Why Can So Many Japanese People Not Speak English?

  • 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.

    1. The Way English is Taught in School

    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.

    2. The Importance of TOEIC Test Scores

    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.

    3. Japanese People Tend to be Shy

    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.

    Related Articles:
    Why is Japan Behind Other Asian Countries When it Comes to English?
    How do the Japanese Learn English?

    1. Anonymous says:

      i love japan big time :)
      hope to visit soon ur beautiful country.im looking forward in to it :)

    2. Anonymous says:

      Awesome article. I agree with a lot on it. I’ve lived here for 3 years and I can say generally it’s true. But there are many Japanese people too who are very eager to speak English with you. It also helps if you speak Japanese with them too.

    3. JeanFrançois Joubert says:

      Any ideas why so few Americans speak a second language?

      1. michelle says:

        Because of the American sense of entitlement. We think everyone wants to be like us, and SHOULD be like us. Damn foreigners come to the US and don’t speak English; but how many Americans visiting or even living in other countries speak those languages?

    4. Anonymous says:

      Why Can So Many American People Not Speak Japanese?

    5. I have one question/complaint about Japanese TV programs shown in America. There are many fine, interesting shows, especially nature or culture themed ones BUT, the person narrating them uses a VERY high childlike, sing song voice, one that in America we would only use when talking to very small children, perhaps a show for a preschool audience. I find this off-putting, almost insulting, as if the narrator believes Americans are feeble minded. Why is this? When I am watching a show about Japanese pottery, or sword making, or mountain wildlife, I find it odd to hear a voice speaking almost perfect English but using a pitch and cadence like it is talking to a three year old.

    6. Rain Rosidi says:

      Why Can So Many English People Not Speak Japanese?

      1. Kumon says:

        Because Japanese is not as commonly spoken and is not one of the 6 UN official languages?

    7. It’s the same reason a lot of Americans don’t speak Japanese, they’re both difficult languages lol

    8. Kymberley Wilson says:

      I have attended a number of international conferences with people from many Asian countries in which English is the official language. I have noticed that Japanese speakers are the most difficult to understand when they are speaking English.

      As to why English speakers don’t learn Japanese.
      1. Limited use – only spoken in Japan.
      2. Non alphabetical, which makes it very hard for English speakers.

      When I visit Japan, I am again practically illiterate.

    9. Anonymous says:

      1. All foreign information are immediately translated into Japanese and they can study the most advanced thesis in Japanese.
      2. English reading and writing abilities are useful for scholars but listening and speaking abilities are not so.
      3. Japanese language is better for Japanese way of thinking, moderate association and unique culture.

    10. Anthony says:

      4th reason : Contrary to popular belief, English is an extremely difficult language to master!
      For japanese people and for the rest of the world as well!
      Native english speakers should stop considering their language is simple. That is absolutely not the case!

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