Japanese tourists share impressions of traveling abroad with limited English ability

Japanese tourists share impressions of traveling abroad with limited English ability

TOKYO —

While living in Japan and working as an assistant English teacher, I’ve lost track of how many times Japanese people have asked me why most people in Japan can’t speak English. Due to compulsory education requirements, every Japanese citizen must take 6 years of English language courses. What’s more, starting from the 2011 school year, elementary school fifth and sixth graders are also required to have an English class once a week. Some school districts even offer English classes for kindergarteners and elementary school students in grades first through fourth.

But even after spending half or more of their adolescent years studying the English language, many Japanese struggle to carry out an everyday conversation in English. This isn’t just a casual observation by Japanese citizens, either. Japanese students have among the lowest English TOEFL scores in Asia.

So when Japanese tourists want to take a trip abroad, many are unequipped with the practical language tools necessary to go about daily life in English. The reality of this can be discouraging and even come as a shock to people who have spent years studying back home in Japan, especially when they realize phrases like “Is this a dog? No, It’s a pen.” don’t come up in conversation as much as their textbooks had suggested.

The following is a compilation of impressions of Japanese tourists who have limited English ability while traveling abroad.

1) So many people say “uh huh” when listening to someone talk.

2) People say “Ya” or “Yeah” more often than they say “Yes.”

3) I feel like I will always be stuck with loose change. Whenever I pay with a large bill, I get a ton of coins in return.

4) I thought for a long time about what I could talk about at the front desk of the hotel, but landed up not saying anything.

5) I’m surprisingly fluent in saying, “I can’t speak English.”

6) I was relieved to find a Japanese store.

7) Why do foreigners get so happy when I take a picture with them?

8) I regret not being able to speak a lot of English

9) When my English-speaking friends laugh, I laugh too even if I don’t know what’s going on.

10) Whenever I ask for directions, I can never understand what the person is saying in English.

11) Native English speakers can never pronounce my name correctly (ex. Shingo becomes Chingo)

12) I never want to speak English in front of other Japanese people.

13) Instead of asking, “How much?” I just pay with large bills hoping it’ll cover the cost.

14) About once every three times when I order coffee, I will receive water. When I say, “koohii puriizu” (“Coffee please” said in the Japanese syllabic alphabet), the clerk will ask, “Water?”

For those in Japan who are reading this article to help improve your English skills, what are your thoughts on the impressions of Japanese tourists who have low English language ability?

For English teachers living in Japan, how do you feel about this Japanese tourist’s lack of confidence speaking English?

For those of you living in your home country, what do you think about a foreigner’s perspective while traveling in your country?

RocketNews24

  • 21

    SimondB

    It was only when I began to learn Japanese that I realised just how hard learning english must be for Japanese people.

  • 10

    Patricia Yoshioka

    I always feel the same, people here ignore studying English untill they are grown up...then they start regret that. I always ask my elementary school students' parents: How many times a week do your children have Japanese classes? and everyone says" every day"...and they speak Japanese at home, with friends...everywhere...English just doesn't have a chance with 50 minutes a week lesson...I just wish parents would stop thinking of English as a hobby...

  • 9

    hatsoff

    This article, unfortunately, is full of the usual stereotypes. Look at Number 10: Now go to Tyneside in England, or parts of Glasgow in Scotland. How familiar you are with accents will determine how well you will understand the answers you get.

    This is a pen / Is this a pen? / Yes it is / No it isn't .... What are you complaining about? What does anyone ever learn in their first language lesson? I remember doing that in Japanese: Kore wa blah, Sore wa blah, etc.

  • -2

    Serrano

    "Every Japanese must take 6 years of English language courses"

    That will soon change to 12 years of Chinese language courses.

  • 1

    Probie

    1. So many people say “uh huh” when listening to someone talk.

    And Japanese don't go "un, un un"?

    1. People say “Ya” or “Yeah” more often than they say “Yes.”

    Well, if you know that, you must know they mean "yes", so what's the problem?

    1. I feel like I will always be stuck with loose change. Whenever I pay with a large bill, I get a ton of coins in return.

    Then don't pay with a large bill. It's the same in Japan.

    1. I thought for a long time about what I could talk about at the front desk of the hotel, but landed up not saying anything.

    The front desk isn't a place for chatter.

    1. I’m surprisingly fluent in saying, “I can’t speak English.”

    Er... well done?

    1. I was relieved to find a Japanese store.

    Yeah, go overseas and go to a Japanese store. That must have been worth the travel costs.

    1. Why do foreigners get so happy when I take a picture with them?

    They're probably finding the Japanese person=camera stereotype funny, that's all.

    1. I regret not being able to speak a lot of English

    Acceptance is the first step.

    1. When my English-speaking friends laugh, I laugh too even if I don’t know what’s going on.

    Hahahahahaha!

    1. Whenever I ask for directions, I can never understand what the person is saying in English.

    Then use a map too, and get them to point.

    1. Native English speakers can never pronounce my name correctly (ex. Shingo becomes Chingo)

    Because you probably say it in a weird I'm-trying-to-say-my-name-wrongly-like-foreigners way. People who say "Herro, my name is the MasakAAAzu" or whatever shouldn't complain. Oh, and how many times are foreign names butchered by Japanese? Grahamu, suchiiibu, kurisu, buraian. Glass houses, stones, you get the picture.

