Required or not, English knowledge no guarantee of success

TOKYO —

“Once, I asked a newly hired employee to make a telephone call to an overseas vendor,” an unnamed Rakuten executive relates to Shukan Gendai (April 27). “At first their conversation seemed to be going smoothly, but afterwards I got a call from the guy responsible for that account. The person he called was a Chinese, and while he could speak English, he wasn’t a native speaker. Turned out he couldn’t follow what our man said at all.

“When you speak over the telephone, you use simple words and talk slowly, but this new kid didn’t even have the common sense to do that. He just kept on yakking, not even realizing he wasn’t making himself understood to the other fellow.”

Rakuten made English its internal language for all internal communications from July of 2012, and from this year required a minimum score on the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) of 750 points (maximum possible score is 990) for new hirees.

A former store manager at Uniqlo, another company which has emulated Rakuten by requiring English in-house, tells the magazine, “I joined the company because it was promoting itself as seeking ‘globalized staff.’ But at the shop where I was assigned, I never had a chance to use my English. The staff who got assigned overseas were just a handful who kept clearing tests. That’s the reality at Uniqlo.”

Nevertheless, more than 2,500 major companies, including East Japan Railway Co, require applicants to take the TOEIC.

“Over the past three or four years, there’s been a big jump in the number of companies that place importance on English ability—even domestic firms like food and beverage where one wouldn’t expect English to be needed,” says Reiji Ishiwatari, a journalist knowledgeable about employment trends.

Shukan Gendai’s article presents several examples of the mismatches that occur between expectations and results.

The sales manager at an electronics firm brought in a new staff member who appeared to be able to converse in English with no problem at all.

“But when he was taking a meal with a customer, the man asked him, ‘What do you feel about your prime minister’s worshiping at the Yasukuni Shrine?’ He knew nothing of the historical background and couldn’t make an articulate response. After that, the customer tended to look down on him,” he sighed.

“One type in particular you have got to watch out for are the ‘bilingual’ men and women who have been raised abroad from a young age due to their parents being assigned abroad,” points out Makoto Naruge, a former CEO of Microsoft Japan. “That’s because neither their Japanese nor English levels reached maturity, and they can’t speak persuasively in either language. What do they say in English? If it’s lacking in human ‘depth,’ then it’s more or less meaningless.”

“Their English is at the level of the 3 Rs in school,” says Kiyohide Kugisaki, president of Puff Co Ltd. “Just because someone can use the abacus doesn’t mean they can do any job. It’s the same for English. If you grew up in an English-speaking country, you can speak English. But that doesn’t mean you’re qualified for a job. That should be common knowledge to anyone who thinks about it, but the problem is that some companies forget this.”

Be that as it may, last year an all-time record number of 2.3 million Japanese sat for the TOEIC exam.

“I started prepping for the exam from my junior year and knowing how to cram for it, just like any other test, I scored 900 easily,” recalls a graduate of the University of Tokyo who joined one of Japan’s megabanks from 2012. “Then I went for a vacation trip to the U.S. with two friends, both of who scored over 800 on the exam. None of us could make conversation, and we wound up having to depend on gestures. ‘TOEIC is meaningless,’ we concluded.

“Except that it did make a big impression on the interviewer for my job,” he laughed.

  • 11

    Graham DeShazo

    This article rings pretty true. I know from experience that a high TOEIC score is not guarantee that the person I am speaking with can think his/her way out of a paper bag in English. At the same time, a 900+ score is like a Willie Wonka Golden Ticket in the employment market.

  • 3

    Moonraker

    “One type in particular you have got to watch out for are the ‘bilingual’ men and women who have been raised abroad from a young age due to their parents being assigned abroad,” points out Makoto Naruge, a former CEO of Microsoft Japan. “That’s because neither their Japanese nor English levels reached maturity, and they can’t speak persuasively in either language. What do they say in English? If it’s lacking in human ‘depth,’ then it’s more or less meaningless.”

    I don't get this at all. Was Naruge one of those he puts down?

  • 9

    borscht

    you can speak English. But that doesn’t mean you’re qualified for a job.

    Students looking for jobs in the US often ask me if their ability to speak fluent Japanese (as they are Japanese) can get them a job. I used to hand them want ads for secretaries in Los Angeles who must be able to speak three languages AND are well-versed in Microsoft Office programs. With starting salaries in the high poverty range. In Japan, fluency in English can get you a job you have no ability to do. I like Japan.

    'TOEIC is meaningless!' we concluded.

    While TOEIC might be meaningless, they drew on a sample of three students who know how to Cram-and-Forget it; which is probably how they got into Todai in the first place. i.e. Faulty logic; welcome to the Japanese banking system, eh?

