The Feb. 4 article “Students failing to make English grade” once again raises concerns regarding Japan’s unique approach to English education.

Of 150,000 randomly selected students in their final year of junior high and high school last year, fewer than half from each category met the targets for the four skill areas tested — reading, writing, listening and speaking. According to the article, these results indicate that beginning English study in elementary school and having classes conducted in English are ineffective. This is ludicrous. There’s no way to even know teachers are even conducting classes in English. The results may actually point toward one more test being a test too many for students.

What is enlightening is that less than half of teachers surveyed claimed to integrate the four skills in their lessons. Readers are informed that schools’ failure to conduct classes focusing on speech or discussion and teachers’ skills are still problematic. The conclusion is that improved teacher training programs are necessary. How many times have we heard this before?

The potential solution that continues to be neglected is the employment of foreign English-language teachers — not team teaching assistants — but de facto English teachers. The education ministry’s course of study for foreign languages even encourages the hiring of foreign English-speaking teachers. Being exposed to such teachers regularly will ensure that classes are conducted in English. Speech and discussion will inherently be a regular, routine element of classes.

Now is never too late.

Chris Clancy

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.

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