    1. I never want to speak English in front of other Japanese people.

    Why should you have to?

    1. Instead of asking, “How much?” I just pay with large bills hoping it’ll cover the cost.

    See number 3. And don't complain.

    1. About once every three times when I order coffee, I will receive water. When I say, “koohii puriizu” (“Coffee please” said in the Japanese syllabic alphabet), the clerk will ask, “Water?”

    Why don't you say it properly then?

  • 14

    sillygirl

    if they dont sleep, bring a textbook, particpate in the lesson i dont see what the problem is. it is lack of confidence and most importantly the KATAKANA-IZATION of everything. i find my japanese students suprised when i tell the the REAL pronuncation of english words - even something as simple as McDonalds. in japanese it becomes MAKUDONALUDO - is it any wonder nobody understands??????? let`s stop saying that english is difficult and give it a REAL try, huh?

  • 3

    paulinusa

    You only need a limited amount words in another language to communicate. Yes, no, please, thank you, where, etc. Can't say coffee or how much? Come on!

  • 1

    MasterBape

    I have to agree with probe and say that most of those points are ridiculous.

    When I first came to Japan, I couldn't speak Japanese at all, but I thought that a lot of people could speak English here so I might getby until I learnt a reasonable level of Japanese.

    While I found some people could help with directions when asked on the streets, for most, conversation was awkward.

    Now, I'm not complaining about that, as being in another country it is always best to embrace the language and culture as much as one can.

    My problem came at the train station where none of the staff could speak English. This was actually quite a surprise as Tokyo attracts a lot of tourists and holds major sporting events, yet staff can't help visitors out much.

    You can't put all the blame on the school system, I mean, do kids go to school to study here, cus it seems that most of the studying goes on at cram schools.

    Like I said, I've met people who have good English, and these are theople who want to learn,the others don't. There's nominating the finger at the system...accept responsibility.

  • 1

    MasterBape

    No point the finger...I mean. Damn iPad predictive text.

  • 1

    lucabrasi

    Comparison of exam scores isn't a good way to determine ability. Almost all students in Japanese universities take some kind of English test once a year be it TOEFL or TOEIC, and their results are recorded. In other parts of Asia, only top-level English students take such exams. It's not a level playing-field.

    That said, the English level of most university students here is pretty shocking.

  • 3

    TokyoGas

    12) I never want to speak English in front of other Japanese people.

    This is a huge stumbling block to improving English. For whatever reason, it seems like some Japanese people do not like speaking English around other Japanese people. Of course at parties it doesn't matter, but in everyday situations, riding the train, shopping etc, I get the feeling that there is some sort of stigma (these people are showing off) attached to speaking English in public.

  • 5

    Himajin

    Again, how many Americans are proficient in a foreign language even after 4 years of it in high school? 'Why are the Japanese so bad at English?' Probably the same reason Joe Schmoe from Kokamo isn't fluent in French. No pressing need to learn it, and no place to practice it.

    Do any of you really learn to speak a foreign language for the sake of a 1-week vacation somewhere? Were the article about Japanese in corporate situations who couldn't speak English I'd think 'Yes, that's a problem, wonder what they could do about it?', but for a week in Hawaii?

    Compared with Europeans, Americans' track record as far as learning foreign languages is pretty dismal, actually no better than the Japanese with English...in fact, given the fact that most Japanese have some reading comprehension skills and even some translating skills despite their clumsiness speaking the language, the Japanese actually come out a bit ahead.

    It seems that more of the problems cited in the article were cultural, rather than directly related to language ability.

  • 0

    Elbuda Mexicano

    Only 50 minutes of week for English lessons?? Oh! Yes, not enough but just keep bringing me the $$$$!! If they really want to learn, cool$$! If they just want to have a hobby, $$ cool! Just bring me da OKANE$$$!! We can not force them, right???

  • 3

    gogogo

    When my English-speaking friends laugh, I laugh too even if I don’t know what’s going on.

    hahahaha !

  • 4

    Ivan Coughanoffalot

    11) Native English speakers can never pronounce my name correctly (ex. Shingo becomes Chingo)

    I'm sorry, but a culture that insists the word "Cat" has a Y sound in it and an O at the end doesn't speak from a position of insuperable strength when the topic is clarity of pronunciation.

    Either learn a new word correctly, or use a Japanese word. Don't mangle the non-Japanese word until it sounds japanese-ish and then expect anyone who wasn't born here to keep a straight face when you try and say it out loud.

  • 0

    basroil

    For those in Japan who are reading this article to help improve your English skills, what are your thoughts on the impressions of Japanese tourists who have low English language ability?

    For English teachers living in Japan, how do you feel about this Japanese tourist’s lack of confidence speaking English?

    For those of you living in your home country, what do you think about a foreigner’s perspective while traveling in your country?

    Being in Japan means you don't speak English or are an English teacher? This is a grave insult to the many foreign nationals working in Japan who know English and are in non-teaching positions.

    As a non-Japanese in Japan NOT teaching English, I find this is the number one reason why Japanese people have weak English skills (as a whole, there are many with excellent English as well, but those without far outnumber them). They seem to instill into children the "fact" that they will never properly speak English BECAUSE they are Japanese, and they never learn because they feel it would be a waste of time. I know from experience that most Japanese high school graduates would do just fine in an English speaking country if they simply asked that people speak a bit slower.