  • 7

    Serrano

    Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes: "If English is good enough for me, by golly it's good enough for the rest of the world."

  • 9

    gaijinfo

    My experience with a wide variety of speakers, there seems to be NO correlation with "communication skills" and "English skills."

    If you are a poor communicator, no amount of language study is going to change that. I don't know why people think that it would.

    To be sure, there's plenty of Japanese to Japanese communicators, English to English communicators, or Language X to Language X communicators that couldn't get their point across to save their lives.

    A statistician would say that you are "confusing variables" when assuming that increasing English skills would make one a better communicator.

    The sad thing is that most Japanese English teachers are hired ONLY because they have a high TOEIC score, and NOT because they have any teaching OR communication skills, which they usually don't.

  • 12

    Tolstoy

    TOEIC was never designed to measure how “persuasively” someone speaks, because how do you quantify that?

    TOEIC simply measures “English proficiency”.

    If you want to know how how much “human depth” someone has - well, that’s what job interviews are for.

  • 5

    kimuzukashiiiii

    I once worked with a English teacher who had formerly taught in a Japanese high school - Toeic of 990.

    However she could NOT string a sentence together, it was absolutely insane. She would use verbal diarrhea and just spout out individual vocabulary. No grammar, no verbs.

    Ive also met people who would get about 500 or less on the Toeic, but who had conversational English of native, or near native level.

    Needless to say, the latter are much, much rarer in Japan. As someone else said, they are just bad communicators in either language. To be honest there are enough people in Japan who can read English - what Japan needs is people who can actually speak it, and decently.

  • 3

    SauloJpn

    “Just because someone can use the abacus doesn’t mean they can do any job. It’s the same for English." That is true to any number of skills. If you just finished an internship as a surgeon it doesn't mean you are guaranteed to have a job waiting for you.

    This article is (somewhat indirectly) differentiating idiom skills with communication skill. It is no good to have a rich vocabulary in an specific language if you don't have the common sense to use them in your professional field! It is the same problem when you meet a Japanese person who knows no English words but is able to communicate with us. In the other hand, there are some other people we can never understand.

  • 4

    CH3CHO

    kimuzukashiiiii

    Ive also met people who would get about 500 or less on the Toeic, but who had conversational English of native, or near native level.

    That is just impossible. If he scores 500 or less at TOEIC, the person cannot understand the meaning of slowly spoken short English sentences.

    I once worked with a English teacher who had formerly taught in a Japanese high school - Toeic of 990. However she could NOT string a sentence together, it was absolutely insane. She would use verbal diarrhea and just spout out individual vocabulary. No grammar, no verbs.

    Scoring full 990 at TOEIC is remarkable. An examinee must read through lengthy passages in limited time to finish the test. Most examinees cannot finish reading the test material. Solid reading ability with rich vocabulary may not be a guarantee for good speaking ability, but I have never met a person whose score is above 900 and speak that bad.

  • 4

    kimuzukashiiiii

    That is just impossible. If he scores 500 or less at TOEIC, the person cannot understand the meaning of slowly spoken short English sentences.

    I disagree. As you said, Toeic is all about reading. So someone who has had very little formal English education (in the Japanese system, where reading and writing are HEAVILY concentrated on) yet who has lived or worked abroad, its completely possible to be of very low reading and writing proficiency, yet have very high conversational skills.

    You just need to look at bilingual children for an example of this - they are native level English, but may or may not be able to read it or write it.

  • 0

    oikawa

    That’s because neither their Japanese nor English levels reached maturity, and they can’t speak persuasively in either language.

    This is complete BS.

    If you grew up in an English-speaking country, you can speak English. But that doesn’t mean you’re qualified for a job.

    This is true, and the heart of the problem. Hardly anyone actually thinks, and questions why they're taking a meaningless test, or studying a language they're never going to use. If you actually need a language you pick it up pretty quickly and easily. Companies would do better making sure their employees are shock, horror, actually competent in the job they're supposed to be doing.

  • 3

    jimex289

    Yep...you don't need to be literate to hold an understandable conversation.

  • 0

    don-in-japan

    TOEIC simply measures “English proficiency”. Depends on what you mean by "English proficiency". If you're talking about language as a communicative tool, then no. It doesn't.

  • 0

    don-in-japan

    Sigh... quote-fail? One more time: that SHOULD read...

    TOEIC simply measures “English proficiency”.

    Depends on what you mean by "English proficiency". If you're talking about language as a communicative tool, then no. It doesn't.

  • 0

    pointofview

    Drop the Katakana sounds and work on your listening and speaking skills. That`ll help. A genuine interest in another language should give you a boost also.

  • 6

    bgaudry

    LOVE the way JT brings up this same tired topic topic week after week and here we all are still passing comment on it.

