Misunderstandings of English in Japan

Why so many Japanese people think it’s so important to learn English in the first place?


As I wrote

They have no choice. At university, classes conducted in English are increasing. In job hunting activities, you will be asked about English exam scores. Even in the news, I hear such topics frequently, such as introducing English to primary schools, making it a curriculum starting school year ahead of schedule.


Do Japanese really need English in Business?

Certainly, some companies place importance on acquiring English proficiency. Some jobs require English. But are all Japanese using English so much? Let’s see the questionnaire asked the company.


In a survey conducted by the METI(Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 2010, asked a person from human resources of companies about the capabilities commonly owned by young employees active in the company.


  1. Communication skill           20.9%
  2. Personality(cheerfulness, honesty etc)           20.2%
  3. Independence           14.1%

12. English skill(TOEIC etc)           0.6%


The Association of Corporate Executives made researches and asked the ability to emphasize at interview when taking new graduates in. The first and the second are “capacity to think logically” and “Discovering and solving problems”.

On the other hand, “English skills(or other languages)” places seventh. Companies are not necessarily thinking “Competent HR” = ”HR who can speak English”.

Some people might think this way. It’s certainly not directly connected whether you are good at it or not, but globalization is progressing, it’s a fact that English is necessary for work.

Let’s have a look at the results of three questionnaires by random sampling targeting Japanese workers



This shows the proportion of “people who used English even a little in the past year” for each industry as of 2006 and 2010.


From the left, restaurant, transportation industry, information service, wholesale business, public affairs, financial insurance, education research service, retail industry, manufacturing industry, construction industry, other service industry, medical service, agriculture.


It seems that there is quite an exaggeration in what I hear frequently “We need English at work”. As far as this data says, there are only a few people using English at work, not all of the citizens have to be able to speak English.


However, subjective feelings of necessity are much higher against the objective necessity of English. In other words, many people who do not have the opportunity to use English at work, feeling pressed even though nobody’s asking them to do it.


English ability is easy to quantify

As already seen, HR person emphasizes the communication skills and personality of applicants in fact. However, these elements are hard to quantify. But there are TOEIC and TOEFL tests when it comes to English skill. It appears as a numerical value, so you can specifically ask.


It is easy to ask about English in an interview. Even when asking applicants at the interview, 100 people out of 100 people answer “yes” even if they ask “Do you have communication skills?” It makes no sense.


Even though English ability is easy to quantify and externalize at least. Even if it is an element that does not place much importance, it is easy to ask, and ask in advance and there is no loss.


This is a vicious circle. Even though companies do not place importance on English proficiency, students try to raise their English ability. 



Thank you for reading.

【To be continued】



Also see:

1. Why All Japanese Think They Need To Speak English

2. English Education Has Aspects Of Voluntary Colonization

3. English Imperialism has destructed Eskimo?



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