  • 3

    ebisen

    typical case of students sleeping during class. Never mind, the teaching quality was so bad they didn't miss anything anyway.

  • 5

    Vast Right-Wing Conspirator

    The most glaring inaccuracy here is that Japanese "study English for 6 years". They don't. THey study "Eigo" for 6 years. THere is a huge difference between the two. The vast majority of Eigo courses are taught in Japanese by Japanese teachers, for the purpose of passing a Japanese Eigo test. They have nothing in common with actual English.

    Not wanting to speak ENglish is a huge hurdle for students. They simply HAVE to get over themselves, and their foolish dual pride\insecurity syndrome. Speaking ENglish does NOT make them 'less Japanese', contrary to popular belief. There is a vast gap between simply using a language to communicate and being seduced by its culture.

    Also, the jealousy inherent in most Japanese has to be overcome. Those few people here who DO speak foreign languages well are reluctant to do so for fear of bullying or other retribution by those who don't. It's petty and ridiculous.

  • 0

    sf2k

    If you don't review something within 24 hours of taking a lecture, practically most of the lecture is gone from your memory by the following day, let alone the following week. Three times a week plus assignments would mean the study of language can be taken seriously. That's for anything though, not really language specific.

    I never felt that language could be taught in Japan. No one wants to make mistakes, but you have to in order to learn. Learning is personal and not by group. New sounds require new muscle knowledge practice regardless of understanding. These things are still lost in Japan so it's no wonder other Asian countries who do learn, do take it personally and do take the time to speak are winning. Or anyone else in the world for that matter.

    The sense of gaijin to a Japanese closed mind means there is never a reason to get out of the Japanese mindset. Some do and are proficient and engaging people. Those that do not never will be. There seems to me more of the latter but that has just been my experience. When I meet the former I know it is possible for Japanese to learn English in spite of all these obstacles. The system is in the learner's way, not of any value.

  • 10

    TheXyco

    7) Why do foreigners get so happy when I take a picture with them?

    When you travel abroad, YOU are the foreigner. Imagine that.

  • 2

    sf2k

    6 years isn't really true. They are not taking 6 years of classes, but once a week with little personal engagement.

    In that time you could learn the basis of 3 languages, 2 years each. That means really study, 3-5 days a week etc. Writing, speaking, reading. The whole 6 years thing right there is a sad joke on any student. Depending on the language and how that student reacts, or finds personal connections then progress is made.

    The European Framework on Languages with levels A, B, C split up into 3 sections each (A1 A2 A3, B1 B2 B3, C1 C2 C3) is probably the way to go as a standard. If you're learning an international standard language, why not use international standards?

    A side note is that the English used in Japan is native only to Japan. I had no clue what someone was saying if I hadn't studied or been exposed to the Japanglish beforehand. This robs students of learning a real language and pollutes the Japanese language with dialects that replace perfectly useable Japanese. Delete it from use in study. Learn English as it is used by English speakers. And no one else.

    6 years to take and pass A level (A1, A2, A3) is ridiculous no matter the reason or the methods. This means that whatever is in use now is completely wrong and has to be 100% scrapped and started again from the beginning. From English teachers. I learned Japanese from a Japanese. Why not learn English from a native teacher of English? A real Trained Teacher. We certify teachers of language on ability. Do the same.

    I mean, are these things so hard to fathom I need to write a long article about it?

    Nope. I'm already done. And so are other countries

    Now for the good news.

    For any Japanese interested in learning any language this is an amazing time to learn! You can effectively abandon your institutional lethargy and replace it with Internet sources of information, Youtube polyglots and people willing to share. Get out there, connect to others, you can do it!

    Everyone speaks a language!

  • -9

    Alex Einz

    I think Chinese speakers should be in advantage soon, Mandarin for everyone!

  • 1

    sf2k

    Sorry my error, the European Framework is 2 levels of A,B,C and not 3 as earlier stated.

  • -6

    realmind

    Now English is everything for some people. But if we teach a language then we should see the result from that. Among the English teachers in Japan 99% are native speakers.. And they are teaching the English for last 40 years. Now look the result almost no one can speak English. I think It is time to stop employing these Native speakers and try Japanese or other Asian qualified teachers to teach. You will see the result, Even though the accent may not be perfect iin the beginning. Ex; India, there is no native speaker as English teachers there. But we can see professors from India teaching the top universities in UK, USA and all English speaking countries. There is something wrong with the Native, Native cry in Japan...

  • -3

    basroil

    sf2kOct. 01, 2012 - 11:04AM JST

    For any Japanese interested in learning any language this is an amazing time to learn! You can effectively abandon your institutional lethargy and replace it with Internet sources of information, Youtube polyglots and people willing to share. Get out there, connect to others, you can do it!

    Hell, just offer Japanese lessons on Skype (1 on 1) and ask for English lessons in return. Nothing better than a native teacher, just as long as you know the basics that is.

    English was not my first language, but just it only took me a year or so to reach a working level, all it takes is constant immersion. It also doesn't matter how old you are, if you try you can learn really quickly, just master the basics before attempting to conquer the impossible (i.e. don't use college level sentences in your introductory books kodansha!) .