  • 0

    GW

    Come on everyone, any use of any language test results are of minimal use in the real world 98% of the time and here is the main reason why:

    PEOPLE CRAM FOR TESTS!!!

    End of story, NOW what I always recommend if someone wants to take a language test is to continue to study(if you regularly do) as normal, DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY CRAMMING! Then stop any & all studying around 2wks before the test. Chill out & relax.

    Then do the test & then the results at least it MIGHT have some meaning.

    If you cram you get BS, simple as that.

  • 0

    Virtuoso

    LOVE the way JT brings up this same tired topic topic week after week

    Well, if you want to pick nits, it was Shukan Gendai that brought it up. The article might have been more interesting if the reporter had asked for a native English speaker's opinion to balance the picture. Its possible the writer even did interview a foreigner, but refrained from running his comments because they somehow didn't fit the premise of the article (which is how most journalism these days works in any language).

  • 0

    combinibento

    TOEIC is meaningless!

    No it isn't. You got into both Todai and now a "megabank," thanks in large part to your skill in passing tests and being able to capitalize off those scores when it comes to listing them on your resume. You don't study to learn the language so much as to show corporate Japan you can (a) cram for something and (b) do better than the vast majority when tested on it. The substance of what you study is meaningless, but not the test itself.

  • 2

    blendover

    Pardon my cynicism, but I think that the chief purpose of this emphasis on the TOEIC test, as with a great many other tests, is to reduce competition for a shrinking number of higher level placements in work and higher education. '

    We're very sorry Mr Yamamoto, you are a fantastic engineer, but we simply can't promote you with a TOEIC score under, let's see, sorry what was your score again? 750. Oh well, let's say 850 then, shall we?'

    That's really what this whole testing game is all about, and the negative effects on the national direction are quite high, I would guess. This is because, instead of focusing most of their time and attention on develooping abilities in areas that they are good at, people spend huge amounts of time and money working on developing knowledge and skills of a kind that have limited practical application. Studying for a higher score on the TOEIC test is definitely one such pursuit.

  • 1

    gaijinfo

    That is just impossible. If he scores 500 or less at TOEIC, the person cannot understand the meaning of slowly spoken short English sentences.

    I personally have met folks with less than 500 and who were in international sales in their respective companies.

    One thing people don't seem to take into account is that the TOEIC test itself is confusing variables. You could be comfortable and fluent in a face to face situation, but get a stressed out "brain lock" whenever taking tests.

    Test such as the TOEIC, are HORRIBLE at even measuring English proficiency. In order to have a good TOEIC score, you've got to have:

    1) Tons of vocabulary

    2) Tons of test taking skills

    NEITHER of which are marketable skills.

  • 1

    CH3CHO

    GW

    PEOPLE CRAM FOR TESTS!!! End of story

    How can one cram to build listening comprehension skills? How can one cram to build a skill to read long English passages in limited time? One may cram to build vocabulary, but that is only a small part of TOEIC.

  • 0

    Dave Brouwer

    So many people sat down for the test and yet, 99% of the Japanese I meet in Japan are unable to have any type of English conversation with me. It's always me desperately trying to use my limited Japanese. They can write you huge letters of (broken) English but once you start a conversation, they suddenly seem to forget everything they learned. (Or, more likely, they just never learned it properly in the first place.)

  • 1

    Apocrypha

    I was poking around on you tube one day. When I came across a young American man whom is working in Japan teaching English. When he arrived in Japan he could not speak Japanese. He taught himself to speak Japanese by reading Japanese comic books. His explanation was people in JP do not speak in the manner of formal language books.

  • 2

    Virtuoso

    His explanation was people in JP do not speak in the manner of formal language books.

    Except perhaps on the floor of the National Diet. Obtuse expressions are useful for giving politicians deniability.

  • 3

    Scrote

    But when he was taking a meal with a customer, the man asked him, "What do you feel about your prime minister's worshiping at the Yasukuni Shrine?"

    That sounds like a fun night out. Avoid politics and religion in business meetings.

  • 0

    Virtuoso

    Avoid politics and religion in business meetings.

    I agree, but it's a good test of language skill to know how to react when someone throws you a curve ball. All he needed to say is something like, "It's a sensitive political topic and there's a huge difference of opinion, especially among the younger and older generations of Japanese."

  • 2

    Dave Brouwer

    All he needed to say is something like, "It's a sensitive political topic and there's a huge difference of opinion, especially among the younger and older generations of Japanese."

    That, or he could've just said he didn't have a real opinion on the matter. It wouldn't surprise me if there're a lot of younger Japanese that really don't care about it.

  • -1

    sighclops

    Let's be clear - TOEIC in no way represents communicative ability.

