Reader Mail

Missing the point of spoken English

Regarding “Test results show students’ poor English skills” in the Aug. 2 edition, while it may seem a good thing that Japan’s accountable authorities recognize the need to do something about Japanese students’ English-speaking inability, perhaps they are the wrong people to succeed.

Those responsible have been promising to improve the lamentable state of conversation for decades and have made it their life’s work to keep repeating the promises with little or no result, while getting paid handsomely for their failure. The biggest problem is that Japanese schools are more interested in suppressing expression than promoting it.

This is followed closely by their concept of what speaking means. According to Japan Times reporting, speaking is reduced to speaking on topics selected by examiners, and drills are favored over real-life spoken skills.

It seems the Japanese definition of speaking and that of the rest of the English-speaking world are as far apart as the North and South poles. When we speak, we most often talk about ourselves and listen to others talking about themselves in an attempt to interact, share, learn and develop.

The Japanese version of “communication” is to prescript everything according to the single correct version of language hard-wired into an examiner’s head. Symptomatic of this is the Eiken oral test, which is little more than a script set in stone to confine communication to a predetermined version of language.

That is the antipathy of spoken communication.

Finally, the most insurmountable problem is the bureaucracy’s belief in its sole right and power to handle all matters, even though they have proven time after time that they just aren’t qualified to.

Expert educators are required at all levels, but instead Japan is flooded with unqualified cut-rate conversation teachers, hired by unscrupulous middle men (often in cahoots with the authorities themselves seeking to reduce costs) to maintain the status quo of zero spoken proficiency development at maximum administrative and entrepreneurial profit-taking.

DAVID JOHN
DAZAIFU, FUKUOKA PREFECTURE

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.