    And for heavens sake, don't use those crappy "tourist english" books, they have some of the most god awful suggestions and phrases that might actually get you slapped in NYC.

  • 8

    kurumazaka

    I agree with Silly Girl. The biggest problem is the katakanaization of English (or any other language for that matter.) I know Japanese people who know English grammar better than I do yet cannot communicate because they learned their vocabulary using katakana. I can't tell you how many times I have seen Starbucks baristas giving Japanese tourists blank stares when they ask for "hotto koohi puriisu."

  • 5

    southsakai

    hatsoffOCT. 01, 2012 - 08:12AM JST This article, unfortunately, is full of the usual stereotypes. Look at Number 10: Now go to Tyneside in England, or parts of Glasgow in Scotland. How familiar you are with accents will determine how well you will understand the answers you get.

    Man I agree with you, learned and spoke English my entire life. But dump me in some part of Ireland, Scotland, etc for a bit of conversation - I'll be like hu? Some stuff just goes way over my head, it's the strong accent of course. So I wouldn't blame Japanese folks.

    I'll say one more thing though. Many cases I've seen in Japanese foreigners like me who really can't speak Japanese well get treated pretty good. I mean the Japanese will go out of their way to try to help you with whatever you need. They won't look down upon you,

    Reverse this with Japanese tourists in some countries who can't speak English and many times they are looked down upon like low IQ fools which is plain wrong.

  • 3

    cleo

    Among the English teachers in Japan 99% are native speakers.

    What????

    You must mean native speakers of Japanese?

  • 4

    genjuro

    Right on, sillygirl. It's this explosion of katakanization that's not helping the least bit with Japanese people's English. With all the audio media tech available today, how difficult is it to use a CD, mp3, streaming audio, etc. as a guide instead of katakana pronunciation in books? Similarly there should be efforts to distinguish between Japanese English e.g. "kohii" and standard English and that people overseas don't use the former. If you're Japanese and like to travel abroad then it would definitely be to your benefit to learn the differences to have a less stressful trip.

  • 2

    umbrella

    Yes Japanese people can learn English themselves through the internet, CDs etc. Don't whatever you do, go to English "classes" taught by untrained foreigners on meager salaries who have no incentives to try to do a good job. Study hard by yourself, you can do it!

  • 1

    Vast Right-Wing Conspirator

    Agreed with Cleo. The 99% figure is wrong wrong wrong. Go to any high/junior high school and you will find 4-6 Japanese people who teach English. Perhaps, one native English speaker 'assisting' them once a week. Universities are the same- a majority of English classes, even for English majors, are taught by Japanese professors.

    Which of course isn'T a bad thing in and of itself. IF those teachers are reasonably fluent, use good materials, know something about basic language teaching methodology, and are willing to try, then they can do a good job. If they just drone on and on in Japanese and spend their time dissecting sentences on the blackboard, then they will poison the students' desire to learn.

  • 0

    Cos

    So when Japanese tourists want to take a trip abroad, many are unequipped with the practical language tools necessary to go about daily life

    Idem for English speaking tourists. The "daily life" of tourists, it's just visiting places, eating, drinking, shopping, taking photos and sleeping. Most do that well without saying a word. I have never heard about the cops in Paris browsing the streets at night to pick up the lost Japanese tourists that were unable to make it back to their hotel or the airport.

    For those in Japan who are reading this article to help improve your English skills

    Oh my ! Is there a prize for that ?

    9) When my English-speaking friends laugh, I laugh too even if I don’t know what’s going on.

    And when you know what's going on, you still have to laugh. Anyway, you have to fake it.

    most Japanese high school graduates would do just fine in an English speaking country if they simply asked that people speak a bit slower.

    I'd say if they went there for a while, they all adapt quickly. But most Japanese never do anything with English. If you never use a language (anything), you forget nearly everything in about half the time you had spent studying. So 20 years after high school, suddenly, you try to speak [insert whatever klingon you took in highschool], or solve a differential equation or run 10 km, then swim 3, dive to pick up the doll, climb the rope, do 3 cartwheels, full splits... Yes, you could do stuff when you were 17, but now, as a middle-aged couched potato...

    This is a pen / Is this a pen? / Yes it is / No it isn't .... What are you complaining about?

    "I complain because JTB told me I'd get a clean hotel room and this is a pen... ". No doubt they start with the most useful stuff for tourists.

  • 3

    aedfed

    Sounds just like the first year of my life in Japan - just change English to Japanese and vice-versa - and add "I can never find any baked goods without anko."

  • -2

    blackrock

    @shiofuki: because it's an international language. I found it funny when I had lunch at a shop in Narita. The Jgirl asked me to write down what I was asking her in English. It's way better if they speak English fluently so that I can flirt without knowing Japanese (ok, kidding).

    Most Japanese engineers I know read and write English perfectly, but they lack communication skills, which is understandable; while I have met some Jp students in US, they all speak English very well. So it's not hard for Japanese to learn English, all they need is to speak English more and more.

  • 2

    Serrano

    "So many people say "Uh-huh" when listening to someone talk"

    Uh huh.