  • 2

    the01path

    How about we look at this news this way > it serves as a reminder to gaijins as well to strive and learn better Nihongo skills to compete in the JP job market. It likes our Eigo Skills is not the only ticket for us to grab a good job.
    For the local JP it should teach them to learn Eigo and at the same time the 'real communication stuff,' jobtech & soft skills, etc...

  • 5

    Spanki

    yep thats true, its not much use if you happen to be an english speaking dimwit

  • 3

    ambrosia

    oikawa: That's because neither their Japanese nor English levels reached maturity, and they can't speak persuasively in either language.

    This is complete BS.

    I completely agree. This harkens back to the reasons given by the government as to why children shouldn't start learning a second language at an early age. Does he seriously think that people throughout the world who grow up in two-language households don't have language maturity and can't speak persuasively in either? Utter, unsubstantiated nonsense!

    As for a knowledge of English not being a guarantee of success, you'd think that goes without saying.

  • 3

    bicultural

    Actually there are a few, unfortunate TCKs who are not "native" level in either language they speak. Their pronunciation is perfect, their grammar is fine, and they can carry on a light conversation about most topics. However, they cannot handle business negotiations. I have a biracial friend (American / Japanese parents) and when she speaks English she sounds like a middle school student. Problem is, she's in her late 20s. I figured her first language was Japanese ... until I heard her speak it. It was worse.

  • 4

    ambrosia

    bicultural: Actually there are a few, unfortunate TCKs who are not "native" level in either language they speak. Their pronunciation is perfect, their grammar is fine, and they can carry on a light conversation about most topics. However, they cannot handle business negotiations. I have a biracial friend (American / Japanese parents) and when she speaks English she sounds like a middle school student. Problem is, she's in her late 20s. I figured her first language was Japanese ... until I heard her speak it. It was worse.

    No doubt there are but by the same token, there are plenty of people who grew up in single-language households, were educated in the same language and, as adults, still sound like uneducated middle-school students. Just watch any "reality" show on television and you'll know exactly what I mean.

  • 1

    oikawa

    bicultural

    That's interesting. Where did she go to school? Just in Japan? Can she write kanji? The education system is where people spend the bulk of their time so just having 10 years of education should be enough linguistically, and anything else is more developmental, not linguistic, i.e everyday life and all it brings is where you learn to mature. People can go to foreign countries and have adult or business level langauge skills in a year, so what is it that's holdign her back.

    I know a ton of people who've grown up in various different countries with neither parent necessarily even from the country they were in, and none of them have any problems as adults at all. Not knowing anything about your friend's background it's impossible to say but perhaps there's another unknown reason for her problems.

  • 4

    megosaa

    here's a really funny experience i once had when i first arrived into japan: i was applying for a job that requires the english language at a native level, being confident i filled out my application with the help of a translator as my japanese weren't up to par. at the interview the translator was with me as well relaying the interview back and forth. later on i was called and told i did not pass the interview because as a prerequisite a TOEIC paper needs to be attached to my resume.. so WTF?? LOL

    i then asked why is that and i was told, check out this beauty: "to prove that i am proficient at the english language and that i have the papers to show!"

    so (he! he!) i said how about my passport to prove that i was BORN in an english speaking country? the guy over the counter sucked in air through his teeth and mumbled "so desu ne.... our computer system needs to have all the required lists checked before further processing can be made desu ne" ...

    dammit.. took my passport and resume, turned to the translator and thanked her (in english) for the help and apologized that i did not have anything else to prove that i truly am able to speak "english".

    sashayed into the sunset.

  • 1

    smithinjapan

    A high TOEIC score is not indicative of language ability (at least where communication is concerned), only indicative the person's got a good moany and quite a bit of grammar under his/her belt. It's great to have a high school, or course, but again by itself it's doesn't mean the person is a good speaker.

  • 0

    bruinfan

    @gaijinfo

    +1 for you. You called it out.

  • -3

    bgaudry

    You would think that Japan as the 51st state of the union would have finally gotten over their struggles with English. After all the Dutch/Jews in NY have, the Mexicans in the south have, the Asians in Hawaii and California have.

  • 1

    theladuke

    "That’s because neither their Japanese nor English levels reached maturity, and they can’t speak persuasively in either language." This is nonsense. An adult raised partially in both countries will usually be highly functional in either one or both languages. This fool of a CEO doesn't know what he is talking about. What position is he to comment on such ability? Is he perfectly fluent in both languages? Yes, there will be some minor gaps in knowledge here and there, but in general such an individual will be 90% fluent in at least one. That does NOT equate to "can't speak persuasively" at all. In my experience as a university language professor and a language researcher, usually they are very highly functional in one. What does he think they are, like some Tarzan raised in the wild? Give me a break!

