Why All Japanese Think They Need To Speak English

These days in Japan, There is a pretty uniformed way of thinking about English. These are the examples below.



“As globalization progresses from now on, we can not live without English”

“Traditional reading and writing-based English teaching was a failure, should be centered on conversation”

“We should learn English as soon as possible”

“We should learn English from native speakers”

“We should learn American English or British English”



This is what I hear everywhere in Japan. Based on these idea, over the past 20 years, major changes about English have occurred one after another in Japan.



English became an essential subject in junior high school.

English lessons were introduced to elementary school.

English education became communication centered.

They decided to do high school English lessons in English.

The number of English course at university has increased.

English Language Amendment was proposed.

There are companies that make English an official language.



But these ideas are only one way of looking at English. There is another point of view which is quite different. I saw a interesting advertisement of English conversation school on the street. It says “That country only lacks English” 


Now, many of Japanese would think that “We only lack English skill to survive in this globalizing world so let’s learn English” but at the same time you can construe this as…


“THAT country has money, skills and HR. In order for our colonists to dominate the country well, they lack only English so let’s make them learn it”


Funny thing is that they wrote “that” instead of “this” so that the latter actually looks more natural. Not sure who made this copy, Japanese or not.


This means 2 things. First, English is 1.a tool to communicate with foreigners and also 2.to dominate countries. Second, most of Japanese people are aware of 1 but not 2.


Of course everyone knows that English was used as a tool for colonial rule in India, Malaysia and the Philippines. Many people would say it’s in the past. But actually, I think that the role of English is still not changed much now.


In the past, it seems that the meaning of control was mainly hard power such as military power and economic power, but now it’s just that the proportion of soft power such as culture and charm of English has increased.




I will serialize this post though I have to clarify 2 things.


  1. I need you all from English speaking countries to know that this is no offence to each of you(but maybe to national leaders of SOME countries).
  2. My intention is not to let Japanese people know or warning them. Being able to speak English has a lot of benefits as well but I’m sharing the minor perspectives of learning it. (I thought it’s interesting to write this not in Japanese for Japanese people but in English for English speakers :P)
  3. Learning languages itself is a wonderful thing, as long as it’s your passion and desire to communicate with foreigners etc. What I’ll be writing here is just another perspective of looking at it.


What I write here is simply the truth from the past history and what’s happening now. I reckon it’s also going to be interesting to know for English speakers what’s actually behind it.



Thank you for reading.

【To be continued】



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