  • 3

    Thunderbird2

    Wow, so many enlightened western people taking the mick out of Japanese tourists. How many of you on your first trip overseas could speak the local lingo? I used to think my French was pretty good... and then I went to France. They speak so fast I couldn't understand them. I also took a Japanese course, with a native Japanese teacher... went to Japan... nope. Spoke too fast.

    So imagine you are a Japanese tourist. You learn English from an American teacher, then you go to the UK or Australia... not only do they use different words then the yanks, but different accents and tonal qualities. As a Scot I have a different accent than a Londoner, or a Welsh person, or an Irishman... Japanese tourists would be hard-pressed to understand local accents I imagine.

  • -2

    SimondB

    Ever noticed that japanese people who can speak good english go to pieces when they need to speak english on the phone?

  • -1

    Nippon Nation

    @elbuda<< best comment so far. Bring the $$$!!

  • -5

    tmarie

    7) Why do foreigners get so happy when I take a picture with them?

    Oh dear... Someone isn't aware of what goes on their country...

    Again, how many Americans are proficient in a foreign language even after 4 years of it in high school? 'Why are the Japanese so bad at English?' Probably the same reason Joe Schmoe from Kokamo isn't fluent in French. No pressing need to learn it, and no place to practice it.

    Well I could be wrong on this but does Joe have to take a French test to get a job after graduation? Does Joe need a French test score to promise him a promotion at his company? When Joe goes in a foreign country for a business trip does he speak French? When Joe goes traveling, is the common language French? I don't disagree with you about how crap Americans/Canadians/Brits are when it comes to learning a language but you really can't compare someone who speaks THE dominant language world wide to those who speak a dying language who clearly DO need it in their lives even after graduation if they plan on working in any sort of international company or even a school.

    Among the English teachers in Japan 99% are native speakers..

    Um what??? Wrong.

    I 100% agree with the katakana comment.

    Add in the loan words - today's head exploder was "Note PC" is NOT English! Ehhhhhhh? Nande???

    Add in the "We Japanese can't speak English" mindset that gets passed down from adults to kids

    Add in the "wareware" our tongues are different, "We don't need English" and the crap teaching methods the Japanese schools use and it isn't surprising. What shocks the hell out of me is when I meet students who state that a) they like English (why on earth is beyond me considering the torture they go through in JHS/HS) and b) that they can speak it (see letter a).

  • 0

    PT24881

    Don't really think this is a serious concern, no ? Why should Japanese be fluent in Foreign languages ? Most of them may not need to contact foreign counterparts ? Language is part of the cultural sovereignty that needs to be protected. The Philippines proudly claimed that the nation is the world's third largest English speaking nation after the US & India..just listen to speeches ( supposed to be in native language ) by Filippinos & Indians politicians -- English words frequently heard in each sentence.. One almost takes the speech as done in English ! Language, like culture, has to be protected.

  • -3

    tmarie

    Language is for the world to share and doesn't need to be limited to those born of a certain mother tongue. Globalization is why the Japanese should learn a bit more English. If they want to travel - and many do - learning English will help them and those they try to communicate with. No one is demanding fluency or anything near that level.

  • 1

    netzto

    Ivan CoughanoffalotOCT. 01, 2012 - 10:08AM JST 11) Native English speakers can never pronounce my name correctly (ex. Shingo becomes Chingo) I'm sorry, but a culture that insists the word "Cat" has a Y sound in it and an O at the end doesn't speak from a position of insuperable strength when the topic is clarity of pronunciation. Either learn a new word correctly, or use a Japanese word. Don't mangle the non-Japanese word until it sounds japanese-ish and then expect anyone who wasn't born here to keep a straight face when you try and say it out loud.

    I know exactly what you mean. I hate it when many English speakers mangle Japanese words like "karaoke" and say "Carry-Oh-key", "Tokyo" and say "Toe-Key-Oh", or "Kyoto" and say "Key-Oh-Toe". One of my favorite is hearing people pronounce "Kobe Beef" an "Ko-bee Beef" just because of NBA player Kobe Bryant. It was also annoying when people pronounced "Ichiro" as "E-Cheer-rue" though most people have stopped doing that by now. At least they always pronounced "gojira" correctly. Well sort of correctly.

  • 2

    mangosqueezesbanana

    I see hospitality staff use faltering Japanese with tourists who then respond in fluent English. Other times they use poor Japanese with Korean or Chinese tourists who look quite offended. I say first use the country's language (in my case English) with tourists then adjust your language skills as needed during the conversation.

  • 3

    blendover

    Together with my classmates and tens of thousands of others in my country I went through 5 years of compulsory education in French. Even though it is in the same language family as my language, and there are untold numbers of conates, I and almost all of my fellow students came out of it hardly able to speak a lick of French, and that is frankly typical of a huge number of language programs the world over.

    All this stuff about how bad the Japanese are at learning languages is grossly overstated. The Brits and the Yanks are just as bad.

    Best way to get a fast improvement. Make their test scores based 25 percent on speaking and suddenly you'll get a much better result within a very short space of time.

    Eh? Muri Muri Muri.

    To the extent that there is a problem, it's mostly about a stuck in the mud education system and not the Japanese Natioal psyche.

