In his May 16 opinion piece "Bad English in Japan: A conspiracy theory," Glenn Newman suggests that government bureaucrats wish to keep English instruction in its current bad state in order to prevent young Japanese from emigrating from the country in the future, when their energy and skills will be in even shorter supply than they are now.

However, I believe the problem is more fundamental: a culturally constructed prejudice designed to enforce group boundaries. English has always been one of the bright line indicators of "Otherness" in Japan. Well-educated people who are fluent in English are often afraid to show their skill because the majority of Japanese consider English extremely hard. To be an "ordinary guy" is to mess up, Englishwise. And since in this country conformity is so highly valued, English fluency comes over socially as a minus, not a plus.

When I taught in Okinawa, I was impressed by the great English skills of the older generation, including Okinawans who worked on the U.S. bases or in the economy supporting them. Young, college-educated Okinawans, however, seem to have the same inhibitions about the language as the mainland counterparts. A pity!

Donald M. Seekins

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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