Globalization: a Challenge for Japan


Globalization Presents a Challenge for Japan:
is there a Solution?

Tom j Dolan
Tokyo, ©2014


Globalization, an established fact of life in the 21st century is bringing with it economic opportunity but also social & cultural challenges. One challenge has been to accept a language that would be used by all (or most) participants in our steadily Globalizing world.

It should come as no surprise that English has evolved to become the lingua franca of choice for international business, education and travel. While many countries were prepared for English communication, others have been rushing to catch up with un-ending English classes being offered to students of all ages. There are still others that are having English difficulties. Japan falls into this third category. How did that happen to Japan and is there a solution?

It’s true that English has been taught in Japan in one fashion or other since the 1600’s. By the latter part of the 19th century, English was being taught in a majority of Foreign Language schools. Today, English is taught in thousands of public and private schools throughout Japan. It’s taught in English Conversation Schools, Company classes, Juku’s (cram schools), coffee shops, on TV & Radio, and online. To understand the Globalization difficulties Japan is experiencing, let’s briefly look at contemporary English Language Education in Japan.

English is offered in over 99% of Junior and Senior High Schools with the majority of students electing to take the non-mandatory course. The majority of University & College students also elect to continue to study English. Additionally, the parents of many students, feeling that the Public Schools are not adequately teaching English, will choose to send their child(ren) to an after school Juku to expand and strengthen their English skills. Additionally, thousands of English Conversation Schools and independent English Teachers are teaching English group and private lessons to children and adults.

The result of this relentless availability, some would say assault, is an unlimited opportunity to learn English privately or in school, after school, early morning, at night, on weekends, at the Company during or after business hours, or while having a coffee & snack. And let’s not ignore all the people using English Education materials like Books, Magazines, CD’s, DVD’s, and on-line courses. A mélange of never ending English education available 24/7.

With all the available class time, personal time invested, and money spent individually, by the Company, and at the local and National level, it seems implausible to even consider that Japan is not ready linguistically for Globalization. But if you think that, you’d be wrong. There is one area of English communication where Japanese fall way behind: Speaking English.

The one aspect of communication that is most needed today for Global success, is the ability to Speak English. Yet, it’s a well known fact in Japan, that the Japanese education system emphasizes English reading and writing skills, but not Speaking skills. A surprising fact, but a fact never-the-less. If you perform a cursory web search on this subject, you’ll unearth enough reading material to consume your 2-week vacation. Here are some typical examples:

Of Japanese elementary school teachers nationwide, 68.1% said they don’t have much confidence or no confidence in teaching English. 

~ Benesse Educational Research and Development Center,  2010

All too often, the pressure to pass the increased number of English components on entrance exams steers classes toward testable, not communicative, English. 

~ Japan Times, Editorial,  Jun16, 2013

“poor methods, particularly the rote learning Hult sees in Japan, can be responsible for poor results despite strenuous efforts.” 

~ Philip Hult, EF Education First, The Economist, Who Speaks English?  Apr 5, 2011

“teaching methods at most universities, as well as secondary schools, remain mired in one-way,teacher-centered approaches that do not help students acquire confidence, communication skills or a broader understanding that they need for engaging in international situations.”

~ The Japan Times, Too many inward-looking students,  Jun 16,2013

“A study by the Japanese Education Ministry found that only 20% of English teachers, at public schools in 2010, taught their classes in English”

~ School Curriculum in Japan, Jeffrey Hayes,  2012

Large high school & college classes “do not offer much opportunity to build skills in aural/oral English”, and, University “Entrance examinations require considerable knowledge about English, but offer little or no opportunity to demonstrate ability to perform in English.”

~ Teaching English in Japan, S.Kathleen Kitao, Kenji Kitao, Kazunori Nozawa, Masayo Yamamoto, 1995

In 2010 the Japanese Education Ministry announced that in 2011 English Education would begin in the 5th and 6th grades. Response to the Program is typified by these comments:

“kids in this age group will have at least one lesson per week.”

“many argue that training for teachers is far from sufficient.”

time is very limited for developing teaching materials and preparing for lessons.”

~ The Japan Times,  Are schools ready for English?  Feb 26,2011

“fear of making mistakes works as an effective filter, debilitating their confidence in communicating through English”

~ Communication Apprehension in a Second Language: A Study of Japanese High School Students.  Tollefson, Michael. and Knox, Ronda,  Nov 15,2007

The reasons English Language Education in Japan does not produce English Speakers points in many directions: culture, politics, traditional education, history, un-trained Teachers both Japanese and Foreign, and more, but,

The fact that Japanese, generally, can not and do not Speak English after years of study living under the ideal social conditions of stability, good health, and security… is undeniable.

Let’s take a moment to look at some revealing statistics.

TOEFL Country comparison resultsis one way to gauge the performance of English acquisition in a country. TOEFL scores are used internationally by governments, educational institutions, and scholarship programs. Although sample size may vary, TOEFL results viewed in a chart makes comparison inevitable and informative.

Looking at the Speaking scores of Asian countries, the chart clearly shows that TOEFL tested Japanese are weak Speakers of English when compared to all other tested Asian countries.

Copyright ©2013 by Educational Testing Service

Among suggested solutions to this self-administered but unfortunate plight: adding Pages to text books, Digitizing learning materials, beginning English study at earlier Grade levels, and replacing non-english-speaking English Teachers with Native English Speakers. The solutions are broadly directed at fixing the current systemic state of English education. But there’s one critical issue, central to Japan’s Globalization aspirations, that’s finally receiving official recognition at the highest levels of government, and too, big business. 

