Japanese speak English, poorly. According to EF Education First, Japan ranked 53rd on its English Proficiency Index in 2019, behind countries such as China, South Korea, Vietnam and Albania. Japanese takers of the TOEIC in 2018 finished 44th out of 49 countries, eight spots below China. And, statistics aside, anyone who has spent much time in Japan knows that Japanese with good English are few and far between.

Japan’s English shortcomings are not the product of a lack of attention. Politicians, government officials, business leaders and educators have for decades emphasized that the path to Japan’s economic revival runs straight through English. The government has invested heavily in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme and other programs to improve English-language education. With little to show for their efforts.

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