  • -1

    tmarie

    I know exactly what you mean. I hate it when many English speakers mangle Japanese words like "karaoke" and say "Carry-Oh-key", "Tokyo" and say "Toe-Key-Oh", or "Kyoto" and say "Key-Oh-Toe". One of my favorite is hearing people pronounce "Kobe Beef" an "Ko-bee Beef" just because of NBA player Kobe Bryant. It was also annoying when people pronounced "Ichiro" as "E-Cheer-rue" though most people have stopped doing that by now. At least they always pronounced "gojira" correctly. Well sort of correctly.

    You're missing the point on purpose, aren't you?

  • 3

    Goals0

    I don't think anybody went to the original Japanese, there are a couple of mistranslations.

    7) Why do foreigners get so happy when I take a picture with them? 7) 外国人と写真を取る時はなぜか元気になる

    It should be translated: Why do I get cheerful (genki) when I have my photo taken with gaikokujin?

  • 4

    aisai

    Don't think what netzo and some others such as Thunderbird is any worse then claiming that Japanese is a "dying language". Sounds a bit like Anglo-American language imperialism to me.

    Also think Himajin made quite a few nice points. Not every Japanese person is going to end up working in an international company or international school after graduation. So some Japanese won't ever be very good English speakers. Big deal. The world isn't going to stop spinning. If they barely get by on some of the basics than what's wrong with that.

    The whole "We must Globalize so we must be fluent English speakers" is a crock. If there's a way to make money, people will find a way to communicate with each other. It may not be perfect communication but it will be good enough. Besides with the way things are going, it's quite possible that in 10-20 years, people will be able to communicate with each other by speaking in their native languages and using some kind of portable interpretation device. Already some smart phone apps make such basic communication possible. I expect them to only get better. At some point in the future, studying English as foreign language study will become almost as useful as studying Latin. Same goes for studying any foreign language.

  • 0

    aisai

    Sorry meant to write: " .... and some others such as Thunderbird are saying is worse..."

    Wish JT had an edit feature.

  • -4

    tmarie

    **any worse then claiming that Japanese is a "dying language". Sounds a bit like Anglo-American language imperialism to me. **

    How so? The population of Japan is dropping, the economy is crap so fewer JSL learners out there... that equals the language dying. Has zero to do with imperialism.

    Again, where has anyone said they expect the locals to be fluent? No one. However, we are thinking that perhaps if people want to travel, want decent jobs (and large companies DO include an English test in promotions) at a decent company, they need to know some English. If they locals don't have these expectations, what is the point of making students slave away for 6-9 years at the public school level? Why so many eikaiwas? Why does the Japanese have the most TOEIC takers per capita in the world? Why have the EIKEN test? Why include English in JHS/HS/Uni/company entrance tests? Obviously, "they" see a need too.

  • -1

    GyGene

    I think the English difficulty for Japanese people is related to the nature of the Japanese language - a linguistic issue. I speak Japanese very well, but studied linguistics before coming to Japan, and was in language school full time for over two years! Then, lived in a Japanese only area of Japan, totally immersed in language/culture. In other words, I paid a real price to gain my level of fluency in Japanese. For children, it is different. Our kid was bi-lingual from about two years old.

    I really like to see foreign tourists come to my country! If they are Asian, I am always drawn to them and try to help if they seem to be lost or need help with language.

  • 0

    BurakuminDes

    I think the English difficulty for Japanese people is related to the nature of the Japanese language - a linguistic issue.

    Sorry, Bro. It is not a linguistic issue at all. The reason they are the worst in Asia is due to poor teaching ability within Japan. Chinese and Koreans are rated way above Japanese in terms of English - and linguistically they are way more distinct and different to learn.

  • -2

    chaschik

    I will become an American in Japan this year. I have a handful of Japanese expressions. I will not become fluently in short order. However, I want to communicate and understand the responses. So far I have discovered this: to communicate in Japanese is to understand how we are related/not related. This is a different perspective from modern Western thinking. It is a part of our ethic past but unnoticed or ignored because we are so vested in "egalitarian" speak. But that is another matter. I simply put this out there as a reason why any person may have difficulty learning a language. You have to have a reason to speak and want to be understood even on an elementary level. School does not provide this. Home life often does provide for this hence the ease of children learning two languages in a bi-lingual home. So I hold that language is more than mechanics and deeper than simple vocabulary proficiency. I am reminded of my early years as student actor. I could learn my lines and deliver them. But I could not KNOW them if I did not understand my character and why these words applied. This is the hard work of an actor. If not done, we are simply repeating someone's words that are not are own. English does not have to be a language of mechanics but it can be reduced to it. Likewise, Japanese, I suspect. For the moment I know: hello, goodbye, I'm sorry, Please excuse me, Thank you, and Yes! I will want for more words but mostly I want to connect with my words. You see, the Japanese have it right. It is about relationship.

  • 2

    Antonios_M

    I think the article is missing a critical point: when you are visiting a foreign country as a tourist, you should not worry that much about how your accent sounds like, or whether they give you many coins as a change, etc. What really matters is simply that: to manage to get from point A to point B without getting ripped off; book the hotel room; being able to order food and shop without any problems; and always have the number of your local embassy in case of an emergency.

    Now, when you are going to study or live in a foreign country, then yes, you should start worrying about how your accent sounds like or whether you are getting accepted by the locals, etc.

    My view is that - usually - the Japanese divide the world simply as Japanese and Non - Japanese (who are usually viewed as Americanized). It is not very surprising, thus, that they tend to stereotype everything and everyone around them.

