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Marshall R. Childs: The Plight of English Education in Japan
- Marshall Childs
Why is English teaching ineffective in Japan? Reasons include historical precedents, cultural traits and socioeconomic forces.
In particular, English teaching serves two masters:
(1) gatekeepers who use knowledge of academic English as a key criterion for admission to educational institutions, and (2) government policy of “Japanese who can speak English.” English education in Japan serves the first master well, but the second not so well.
English education in Japan was highly successful for the first quarter-century after Commodore Perry’s visits in the 1850s. English was widely taught and, more important, was used in educational institutions. English was the language of instruction of many schools, including the University of Tokyo, until around 1880, when the conservative reaction against Westernization began. In 1882, the use of foreign languages in ordinary lectures at the university was forbidden. But the Meiji educators forgot one thing. They forgot to remove English from entrance tests. Therefore, from 1882 on, for 130 years, the English that is tested on entrance tests has diverged from English for use.
Both economic and conceptual barriers have worked and will work to prevent the removal of English from entrance tests – at least in the short term. So, although entrance tests have almost nothing in common with the objective of “Japanese who can speak English,” they have metastisized so that they cannot simply be cut away.
But in the long run, public recognition of the difference between the twin masters of academic knowledge and language for use will precipitate a demand for the ability to choose courses of study pursuing either the one, the other, both or neither.