(written by: Willy Yanto Wijaya)
This is quite a funny story from an Indonesian friend of mine. In a prestigious university in Japan, he took an undergraduate English lecture taught by a Japanese instructor. The English lecture was usually carried out by playing a recorded audio cd of English dictations and conversations. But unfortunately, one day the audio cd could not run well and thus the instructor had to speak out the dictations by himself. It turned out that my friend could not understand the instructor’s katakana-adjusted spoken English. Quite surprisingly, he then asked his Japanese class-mates whether they can understand the instructor’s English better than the recorded cd, and they replied, “Absolutely yes!”, because their instructor’s English was just exactly the same as what they have learnt so far during school years.
It is well-known that English lessons in schools in Japan do not really teach students in order to be able to communicate in English. Rather it seems to be tailored into teaching students just to understand written English texts. But before criticizing further, I realize that it can be unfair to compare, for example, between a Japanese student and an Indonesian student in learning English as a foreign language. The grammatical logic of Japanese language is already very different from English, and unlike the Indonesian language which uses the same alphabet as English, Japanese has its own characters. But still, this does not mean that Japanese students will be unable to master spoken English. For I know some Japanese friends who speak perfect English even better than me.
The key to improving Japanese people’s English is, in my opinion, the English lesson taught in elementary and high schools. Students need to be urged to have more confidence to speak and not be afraid of making mistakes. But again, to be able to encourage students to do so, qualified English instructors are needed. English teachers in schools should have a certification of how much they master either written as well as spoken English. And for those lacking of capabilities, comprehensive training and education could be given upon how to improve the quality of English teaching at schools.
Some might argue that the incurring cost of conducting such programs will be burdensome. But considering the future growth projection of Japan, where population is declining and more global expansion abroad is needed by Japan to maintain its economic might, eventually it will become an indispensable thing for Japan to carry out.