The Japanese workforce tasked with the success of Globalization is, unfortunately, ill-equipped to produce it. The reason, the current Japanese workforce and those students about to join it simply don’t speak English well enough. Yes, education system repairs are being implemented, but how much time will be necessary for them to take effect? 15-20 years or more to build a Globalized generation is time that Japan can’t afford.

Meanwhile, other Asian countries not crippled by the inability to Speak English are building a lead in Global business that Japan may never overcome. The Asian Competitors on the TOEFL chart are getting stronger and they’re not waiting for Japan to catch-up.

Japanese Universities and Business organizations are searching for solutions. Frequently they simply increase the type of training that accounts for much of the stress they’re experiencing. English classes may have their place in an overall strategic plan, but the fact is, “more-of-the-same” non-Speaking English classes solves nothing in the immediate future.


Are young working Japanese and the University students about

to join their ranks willing to accept their fate as “the Lost Generation”?


Japanese adults and University students that want to participate in Globalization need a type of English Language Training and Coaching that’s almost certainly different from anything they’ve previously experienced. There is an alternative to the typical “non-Conversation” English class and it’s called an “English Language Speaking WorkShop.”

An English Language Speaking workshop is an interactive, proactive, Performance learning experience. It provides a supportive environment where all participants use the skills each has already learned but have never had ample opportunity to use. Participating in this supportive environment, Workshop members are encouraged to make mistakes knowing they will learn from them and from the mistakes of others under the guidance of the Teacher. 

A workshop delivers minimal lecture while emphasizing skills demonstration, practice, and acquisition. This process generates new information, develops physicality and broadens perspective by the students while building skills through the participation & interaction of all it’s members including the Teacher. From all to one, from one to all, from all to all.

A Proven Solution is now available in Japan

Performance of Speaking© WorkShops are a unique learning experience available for anyone who actually wants to Speak English. As a WorkShop member, you speak to the group at every meeting using the vocabulary you have now, while developing the vocabulary you want and need. You will also learn Public Speaking Skills: How & why to maintain Eye Contact, Stage Movement, the Power of Posture, Body Language, Rehearsal Techniques, How to Prepare, and more. You’ll learn them by doing. You’ll replace “Fear” with Skills and through this process, you’ll develop the Confidence to use these Skills and build upon them throughout your lifetime.

The Public Speaking workshops I’ve developed specifically for Japanese speakers of English are guided by two concepts. 

In a recent Study, a high percentage of Japanese students claim they suffer with Communication Anxiety(CA), but CA is a complex psychological issue as is Glossophobia, the “Fear of Speaking.” Both of these technical terms may explain why some people do not engage in Public Speaking. But in my opinion, it is fallacious to broadly apply either term to the general population of people who simply avoid public speaking for lack of skill, confidence, and experience. 

Teaching adult American students has shown me that the prevalent excuse “I have a Fear of Speaking” more typically means: “I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of others.” And of course the Fear of Embarrassment can be caused by any number of personal reasons. I have consistently witnessed in a Workshop environment, as Speaking Skills develop, the Fear of Embarrassment diminishes or is eliminated. In Japan too, people may avoid Public Speaking for various social & cultural reasons, but with skills acquisition and Coaching, I believe these reasons can be managed or overcome. 

I have designed the Performance of Speaking© WorkShops using the concept of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). The concept of CLIL has emerged as a significant curriculum trend in Europe. It is a means of teaching a subject like English, through the study of a specialized skill like Public Speaking.

In English we call this:  hitting 2 birds with one stone (i-sekki ni-cho).

The merging of English and Public Speaking is a winning combination that can rapidly advance English Speaking capabilities: build speaking skills, expand vocabulary, fine-tune listening skills, and develop self-confidence.

It’s naive to think that this kind of physical skills training can be had in a coffee shop, online, or from traditional study tools like books, CD’s & DVD’s. Speaking English well requires student effort, physical participation, risk taking, and commitment to results. Achievable results can be attained & accelerated with a skillful Teacher in a supportive learning environment. English is a difficult language, if you want to speak it skillfully, you must put yourself in an English Speaking situation. Anything less is a waste of time & money.

small bamboo


To Learn More: If you, your organization, school, or Globalizing company is interested in discussing exactly how the Performance of Speaking© WorkShops and the newly developed Read2Speak program can be adapted to your particular needs, contact me for a no-obligation Consultation.

Tom j Dolan photoTom j Dolan, author and international media professional, is the producer ofPerformance of Speaking” an educational website w/videos, articles, and programs devoted to Training and Coaching Native English Speakers & ESL Speakers who want to contribute to the Global conversations shaping the future of their Profession, Community, Country, and Planet.



Communication apprehension among Japanese students in native and second Language  

~James C. McCroskey, W.B. Gudykunst, T. Nishida

  Communication Research Reports, 2, 1985

Communication Apprehension in a Second Language: A Study of Japanese High School Students  

~Tollefson, Michael. and Knox, Ronda.  

  allacademic research, 2012

“English Next”, David Graddol, British Council  2006

English Teaching: Theory, Research, Practice   

~Kitao, K., & Kitao, S. K. 

  Tokyo: Eichosha. pp. 3-20. ISBN 4-268-00243-x C3082  1995

The Impact of Communication Apprehension on College Student Retention and Success  

~James C. McCroskey, Steven Booth-Butterfield, and Steven K.Payne

  Communication Quarterly, Vol. 37, No.2, Spring 1989

 Additional References

~  Benesse Holdings, Inc.  Annual Report 2012

~  British Council

~  English Next India 2010 Launch, British Council, David Graddol, You Tube

~  The Japan Times

~  Wikipedia


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