If you have ever been to Japan, you might have noticed that usually Japanese people can’t speak English, and sometimes get overwhelmed when you talked to them in English. However, by far most of those people (and that includes myself) have studied English for at least 6 years in junior high school and high school. Then why are they so hesitant to speak English? Listed below, you will find 3 reasons why this might be.
First of all, I think that Japanese people’s hesitation to speak English in real life originates at the way English is taught in school. I already mentioned that people in Japan have studied English for at least for 6 years in junior high school and high school. But instead of putting the primary focus on speaking English and conversation, English teachers tend to concentrate on grammar, vocabulary, sometimes listening and almost no training for speaking. It is for this reason that many Japanese people are able to get a nice score in Engish exams, but don’t get accustomed to using it in real conversation. Moreover, there are not so many native English speaking teachers who can teach the correct pronunciation of words.
I think another reason comes from the fact that companies love to use TOEIC test scores rather than TOEFL test scores when they hire new employees.The TOEIC test is not necessarily less useful than TOEFL scores, but the TOEIC score often doesn’t say much about the ability to actually speak English. The TOEIC test has a listening section, a reading section and a grammar section while the TOEFL test also includes a speaking section. Besides this, because the TOEIC test always uses a similar pattern of questioning, if you practise the TOEIC test many times, you can easily obtain a higher score. I actually know some people who can barely speak English at all, even though they had a very high score on the TOEIC test. They just study English to enter a good company and don’t actually use it in real business conversations.
I think another reason why so many Japanese people shy away from a conversation in English stems from the personality of the average Japanese person. From my experience, I know that some people can’t speak in another language because they are shy. They are afraid to speak up and make mistakes, so prefer to keep their mouths closed. If they never get to use English, how could they ever improve their speaking level? That would almost be mission impossible. And speaking about Japanese personality, some people are so shy that they are not good at communicating with other people even in Japanese!
One could conclude that in Japan we still have a long way to go when it comes to learning and using foreign languages. Who knows things will get better when Japan opens up more and more to the rest of the world in order to expand the area of distribution for Japan made products, as their own markets are shrinking with its population.