  • 1

    Reckless

    I don't know about TOEIC, but every Japanese I have met who had level 2 or above on Eiken, has been able to communicate in English very well.

  • 2

    CH3CHO

    megosaa, I did not know you were a native speaker of English. I think the tense is rather confusing. I am not a native English speaker, so correct me if I am wrong. "my japanese weren't up to par" Shouldn't the verb be "wasn't"?

  • 1

    Disillusioned

    TOEIC is a test of English knowledge. It has no reflection on the person's communication skill or over all intelligence. The TOEFL test does reflect both English skill and over all intelligence, but again, it has no correlation with communication skill. The IELTS test is somewhere in between TOEIC and TOEFL. If employers really want English speaking staff they should interview them over the phone in English. That is the only way they can get a true indication of the person's English communication skills.

  • -1

    Alejandro Dela Cruz

    When i read the first part of the article, the subject was a chinese and it's the one complaining. I'm not a racist, but DAMN I KNOW CHINESE SUCKS!

    Heck English is good and it helps a lot, it might not give you an absolute future in the future, but it sure opens a lot of new paths for you to take once you are good at it.

    Humans needs to be open, look at those countries who closed themselves in the rest of the world for keeping their pride. Most 'em meets a horrible end. Speaking more than 1 language is better than speaking one native only to your country. Just saying.... :)

  • 0

    budgie

    English IS a guarantee of success if it is required for entry into one of Japan's brand name corporations. Those with a high TOEFL or TOEIC score will be quick to jump on the gravy train and ride it to retirement on the back of that test score, even if they end up never using the language in their work.

    It was ever that way in Japan. Get the score, get a place at the table. They may not become millionaires but they'll never want for anything.

  • 0

    cwhite

    English is an easy language compared to Japanese, so better to start the road to perfection for Japanese and then learn other languages in parallel. I'm one of the lucky ones who got the best of both worlds, but I know many who have struggled because they are stuck in between. One thing I know for sure is if you don't enjoy something about the language (be it manga, books, movies, music, art, anime, etc) then there is no hope in becoming proficient. Same goes for computer programming and composing music which is like learning a new language.

  • 0

    ambrosia

    cwhite: English is an easy language compared to Japanese,...

    How do you figure considering English's irregular verbs, prepositional phrases, articles, homophones, subtle ordering, embedded questions, over a dozen vowel sounds, word order, exceptions to most every grammar rule, superlatives, nominative, oblique and genitive forms of pronouns, passive / active tense, six past tenses and so on.

  • 1

    Jack Stern

    One thing the article mentions is the person who grows up in the States for example but does not take in those who come from families in Japan where one parent is foreign and the son or daughter is fully bilingual in Japanese and English making them bicultural in both languages. I believe an important step in communication.

  • 1

    JoiceRojo

    When I took the TOEFL to enter an US university, my score was just the minimum necessary to enter.

    But since I like languages in general, I continuously try to learn new things and improve. And this article just prove my theory, If you want to learn another language (ANY other), ****first**** learn your own language very well, from grammar, to spelling, sintaxis, etc. Then you can get a glimpse of the other languages to learn.

    A very good friend of mine once told me "the day than you can understand a joke in English, or dream in English" you will be able to speak freely the language. So far, jokes i understand, but dreamed in English it has been only 4 times... :(

  • 3

    Ah_so

    “One type in particular you have got to watch out for are the ‘bilingual’ men and women who have been raised abroad from a young age due to their parents being assigned abroad,” points out Makoto Naruge, a former CEO of Microsoft Japan. “That’s because neither their Japanese nor English levels reached maturity, and they can’t speak persuasively in either language.

    This is an example of the pervasive, anti-bilingual prejudice that exists in Japan at all levels, which commonly asserts that children should not learn another language at a young age until they have "perfected" Japanese, as otherwise it will interfer with the process and that the child will never speak either language properly.

    After all, Naruge seems to be suggesting that he would rather have employees who have never left Japan but with a high TOEIC score, to people who have lived abroad and learnt the language from childhood.

  • 1

    Open Minded

    Besides the english proficiency I believe the biggest hurdle for Japanese is the essence of the english straight forward communication.

    Even with very good spoken and communication skills in English, Japaneses have difficulties to sustain a western style of discussion and arguments.

    At the end of the day you may have a high level of english discussion but still a very limited understanding among the group.

    Then the question is: should you assimilate the UK/US straight forward communication because you are using english or the cultural difference can be reflected while using english as main language interface?

  • 2

    oikawa

    Joice Rojo

    If you want to learn another language (ANY other), ****first**** learn your own language very well, from grammar, to spelling, sintaxis, etc.

