The May 16 article by Glenn Newman, "Bad English in Japan: A conspiracy theory," doesn't demonstrate a real understanding of Japan or the issue at hand.
Japan’s English shortcomings are already well-known.
A proven method of English instruction has been sought for more than 100 years. Uncountable English teachers, Japanese and non-Japanese, have toiled in vain.
What are the real obstacles to Japanese in learning English? Sounds (physical differences of mouth and ears)? Cluster words (phonetic)? Thought pattern difference? What should the balance between "Speaking/Writing" skills and "Listening/Reading" skills be? Is "Speaking/Listening" more important than "Writing/Reading"? The controversy has swung like a pendulum.
The question involves wide ranges of human knowledge on phonetics, anthropology (cultural), psychology (learning), curriculum, presentation techniques, etc.
It is not an easy task to find the answer for the question "Why do Japanese speak English poorly?” Certainly, it is not a conspiracy at all.
Two important points overlooked in the article: People in countryside towns in Japan do not need English in their daily lives.
English is superfluous for local living in the town where I grew up, for instance. Hearing from someone that I go to a university in Tokyo famous for English, a neighbor worker said to me, “What the hell are you going to be?” He was in a sense right. Not everyone needs to be fluent in English.
Dropping the use of private tests for English involves much deeper questions on testing. Testing materials sold by various private companies share no common standard of linguistic levels. Correlation among the private tests had not been established. On what scale should the score-receiving schools judge superiority/inferiority on the scores received without a common measure? How can a fair evaluation be made based on an equal footage for selection?
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.