Despite the government’s continuous efforts to improve English language education in Japan in order to cultivate successful professionals who can thrive in the international arena, a surprising number of young Japanese don’t imagine themselves actually using English in the future. According to NHK (12/12), Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute conducted a survey in March of 6,294 students at junior high and high schools across the nation on how they study and view the English language, and found that nearly half of them think they will rarely use English in the future.
Benesse also found that while more than 80% of students at most levels said they memorize English words or sentences by reading or writing during class, the percentage of those who said they write or speak in English about their feelings or thoughts decreases after peaking in the second year of junior high at about 60%. (See chart.)
Benesse reported that about 60% of students said they translate English sentences from textbooks into Japanese when studying at home, while only 18.2% of junior high school students and 11.6% of high school students said they write in English about their views or thoughts. In addition, while about 90% of both junior high and high school students think that it will be necessary to use English in society in one way or another, as many as 44.2% of junior high school students and 46.4% of high school students said they can’t imagine themselves actually using English in the future.
When asked to choose what they think is important when learning English, “to communicate in English frequently” was their top choice. Concerning their views about English, 93.9% of junior high school students and 90.2% of high school students said they want to do well on tests. However, nearly the same percentage of students – 88.5% of junior high school students and 90.5% of high school students – said they think it’s “cool” to be able to speak English.
Benesse said the survey shows that Japanese students still study English at school and home mainly by “translating” and “memorizing,” and that they don’t frequently “use” English by speaking or writing. Although this is partly due to the fact that entrance exams are focused on testing students’ reading ability, Benesse wrote that teaching students to speak and write about their views and thoughts will be a challenge for educational institutions, especially in light of the increasing emphasis on developing English communication skills. It also pointed out that although it is probably unavoidable that junior and senior high school students cannot imagine themselves using English in the future because they are not exposed to English in their daily lives, it is important for them to be able to imagine various ways of using English in a globalized society. Benesse concludes by saying that while various English education reforms are being carried out in Japan, efforts should be made to narrow the gap between the students’ views about English and the actual teaching and studying methods.