Glenn Newman rehashes the issue of poor Japanese English proficiency under the guise of a popular theme during these trying times of government lockdowns amid the COVID-19 pandemic in his May 16 piece “Bad English in Japan: A conspiracy theory.

Newman proverbially shoots himself in the foot from the starting block. First he informs readers that Japan ranks 53rd in the English First (EF) 2019 English Proficiency Index (EPI) — behind even Albania. We’re told next that Japan comes in 44th of 48 in the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) 2018 ranking of countries. Had he looked into the matter a little more closely, Newman would have found that Japan ranks above Albania in TOEIC scores.

Furthermore, English First test takers were found to be largely people fond of English who took the test to gage their own proficiency, while many TOEIC test takers were required to take the test for graduation or job requirements.

Finally, numbers play an important role that Newman ignores altogether. Rankings are based on countries’ mean scores. Laws of averages dictate that higher sample sizes equate to lower mean scores. All countries included in the EPI had at least 400 test takers, while those in the TOEIC rankings had at least 500 test takers. Neither organization provides actual numbers of test takers per country, all but discrediting their rankings. Perhaps the most revealing statistic is that provided by TOEIC is the percentages of test takers having previously sat for the listening and reading sections of the test — 8 percent of Indians (ranked 31st), 10 percent of Canadians (first) and 77 percent of South Koreans (18th) and Japanese.

Taking much into account that Newman failed to do, one might find that Japanese English-language proficiency is not as bad as some would make it out to be.

Chris Clancy


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.