  • 2

    Tom Thompson

    good god, i had this conversation since 1991! nothing has changed, "gib uppu"

  • 2

    sfjp330

    japanese people tend to worry about what others think when making mistakes speaking English. Americans or the west don't care if they butcher the Japanese language or any other languages when they learn. This is how you learn, by making effort that results in mistakes. If you worry about what other people think, you will not learn, and you become too self-concious. This is how Japanese people are. Most have no confidence.

  • 1

    BlackcatBCB

    The problem in Japan and Kroea is that they study English like a dead language. They only study grammar and vocabulary and never get the chance to actually speak the language. The only Japanese people which speaks good English are the one which had the opportunity to go study abroad.

  • 0

    ka_chan

    Can it be that the Japanese teachers can't pronounce the words correctly so how can they teach it? Yes these are some native English speakers teaching English and I this may help but it would help more if you have Japanese English teachers who can rally speak English. I don't care if it's the Queen's English, Canadian English, American English, Australian English but they need to be able to speak with less of an accent. If you ever watch some of NHK's English programing, you can see all levels of English proficiency or lack of. I also don't understand when they have some presenting in English who is not a native English speaker. Why have a foreigner present a show in English who has a foreign accent.
    It wasn't until recently that Japan decided to put an emphasis on speak English as opposed to writing it. That being said, it is interesting that China does a much better job at teaching English then even the Indians.
    As for dialects, it's always a challenge even to native speakers. Finally, English isn't that hard and English has less homonyms than Japanese.

  • 1

    sidesmile

    What a ridiculous article.

  • 0

    ruthgottstein

    One simple reason to learn some English is to help tourists. The Japan Tourist Agency needs to be abolished, and the major new activity would be to insure that Japanese staff (for example, in major railroad stations), could help foreigners get to their destination. As in the case of the main station in Osaka, where no one in the ticket office spoke one word of English. Why English? Because that is the most common language most tourists in Japan will use, regardless of where they come from.

  • 5

    yagura

    I know exactly what you mean. I hate it when many English speakers mangle Japanese words like "karaoke" and say "Carry-Oh-key", "Tokyo" and say "Toe-Key-Oh", or "Kyoto" and say "Key-Oh-Toe". One of my favorite is hearing people pronounce "Kobe Beef" an "Ko-bee Beef" just because of NBA player Kobe Bryant. It was also annoying when people pronounced "Ichiro" as "E-Cheer-rue" though most people have stopped doing that by now. At least they always pronounced "gojira" correctly. Well sort of correctly.

    I have heard some pretty funny Japanese both here in Japan and while travelling abroad. Went to a Japanese restaurant once in the US with the wife and the MIL. My MIL ordered some udon. The waitress (some college student) seemed at a loss. So I pointed it out on the menu and she said "Oh you mean You-Don" ("Don" pronounced like the name). Tried really hard not to laugh, MIL and wife had no idea what was funny until I explained it to them later.

    Also, another time flying on a US carrier back , one of the cabin attendents (American man) was really genki and trying to use his Japanese. Unfortunately he seemed to have gotten most of what he knew from anime or other pop culture stuff. So, while pushing the drink cart around he was referring to passengers as "obachan", "ojican", "onechan", etc.,etc. which was kind of funny at first but it honestly got a little annoying after awhile since this person really had no clue.

  • 0

    Aizo Yurei

    WOW! Lots of anger in this thread. Seems JT did it's job by getting all of you fired up.

    It's not mystery that a lot of Japanese need to get a clue when it comes to leaving there country but from this thread it seems like a lot of poster do too.

    Go do some yoga you hot heads!

  • 0

    mrmalice

    my guess is japanese is structurally different from any kind of european language, not just english, ans that's probably why it's not all that easy, just like it would be pretty hard for some westerner to get into the nuances with all the pre and suffixes and particles it's almost quantumphysics.

  • 1

    nadavaloryo

    Lack of interest ,i guess.

  • 1

    yasukuni

    "It was only when I began to learn Japanese that I realised just how hard learning english must be for Japanese people."

    I really love this comment.

    But along the lines of Ivan's post - learning the correct pronunciation of gairaigo to use overseas would bump up comprehension 20% or more. If you can't say "Coffee please" and be understood, then we have real problems.

    Then again it's hard for Japanese when they go overseas and have to put up with weird accents like those of Americans, Brits and Canadians. We Aussies even find it hard dealing with those regional dialects ...

  • 0

    kchoze

    I think the main reason most Japanese aren't good in English is that they are from a rich, homogeneous and populous country on an island with few immigrant communities. They just don't NEED to learn English to live full lives, there is no pressure to learn it for most of them. Everyday, they are surrounded by other Japanese people, they go on the internet on Japanese websites and listen to Japanese TV. When do they ever need to speak English?

    Learning English for most of them is just a hobby.

    I come from Québec, a French-speaking Canadian province of a bit under 8 million people, lost in a sea of 400 million English-speakers. Like the Japanese, we have mandatory English classes. People who live in relatively isolated places generally don't speak English, they aren't in contact with them and don't need to speak it, so they don't care much. But people who live near Montréal, which has a sizable English-speaking community and a lot of immigrants, frequently speak fluent English because they are frequently in contact with English.

