Non-Japanese often, if not always, think English of Japanese sucks. In general it does sucks, I must to admit after watching some UN meeting video; especially that of some politicians and also journalists of second class papers.
They — should I say we? — may become defiant about their poor English skill; particularly some Japanese English teachers, judging from information from the web pages written in Japanese. Some Japanese are not even aware of how bad their oral communication is while many are totally aware of it.
Many of my friends, who do mathematics and physics, told me that they often do not understand a presentation given by Japanese, while their contents are sufficiently interesting enough to attract serious attention. I went to Boston University a while ago for a meeting for system biology. Many graduate students from Kyoto U gave a talk but some of them are horrible in presentation style and English. In other occasion, I did see many good presentations by Japanese, but some people just did not understand the questions at all. Some time a questioner got angry. During a long meeting, if you give an incomprehensible talk then people will just go to sleep to recover energy or just go to restroom.
Now let’s see what they are saying.
I see his point. Comparing Japan and Philippine, however, is not meaningful, since their social and economic structures are totally different. They have every reason to learn English, but many Japanese regard English as a hobby. Also Philippine has 171 languages. So English is a tool to communicate among different groups. Japan has one. If other minor languages like Ainu, Okinawa and Korean are counted then it has 4.
There are highly motivate non-Japanese English teachers around there. But, to be honest, who is teaching in English in Japan? I know many of my friends who went to teach English abroad from Canada and US. Some of them might have been dreaming about teaching since they were 3. But most of them are teaching opportunistically. Like, “Well I finished my college but do not know I want to do in my life. Humm, going to Japan might be fun and it will give me some time to think about my future. Also I can see an exotic country.”
Most of Japanese are not well prepared to communicate in English but many English teachers from abroad are also totally unprepared to teach English effectively in a foreign country and just feel frustrated. A teacher cannot teach students who are not intrinsically interested in any subject. They however can not teach when they themselves consider their job as an extension of a hobby.
Of course, Japanese do have a lot more things to learn.
- my growing awareness of a belief among Japanese students of English that they can somehow learn English ONLY by being in the presence of an English-speaking foreigner – “English by osmosis” – and that practice (alone or with a Japanese partner), drills (both oral and written), learning vocab, are either irrelevant or can somehow be bypassed when you have a real, live, English-speaking (and preferably blond(e) and blue-eyed because we all know that those are the only real foreigners) “gaijin” to yourself, if even for a few minutes;
- a growing awareness of a patronising attitude (in some cases, open disdain) on the part of colleagues towards the “conversation” teachers: glancing references like “students are not going to progress much if they’re just repeating ‘hellomynameis’ every day” (so that’s what they think we’re doing).
“But what if students’ desire to “talk to the foreigner” was actually (at least in part) a desire to use (English) language to create meaning?
Something I should realize by now that has probably been sadly lacking in their experience of English language education.”
To sum up, Japanese are too passive. Fair enough.
This prof seems to be determined to improve English proficiency of his students. JAR in EFL
“I’m hoping to take an approach that focuses mercilessly on a fluency goal. Half the battle is just defining fluency, so here is my attempt for each of the four skills:”
- Speaking – thinking and speaking at the same time in a relatively natural speed
- Writing – thinking and writing at the same time in a relatively natural speed, with a relatively average number of revisions
- Listening – understanding spoken English to the depth that is necessary for any given situation. This implies that listening to friends, a university lecturer, the police, a YouTube video all carry uniquely different needs.
- Reading – understanding written English at a speed somewhere closer to L1 readers than L2 readers (some say that 250 wpm with a 75% comprehension rate is a good target).
As for reading, it will be nice to give an example like NYT etc as a standard text for calibration. Reading speed depends on writing style and topics. “in a relatively natural speed” probably means without translating ideas. Or translation can be done so quick then it does not matter how people do it … But it is good to link a concept directly to English not via Japanese during conversations and discussions.
“However, the standard English itself should be determined by the needs of all the people in the world, but not by only those of the people in the English speaking countries.”
Well, probably not. A language is a mean of communication defined by a set of rules so that every one follows the rule can communicate. A language always accommodates exceptions and are constantly changing, but it cannot change arbitrarily. If it change arbitrarily it becomes pidgin Japanese-English. In some sense many people engaged in English are already spending great time and effort to clarify and standardize English for its learners.
Who owns English? The question is too ambiguous. In a way, each different group owns and shares its own particular English words and expressions which cannot be understood by outsiders. The most dominant groups dictate the rules.
Michael Swan, the author of Practical English Usage, ponders the emergence of international English. It could be a ‘super-standard’ and be simpler without less important grammatical complications.
“English will become the last universal language.” I think this is way too much and see no point if this becomes true or not. This sounds like a religion.
English problems of Japanese
Here I list some blogs about English problems of non-natives.
English problems are not unique to Japanese, as far as I can see at an institute in Antwerp where English is a third language: Dutch, French and English. The level of English can be better or at least worse than I expected. It is really interesting to notice that Netherlanders can speak English more fluently than Belgians at the institute.
Many people among themselves can communicate in English on their work related topics but if visitors from USA, Canada or UK etc talk at their full speed on random topics they probably cannot fully follow. Of course I can minimally follow Dutch nor French. And many people here think they have enough English skills and think Belgian culture is better than those of anglophones.
You can see similar situation in Japan as well. Some Japanese think there is no need to learn English. Learning English equals to implicit cultural slavery to the “English world”. To them English equals to America. Fortunately the English world is not monolithic and is more complex. USA itself is a very complex country which defy any simple characterization.
For a scientist, practical benefits of knowing English far outweigh its possible cultural setbacks. Often simply you will not get a job which requires English. This is often true even in an EU project.
Japan is rarely a topic of discussion here. But I do see boxes of “inedible” sushi at supper markets and they are quite popular. Sashimi is also found and it is ok. Also mangas are also translated in Dutch. So I should probably read it to learn Dutch. Currently I have more than 15 Dutch books and a few French books, but I am working in English so Dutch and French remain to be hobbies.