You might be aware that companies like Rakuten, Japan’s largest online shopping mall operator, and the global clothing retailer UNIQLO have recently adopted English as their official in-house language as a vital step toward expanding their businesses globally. Japanese universities are also pouring efforts into improving their students’ English skills, as “Trending@Japan” has previously reported. Obviously, the need for the ability to speak English is growing in Japan amid the wave of globalization, and finally it seems as though not only companies but also the government has begun to do something about it. According to Mainichi (4/9), Prime Minister Abe called for more “practical” English-language education after the LDP’s advisory panel submitted to him a set of education reform proposals including requiring that students take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) before entering and graduating from public universities. Meanwhile, Nikkei reported last year that the Education Ministry is also planning to begin considering making English a compulsory subject for early elementary school students in light of the growing need to enhance children’s English communication ability. English classes are currently compulsory for fifth and sixth graders only.
Starting this April, public high school teachers in Japan are required to conduct English classes completely in English under the government’s new teaching guidelines that place emphasis on improving English communication ability. Unlike before when English classes were taught in Japanese with an emphasis on written vocabulary and grammar, students today are now required to speak English in front of others and are basically banned from speaking Japanese during lessons.
According to Fuji-TV’s “Tokudane!” (4/30), students actually seem to be enjoying speaking in English, but teachers are struggling to adjust to the new teaching method. The program took a close look at a high school in Tokyo, which began conducting English classes completely in English this April. One teacher said she prepared by writing down everything she was going to say in English before class. Another began subscribing to English-language newspapers to brush up on her own English. These are positive signs. University entrance exams, however, are a cause for concern among parents. Fuji-TV’s “Super News” (3/19) reported that most university entrance exams test students’ writing and grammar skills, but not their communication skills. The network said some parents are worried that the recent trend may hinder their children in the exams, adding, however, that MEXT officials believe that university entrance exams will eventually change as well. A “Super News” anchor welcomed MEXT’s new teaching guidelines and said that teaching English in Japanese is like teaching someone how to swim on a mat, and learning in English help students to think in English.