    What makes you think that? Children learn their native language perfectly, by definition without knowing another language. Why do you want to relate one language to another, apart from purely for comprehension reasons?

  • 0

    Cliffy

    Though someone may have perfect score in grammar, etc. It does not translate into conversations. It requires listening...... Just do not be afraid of asking the other end to repeat or speak slower. They do understand that it is not your mother tongue. Then, if you speak to someone from the English country side, even native English speakers would have hard time understanding them.

  • 0

    Strangerland

    Try again:

    I was poking around on you tube one day. When I came across a young American man whom is working in Japan teaching English. When he arrived in Japan he could not speak Japanese. He taught himself to speak Japanese by reading Japanese comic books. His explanation was people in JP do not speak in the manner of formal language books.

    Then his Japanese wasn't very good. It's easy to think Japanese is not spoken formally when your contact with Japanese people is with friends and in izakayas and bars. But when you start interacting as an adult in Japan, dealing with taxes, renting places to live, and doing any kind of business, you leant pretty quickly that formal Japanese exists everywhere in society.

  • 1

    spiddygy

    Learning the language is good, but the most important of all is learning how to communicate and get a long with people. Most people focus on language excellence but forget or ignore simple things, like being humble, patient, understanding and kind. Such people no matter how qualified they are academically, no one wants to hire them regardless. Money is with people, and to get it, you need people skills, and people skills have nothing to do with foolish pride.

  • 0

    doctorshankar

    which language is more difficult? English or Japanese? Can an Englishman master Japanese? Can a Japanese master English language? What use does the Japanese find for the English language? Dr. K. Shankar********

  • 1

    Open Minded

    spiddygy: you are omitting that communication skill is a very cultural thing.

    This is particularly true in Japan, where the body and indirect language is 90% of the communication, while being 100% different vs. the westerner body language!

    After 3 years in Japan I am now used to it. But this is an on-going gymnastic to understand my colleagues (and they make no efforts even though they might have been expat for 10 years!)

  • -2

    Knox Harrington

    GW:

    NOW what I always recommend if someone wants to take a language test is to continue to study(if you regularly do) as normal, DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY CRAMMING!

    So you're trying to say the commercials for スピードラーニング I see over and over again does not work???! Unbelievable. :-)

  • 2

    ChibaChick

    I know someone who has just completed an MBA through a US university, is starting a second Masters level degree from an Australian one this year, and yet can still barely string a sentence together. Its weird!

  • -1

    Knox Harrington

    The problem, as I see it, is the very insular mindset in Japan. Very few people have a true interest in knowing anything about the outside world, and that includes languages.

    Two examples of horrendous langauage maiming comoes to mind:

    1. スタジオ (studio). A clear misunderstanding of English pronounciation and, even though it has now become a Japanese word in its own right, should be done away with.

    2. ピザ (pizza). The use of katakana makes people lazy as they prefer to make those pesky foreign words easier to write by omitting kana. In this case the small "tsu". This can be see in many cases where the katakana writing chooses the easy spelling (=few kana) of foreign names/words, vs. the more accurate one (=more kana).

  • 0

    FukuokaRocks

    Because Japan revolves around eikaiwa teachers...

  • 0

    Knox Harrington

    PaulJ:

    I think the elephant in the room here is money. The reason why corporate Japan persists with TOEIC and to a lesser extent Eiken is because a lot of people are making a lot of money from these tests. I believe (I might be wrong here) that Japan has the third biggest English language teaching industry in the world and just look how poor the results are for all that investment. If the people at the top have an entrenched interest in the bad system, then it is in their interests to keep the bad system going, even if it means failing. They have created an entire industry around these tests, not only in Eikaiwa and cram schools but also in publishing and textbook and material production. It has very little to do with measuring actual English ability, if it was there are far more effective ways to do that. I believe that when the money is taken out of the English teaching Industry in Japan then they will be able to really begin learning and teaching English, and I hope some other languages that may be even more relevant to this society in some circumstances. Don't get me wrong there is a lot more wrong with the English language teaching systems in Japan than just money but it is a huge problem area that doesn't seem to be discussed as much as it should. Spending money doesn't necessarily mean that good results will be achieved and can actually be more damaging than good.

    F••k me, if that wasn't one of the best comments I have ever read here. Right on the money.

    Well done, sir.

  • 2

    LH10

    you serious? lol you gotta have open mind. just cause you can speak english, you also need to get along with the people and culture which is difficult. i find japan to be very confusing and frustrating. guess it's the same for japanese when they are in the western culture.

