Sakumi SHIMIZU (Waseda University)
As Mr. Gyohten, President of the Institute for International Monetary Affairs, states in his article "Increasing Importance of Japan's Communication with Global Community," it is essential for Japanese to communicate with as many people as possible in English in the process of seeking better international relations especially with Asian countries. Expressing and exchanging opinions in English through the use of the Internet is indeed an effective way to disseminate one's stance or view to the world. However, the truth is that not many Japanese are equipped with that level of English to be able to express their opinions for global audiences. In fact, the Japanese average TOEFL score is among the lowest of the 21 Asian countries recently surveyed.
Although many Japanese invest a tremendous amount of time and money learning English, they are still struggling when it comes to the "actual use" of English. English language schools, cable TV programs, movies, magazines, and Internet access provide a wide variety of chances to learn the English language and culture, yet Japanese are not given enough opportunities to learn foreign languages face to face, because there are only limited places where English is actually used in daily life. Since in Japan the native language is exclusively used on every occasion, Japanese are not encouraged to use a second language.
What is missing in Japan's English education is use of the so-called "immersion method." The best way to learn English is to immerse oneself into an environment where English is exclusively used. As suggested by the old saying that "you cannot learn to swim by reading books about it," Japanese should be surrounded with English in an environment filled with oral and written communication in the immersion language (Johnson and Swain, pp.257). In order to create such an environment for students, for example, study abroad programs should be more extensively adopted for reinforcing school programs in English education.
According to my own experience and observation at Waseda University's School of International Liberal Studies, quite a few students who have learned English in Japan are having hard time speaking adequately without thinking in terms of grammar or even resorting to dictionaries, whereas most of those students who have learned English abroad while visiting an English-speaking country even for a short period of time can express themselves naturally in rather simple phrases and understand what native speakers are saying by context and nuance, thanks to their learning experience in the English speaking environment. Hence, it may be a good idea to adopt the immersion method, which will enable Japanese to learn English more effectively and use it more freely at home and abroad.
Moreover, learning English abroad is like "killing two birds with one stone"----not only language learning becomes faster and easier by communicating with native speakers but also mutual understanding with foreign countries can actively be promoted by Japanese themselves. Actually, one of the main purposes of learning a foreign language is to facilitate mutual understanding and eliminate misunderstanding with people in foreign countries. As Mr. Gyohten maintains that "we cannot wait for the government to take a step in the desirable direction, but should act on our own to communicate with as many people as possible in other countries," it is indeed vital for Japanese to go abroad and learn English through actual communication to build friendly relationships with people in other countries for a peaceful and prosperous world in the future.
Cohen, D. Andrew. Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language. London and New York: Longman. 1998.
Johnson, K. Robert, and Swain, Merrill. Ed. Immersion Education: International Perspectives. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
"Foreign Language Instructions in Japan: Success or Failure" Retrieved 7. Apr. 2006