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Why Japan’s English education is a fiasco

15 6 0

Researchers from more than 80 think tanks in Asia and rest of the world gathered in Bangkok this week. The event was called “Asia-Pacific Think Tank Summit” with the subtitle “Managing Transitions, Trade and Turmoil: The Role of Think Tanks.” It was co-organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), headquartered in Bangkok since 1949, and Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) of University of Pennsylvania’s Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies.

One of 120 participants from 30-plus countries, I was lucky to chair a plenary session on the second day titled “The Future of Security and Prosperity of Asia Pacific.” The panelists were German, Singaporean, Sri Lankan, Indian and South Korean foreign policy experts. Each of them discussed the region’s complicated security issues in fluent or in at least good English.

Unfortunately, the English proficiency of the Japanese participants was fair at best and sometimes less understandable than other participants. They were relatively quiet in the question and answer sessions, where they seldom raised their hands even if they seemed to have relevant questions.

What went wrong? Most of the Japanese participants are highly educated researchers or experts in international affairs. All of them have studied English at least for six years and many have studied abroad as well. Nonetheless, their English sounded inferior to that of their counterparts from other non-English speaking nations. How did this happen?

This reminded me of a terrifying news story I read on my way to Bangkok from........

© The Japan Times