Regarding the story “Facility to offer kids a hands-on taste of English” in the Aug. 28 edition, TESOL is for speakers, so speaking not testing is the aim, but the education ministry is bent on enforcing spoken testing as part of college entrance exams without providing spoken English education at high schools. Young children learn to communicate successfully without writing. Japanese students are expected to run with second- to first-language translation before they can stand with listening. This leads to failure, confusion and passive apathy.

State policies persist in avoiding this, for example by substituting teachers with robots and with instant outsourced “solutions” like Tokyo’s new English Village, a perfect symbol of putting the veneer of English over the substance of education.

A conversation school cartel hires staff with “native-like English” only. The rationale is to compensate for the absence of spoken English education at regular schools, used as an excuse to exploit the situation when it should be the education ministry establishing proper spoken classes with proper full-time staff in all schools.

Such villages have existed for decades in far less rich European countries like Hungary, but only in South Korea and Japan are bureaucracies interceding directly. The Japan model is to call any native speaker a “teacher” to maximize profits. Companies may be hoping young students will continue as adults to extract maximum returns from minimum investments. Conceptual flaws include: 1) Immersion learning doesn’t work on a short term basis. 2) Hourly fees aren’t cheap so students seeking real results would have to spend more than if they went abroad. 3) Genuine school education can’t be shored up by for-profit companies in nonschool contexts.

Such villages were first intended as cheap, effective alternatives to study abroad. Tokyo’s will be ineffective and very expensive. The experience is inauthentic and confined to sanitized “communication.” Fees touted as affordable will rise and communication default to non-English. Rather than company tests, texts and “teachers,” legitimate techniques and training promise better results. Most commercial testing narrowly examines language from a grammatical perspective so fails to promote communication.


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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