    You learn English well if you need to.

    That's just the main reason, there are a lot of other reasons. The syllabic limitations of Katakana is one people mentioned here. It's true. English phonetics require acrobatics of the tongue, as a French-speaker I can confirm it to you. English phonetics are hard to learn and perfect. Japanese phonetics are much more simple, so it's hard for people used to the relative simplicity of Japanese pronunciation to adapt to English pronunciation. On this aspect, Chinese-speaking people may have an edge. They still have to learn how to pronounce English, but Chinese pronunciation is already hard enough that they're used to it.

  • 0

    Delfino Castro Monroy

    I'm Mexican, 66 years old. Some day I learned english. When I was 45 years old started to learn Japanese on my own, this is; reading books, listening short wave radio, (in japanese), and, Mainly talking with people ..japanese tourists visiting my country.

    I have visited Japan twice. Remembre.. Practice is all you need to leartn everything.

    Gambate kudasai!

  • 1

    ka_chan

    I don't think English is more difficult than any other language. The older you the the harder any new language will be to learn. Probably the main problem is the way the languages are taught. Especially in a country that has simple pronunciation principles, the Japanese English learner needs Speech Therapy. For instance the famous or infamous; rice, lice. This is a problem of simple tongue position related to that fact that the Japanese "R" is positioned between an English "R" and "L". Then there is the issue of BAT, not BATO. Maybe they should try BATT to cut off that long O. Instead of バット why not try バットッ . They would need Speech Therapy with most European languages except may Spanish and Italian. The worst butchered pronunciation I've heard is from some Japanese people trying to speak German. It seems a lot of work is needed in consonants. If it is taught right it shouldn't so difficult. Also I think Japanese is would much better off if they kicked Chinese characters out of Japanese and returned Japanese to it's purer form with more syllables.

  • 1

    Frank Rizzo

    It amazes me how many posters above defend Japan's execrable English by saying, "Why should they learn English?" or "It's enough to know Japanese" or "English is just another language and they have no need for it." The fact is this: English is the international language. It's not just another language. It's the language that people from almost all nations of the world learn to be able to function in the modern world. It's not the same as Urdo or Russian or Czech or, well, Japanese. Simply put, you cannot be a citizen of the modern world if you don't speak English. Even if a Japanese person never leaves Japan, they miss out on a huge amount of information that is only available in English, rendering them members of an informational underclass. Consider the horrible quality of the filtered and biased news in Japan - the only way to get accurate information about many things happening even in their own country is in English (to wit: look at the coverage of Fukushima post 311).

    The posters above who homed in on katakana and "eigo" instead of real English were barking up the right tree, but these are symptoms of the deeper problem. The problem is simply this: speaking good English is considered by most Japanese and by the powers that be to be somehow "un-Japanese." A good Japanese speaks Japanese only. Full stop. The senile, doddering and conservative geezers who sit on the Mombusho know this. Perhaps they don't consciously articulate this, but deep inside, they know this. Or, should I say, they believe this. The fact is this: They don't want Japanese to speak good English. And most Japanese, being docile, passive and unquestioning (again, largely as a result of the "education" they receive from the Mombusho) accepts this. It's all part of the "kanri shakai" system that is Japan.

    Try this thought experiment: Imagine if all Japanese spoke English as well as Dutch or Singaporeans. Do you think they'd put up with all the bullshit they have to put up with here (all of which handily serves the geezers in power)? No, they'd be like: "I'm out of here. I'm going to go work in (insert name of dynamic and open society here)."

    Frankly, I'm amazed that so many posters here, with so many years in Japan between them, are blind to these screamingly obvious facts.

  • 1

    kurisupisu

    If the Japanese people actually worked out why their teaching is so bad then heads would roll in Mombusho....

  • 1

    Cos

    Imagine if all Japanese spoke English as well as Dutch or Singaporeans. Do you think they'd put up with all the bullshit they have to put up with here (all of which handily serves the geezers in power)?

    You think they'd revolt like the Singaporeans ? ROFL.

  • 1

    xrc

    There is a lot more to learning to speak and reply in good English than grammar and rote responses. It's a cultural thing, I guess it's called Fear. I'm not sure what they fear but.... Let me give you example: I've been teaching a Community Center class of elder housewives every morning (even some holidays) for more than ten years. Most of them have been in the class for the whole duration. I went to my local grocery store and just out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of one of the students shopping. Not in clear sight, but behind someone a few meters away. I had the feeling that she felt uncomfortable and seemed like she wants out of seeing me. So, I went along and continued my shopping. Caught a glimpse of her in another aisle and wham, she scrammed. Although there was no eye contact I knew she just wanted to avoid running into me. (At all costs) But, hold it, she's been in the class for at least 8 years. I mean, I know her level is not great and I'm not going to try and have a political or philosophy conversation with her. But, just not even..."Hi, how are you?" and that's it, that's all I'd expect. How much would you expect after eights years teaching her. Now, don't insinuate that I'm not a good teacher. I've had the same students (privately for as long as 12 years (once a week).

  • 1

    xrc

    Reading through most of the comments above, it seems as though no one has addressed the cultural and characteristic aspects of the Japanese society that tends to get in their way of expressing themselves. Basically, they can't. One has to become a psychologist to break through the fear and shyness walls. Good luck!

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