    @spiddygy agree with you

  • -1

    UsagitoSaru

    In my opinion some of these people aren't looking for jobs in the right place. My husband has a 925 score on TOEIC he works as a translator and salesman for a company. He has been doing this type of job his entire working career. He deals with foreign customers all the time and the companies he deals with are in the United States and Europe. He has down business in India, China and many other countries in the past as well and each company had somebody that could speak English working at the company. His business also had Spanish, German and Chinese speaking employees some of them Japanese some of them not. If you really want to make a living off of your English speaking skills working at a fast food restaurant or Uniqlo isn't going to do it. As for the rakuten employee why didn't the Chinese man stop him sooner and say he doesn't understand? If somebody speaks Japanese too quickly for me I stop them mid sentence and tell them I don't completely understand..if you pretend to understand 100% then that person is going to think you do! no a TOEIC scores doesn't always mean you are fluent especially if you don't practice every day but there is success with English speakers and my Husband and I live that success every day as a translator and English teacher.

  • -2

    CH3CHO

    Knox Harrington,

    How many Americans pronounce "pizza" like piza, and how many pronounce it like pit-tsa as Italians do. Almost all of the Americans I have met pronounced it like piza. If your argument is true then Americans have "the very insular mindset" and "very few people have a true interest in knowing anything about the outside world, and that includes languages".

    Pronunciation changes when a word is imported to another language. That does not mean the people importing the word have an insular mind set.

  • 2

    ThonTaddeo

    How many Americans pronounce "pizza" like piza, and how many pronounce it like pit-tsa as Italians do. Almost all of the Americans I have met pronounced it like piza.

    I've never heard an American say anything other than the correct Italian "pit-tsa". "Piza" is how you (and Americans, and Italians) pronounce the name of that city near Florence where there's that famous leaning tower.

  • 1

    ReformedBasher

    The best speakers of foreign languages I know are the ones who taught themselves. Those who go on about their qualifications might have good vocabulary but usually their ability to take part in a conversation sucks.

  • 1

    ReformedBasher

    Those who go on about how about bad English teachers and their lessons are at Japanese schools - my Japanese stepson went to school in Australia. The teacher spoke atrocious Japanese and got annoyed when my stepson corrected him (warned him after class).

    After years of "learning" Japanese, or any other foreign language, 99% of the students can't speak it to save their lives literally, I'd be surprised if they'd know how to say "Help!", let alone engage in anything approaching conversation level.

    Kids, or adults, who want to learn, will. I quit night classes to learn Japanese back home because I refused to pay good money for classes where people showed up with no real desire to teach themselves.

  • 2

    Knox Harrington

    Another thing that makes for problematic language proficiency in Japan is the ever present fear of making mistakes or doing something "wrong". I have, in my never ending quest for mastering Japanese, made many, many mistakes (still do, every day) that ultimately helped me learn better.

    You cannot learn a language without making numerous mistakes. You cannot learn a language by just reading books and taking TOEIC tests and calling it a day. If I'm not mistaken, TOEIC is a Japanese invention (thus heavily marketed here) and the overuse of these tests no doubt are connected to (just like PaulJ discussed) business. Some people make a lot of cash when people are forced to take tests that have no practical use in real life. And so, the Japanese circle of doing thing just because continues, without anyone ever improving their English skills.

  • 1

    yourock

    If the Japanese could speak English I wouldn't have a job. Happy to keep the status quo.

  • 4

    OrangeXenon54

    One type in particular you have got to watch out for are the bilingual men and women who have been raised abroad from a young age due to their parents being assigned abroad, points out Makoto Naruge, a former CEO of Microsoft Japan. Thats because neither their Japanese nor English levels reached maturity, and they cant speak persuasively in either language. What do they say in English? If it’s lacking in human depth, then it’s more or less meaningless.

    This part particularly pisses me off. If anything, these people are even better communicators because they know how to navigate both cultures and act as a bridge between the two. I think it's a stupid myth in the Japanese business world that a Japanese person who studied abroad their entire college career is less valuable than someone who studied entirely in Japan because somehow their Japanese in "inferior". If you're bilingual, you can EASILY "mature" in both languages. They're not mutually exclusive.

    Sadly, this attitude that you can someone only learn one language is passed on to biracial child, too. These parents in Japan seem to always have to, for some unfounded reason, choose which language their child will speak, when these children clearly have the ability and resources to become naturally bilingual. They usually decide on Japanese since they live in Japan. Some of my students are teenagers in this situation, and everyone seems to expect them to know English (which, if their parents were doing their job right, he or she would) but they don't. I think language study needs to be less rigid and tested in multiple choice format that a test-whiz can ace without demonstrable skills. Get on it Japan.

  • 3

    Ah So

    Kudos to all Japanese who try to speak English even a simple hello.

