Although, English is currently taught in Japan as early as secondary school, many Japanese learners struggle with conversational English (Gu, 2015). In a study conducted by Haffner et al, (2010), it was found that Japanese M.B.A. applicants would memorize English phrases in chunks in order to answer formulaic interview questions. However, when the Japanese M.B.A. applicants were asked a basic conversational question (I.e.: How was your day?), the majority would freeze and show a lack of proficiency in basic conversational English.
Why are Japanese people struggling with communicating in English?
Japanese society has a heavy emphasis on results based on standardized tests (Yohsida, 2003). These tests are focusing on English grammar and listening (TOIEC, EIKEN, BULLATS). There is only one problem. Several psychological studies have found that standardized tests do not actually measure proficiency in a task (Howard et al, 2013; Stiggins, 2002). In other words getting a high score on a test doesn't actually mean you are good at what was being tested.
The reason is that standardized tests actually test your memory but not your proficiency. Not to mention if the test is multiple choice, it is testing your ability to recognize a wrong answer, not use a correct one.
Combine these issues with the Japanese obsession for perfection and it is no wonder why when it comes time to talk, they remain silent. Factor in test anxiety and now you have a population that may be proficient in communication, but cannot get a high score on the TOIEC. Meaning they get passed up for business opportunities at work, because of a faulty assessment tool.
It’s a long way to go
Give in learning a second language is already difficult. But imagine being told by society that it is a requirement. This is why I feel bad for many of my friends learning English out here in Japan. I can only hope that they realize that:
Sometimes courage is more important than perfect grammar
My Japanese sucks. But I can communicate because I don’t get hung up on perfect grammar. If I can get my point across, then that’s good enough. For you grammar police out there:
I’m your worst nightmare ;)
Have a great week everyone!
Social Gelo with Angelo
Angelo Ferrer (M.S. Psychology)
Gu, L. (2015). Language ability of young English language learners: Definition, configuration, and implications. Language Testing, 32(1), 21-38.
Hafner, A., Joseph, R., & McCormick, J. (2010). College Readiness for All: Assessing the Impact of English Professional Development on Teaching Practice and Student Learning. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 6, 15-30.
Howard, S. J., Johnson, J., & Pascual-Leone, J. (2013). Measurement of mental attention: Assessing a cognitive component underlying performance on standardized intelligence tests.
Stiggins, R. J. (2002). Assessment crisis: The absence of assessment for learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 758.
Yoshida, K. (2003). Language education policy in Japan: The problem of espoused objectives versus practice. The Modern Language Journal, 87(2), 290-292