30 September 2009

Learning English in Japan

Last post before I head back to the UK T_T

Anyway found this English test from a blog of my sister's friend, you can try it out yourself:
Click to view picture in full size

This is the kind of English expected for Junior High School standards ^^;

Image from A Japanese Book

So when do the Japanese start learning ABC alphabets?

According to my sister's friend, a Hongkonger who teaches English as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan, one starts learning ABC in Year 4 of Elementary School. Besides, the purpose of learning English alphabets is primarily for romanji, and not necessarily for English. English is not a compulsory subject, which means that it may or may not be available in some elemenatary schools. This is apparently due to the fact that the schools want to keep English easy enough for children to appreciate them as an interest, rather than a proper and serious subject.


But by secondary school (i.e. junior high, high schools), students are required to learn tons of English words, which sounds like quite a grind to me. This is probably why a lot of Japanese are afraid of English and cannot bring them to use effectively. Being afraid of English language is not a rare sight in Hong Kong too, and sometimes when I post stuff in English on a forum some people simply have their minds shut down. This is probably the reason why I see so many advertisments on English language courses here and there lately.


Starting from 2011 all elementary schools will have compulsory English lessons. Apparently students will have at least 35 hours of lesson time per year, which means... About 1 lesson per week. Man, we had a lot more English lessons per week in Hong Kong, yet we still have a huge spectrum on the performance. So how effective will this be exactly? To be honest I don't have a clue :\

So have you met foreigners who are shy of English? If you have been to Japan, what is your experience on Japanese people's English?


  1. English is not a compulsory subject, which means that it may or may not be available in some elemenatary schools.

    o.O In my country (Austria) English lessons begin in the first year of Elementary school ~ about 3 lessons per week I think.

    I always wondered why many Japanese admire people who can speek English so much - I often wondered about this when watching Jdramans and someone says something like: "Senpai, you can speak English? Wooooooow!"

    I mean...isn´t English something like the "World language"? Why do they not put more effort into something important like that?

  2. my personal experience with japanese high school boys... they hardly speak a complete sentence. even "How are you? I am *his name*" is hard for them to speak out.

    anyway, my engrish sux as well xD. When it comes to language, enviroment play an important role. It can only be improve via constant effort.

  3. That's an interesting sharing. I only met a Japanese who can speak decent proper English and he is working in Singapore.

    They are Japaneses who try speaking English with Japanese pronunciation. Example they pronoun Bed as Be- a-do...

    For me as long as I can understand what they are trying to say is good enough for me.

  4. heheh, I remember the last time I went to Japan, it was impossible for me to communicate with anyone! No one spoke any damn english! Not even the people working at the international airport >_<

  5. lots of my japanese coworkers can speak at least some english, though i usually find it easier to understand them in japanese ^^;

    in japan i usually only speak to the hotel staff in english (just to make sure i don't mess up my reservation or something important ^^;;)... and that staff is usually expected to know english. everywhere else i try to blend in so i actually have relatively little experience with english in japan ^^;;

  6. Hey, why are you returning to UK for/? Do you have school in UK??

  7. @ Anonymous:
    I think the education in Japan has not put English that high in the priority until recently. A lot of Japanese struggle with English as a result, which can be a problem to tourists.

    Despite being a so-called "world language", English may not be fully integrated as a second language for many countries. Japan still seems to be one of them, but I think they're going to change that soon.

    @ B-Mecha:
    I heard that the Japanese start learning proper sentences in junior high, but I am not so sure on that.

    I agree that enviornment is an important factor on learning languages - one should use it constantly and often to see the improvement.

    @ LEon:
    I have met very few overseas Japanese, but usually those who work overseas should have a fairly good level of English already, or else they would struggle to communicate properly with other English-speaking people (or had to learn English the hard way).

    @ Snark:
    It's quite disadvantageous when you don't know much Japanese - knowing even by a little will help a lot.

    But you had problems even with those at the airports? Now that's something new to me o_O;;

    @ meronpan:
    It's a luxury for being able to communicate with the Japanese in their language, so trying to blend in and speak Japanese is a better option whenever possible.

    Many people would be jealous how you can speak just fine in Japan - well thankfully you do those Japanese lessons in your blog now and then ^^

    @ robostrike:
    I like keeping quiet about this matter, but yes I study in the UK. It's the final year so I'm expecting a hectic life ahead of me.