  • -3

    sincerely999

    Communicating with foreign people in other language is too difficult. But reading and writing are a little bit easy. Conversing in other language is needed many experiences. Many Japanese seem to not to gain the experiences for improving that. TOEIC is not meaningless. Conversation is really difficult.

  • 0

    don-in-japan

    Conversation is really difficult.

    No, the difficulty lies in being prepared to make mistakes with the early stages of learning a 2nd language. Communicating an idea is the key, not grammatical accuracy... thus, it's ok to make mistakes. This is a hurdle that the vast majority of Japanese just shy away from.

  • -4

    Triangle-of-Cake

    They mean "[American] English is no guarantee of success" right?

    The thought that a modern Japanese person might actually know something about British English, let alone have a British colleague is positively laughable.

  • 0

    JoiceRojo

    @oikawa

    What makes you think that? Children learn their native language perfectly, by definition without knowing another language. Why do you want to relate one language to another, apart from purely for comprehension reasons?

    That's precisely why, when children learn a language they are like a blank slate, but for grown people, let´s say 18 to learn an additional language can be confusing because they already have a structure in their language, when I say learn your own language well before learn another it´s because you' d develop better communication skills that makes other language easier to comprehend. For example: the use of the words "ai shiteru" and "suki desu" are used differently in Japan, although in English they use the same "I love you" but in different contexts, although you can also use "I like you"...

  • 0

    Kent Mcgraw

    I would not put down the TOEIC, If people pass TOEIC they at least have the ability to hear English and understand what they hear. I teach English and have one TOEIC student whom I can have a regular conversation with in English and her pronunciation is very good. I think it mostly depends on the persons desire and how much effort they put into it just like anything else. There is no real way to cram for the TOEIC as it requires both reading and listening skills. The TOEFL is mostly academic and requires a level of vocabulary beyond the TOEIC. Both have their place and I would not put down either of them. One must decide what is their goal in learning English. If it is for conversation and travel, neither may be right.

  • 0

    oikawa

    JoiceRojo

    Thank you for your reply. I think it's highly debatable that adults get confused when learning a language because I've never heard a case study where an adult has tried to learn another language in a natural environment. Adults study and try to learn exactly in the way you've described but I hazard that if you could somehow put an adult in an environemt where they were taught the same way children are they would learn the new language just as well as children do.

    Also I feel you're example actually contradicts what you say and supports precisely my point. "Ai shitteiru" and "suki desu" will be translated and "taught" as "I love you" but it's not quite as simple as that. In this situation and others explaining the words and looking at context are the best way to learn. Understanding the conext is crucial but will often fail if you try to relate it directly to your native langauge.

  • 0

    HokoOnchi

    First, you have to be good at what you do. Then, if you are competent in expressing yourself in English in the subject matter of what you do well, that English ability will enhance your value and potentially give a boost to your career goals.

  • -1

    Fadamor

    That's precisely why, when children learn a language they are like a blank slate, but for grown people, let´s say 18 to learn an additional language can be confusing because they already have a structure in their language, when I say learn your own language well before learn another it´s because you' d develop better communication skills that makes other language easier to comprehend. For example: the use of the words "ai shiteru" and "suki desu" are used differently in Japan, although in English they use the same "I love you" but in different contexts, although you can also use "I like you"...

    Scientists have proven that children are primed for learning languages (and everything else) up to around age 12. Around that point, the brain starts reconfiguring unused neurons over to memory usage. While you can still learn new things, it becomes progressively harder to really KNOW the new knowledge and more effort must be expended to retain the new information. In short, adults are going to have the hardest time learning a second language, while young children will have a relatively easy time learning a second language.

  • 1

    Jun Itabashi

    Get English speaking staff in Koyama Driving School Futago Tamagawa. I paid an arm and a leg to get a driver's license plus nearly 100.000 yen extra for the privilege but instructors speak broken INGURISH . kDS bulky english test books are bulky and useless. a total sham. Same for the written Pre-test and LEARNER'S permit written test courtesy of SAMEZU Driving Center. CHQ MacArthur days translation. Get English instructors since we are paying extra for them...

  • 1

    Reza Rahman

    CH3CHO at Apr. 18, 2013 - 11:27AM JST GW

    PEOPLE CRAM FOR TESTS!!! End of story

    How can one cram to build listening comprehension skills? How can one cram to build a skill to read long English passages in limited time? One may cram to build vocabulary, but that is only a small part of TOEIC.

    Very easily. My student is studying to translate document from Japanese to English and vice verse. Her TOEIC score is 945. When we do comprehension work, there isn't a problem. However when I ask her to talk about her weekend (something I do to start the lesson) she finds it hard to communicate her ideas. My other students with TOEIC scores less than 600 don't have that problem. You are welcome to come to Himeji and meet them if you want.

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