese — is simple: Conversational skills are the primary goal of any language — not simply diagramming sentences then reading sophomoric content that has no substantive context or meaning elsewhere in the world. The second most important language skill is reading and comprehension of real world subject matter.

Regardless of the specific second language selected for Japanese students, it is time for Japan’s political decision makers and teachers to focus on substantive conversation and reading skills that make the student’s (and teacher’s) efforts productive for the nation, and useful to the student.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

doc hammel

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