  8. That's fine. At least you're having a blast (since you have not made a rant on your school yet ^_^)...will you be returning to HK during the Christmas?? I'm going to HK for a week of vacation...

  9. @ robostrike:
    Ah, in fact life in the UK has actually been the opposite, but I tend to keep personal life to myself in the Web so that's why I don't make so much rants.

    I will be back to Hong Kong for Christmas. When will you be there? I think I may be able to see you for a day or two :o

  10. K, it's settled! I'll see you in HK ^_^ I'm there from 23rd to 28th (approx. end date tentative, could be earlier/later).
    If you want to add me, just find it under my site ^_^

  11. @ robostrike:
    Sorry for the late reply, but yep I should be in Hong Kong in that period. We'll keep in contact when we get closer to that time!

  12. Interesting topic.

    I've never been to Japan, but from what I know of Hong Kong you can pretty much get around the city if you can only speak English. It doesn't apply to everyone though. I've had experiences where the store owner had to call her boss just so we could have a transaction >_<

    It might be good for Japanese to learn more English. It would help break more boundaries

  13. @ blood on the mirror:
    You're right that there are usually enough informations and signs in English to get you around smoothly in Hong Kong. On the other hand, not all the locals are good at English as some are not well educated or did not do well at school. So... Please do excuse the locals if they don't understand you. On the bright side, the situation is not as bad as it is in Japan ^^;

    It's always great to know even just basic stuff for Japanese - better to know something than nothing!

  14. I never had trouble in Hong Kong because I speak Chinese. But have seen situations where foreigners were asking for direction but people just wave their hands around, or simply walked around the person. And it's true that a lot of people doesn't speak English in HK because they don't have the need for it. I know a lot of HKers who've been in Canada for 10-15 years and they're still at ESL level because they don't use it that much. It's a matter of practice.

    As for Japan, I just remember a lot of "X" gestures when I went up to them for directions. So when someone speaks Japanese to me, I return the favour. ^^;; They don't even try to understand what you are trying to say. However, I did meet this lady in Nara who spoke fluent English because she use to go to school in Vancouver. She told me it's rare for her to speak English, and was glad that she could help. At that point, I finally understood why my friends told me I can become an English teacher in Japan.

  15. @ Tommy:
    Ah yes... It's not a rare sight to see Hongkongers not willing to help people for directions - either that they are not sufficient in English, or they sometimes just don't want troubles to come around... Not a pleasant side of the people I suppose :\

    I don't often ask for directions in Japan unless it's like a last resort, so I really didn't know that a lot of people would do that too. Meeting local people fluent in English is a bit rare, and it's always great to have one helping you out!

    The demand for English in Japanese education should be getting higher and higher, so applying as an ALT in Japan is always a nice option I think, as long as you know some Japanese to survive day-to-day basis :o

  16. WOOO I passed that english test :P

    Back when I was small we learned some english words and songs in a playful manner in the fourth grade but by now the english classes start as early as kindergarten over here.

    I think we are pretty much the only country thatll respond to a foreigner trying to speak german with us in english ^^;;

    Kinda weird isnt it?

    My english isnt the best but I do get around.My French and Dutch is way more horrible

  17. @ Blowfish:
    Congratulations lol! :P

    Germany does take English education very seriously. Most Germans I have met speak or write fluent English, and sometimes they could even put the British people to shame! ^^;

    Which is why I hear the joke in the UK about don't bother trying to study abroad in Germany for the sake of learning German, because the locals there would probably speak better English than you do!

    Learning more than one language can be quite a feat already. What matters more is whether we actually use or practice using them. I've forgotten most of my French and German too unfortunately -_-

  18. The Internet is the place that keeps my english halfway fresh.All other languages slowly faded away through the years because it was never used.

    I highly doubt that were better at english than some UK citizens though :P

    If you ever feel like freshing up your german contact me ^^

  19. @ Blowfish:
    You manage to maintain English in good use with the help of the Internet and blogging, which is impressive! The British locals here are often surprised at how fluent the Germans are - at least the ones I have so far are definitely not to be underestimated.

    I'm learning Japanese in a very slow pace at the moment, but should I have the need to refresh my German I would contact you in advance! Thanks for the offer!


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