Living in Japan has given me the opportunity to see difficulties Japanese people have with English first hand. I have also discussed this issue with my Japanese wife and several other Japanese people as well. I have even discussed it with native English speakers and got their thoughts on the subject.
The biggest thing that I have noticed is their accent. I moved to Italy when I was seven and grew up learning Italian. So I developed both an Italian and American accent. When I first moved to Japan eleven years ago, instead of learning the language I first developed a Japanese accent which helped me considerably when I started to actually learn the language.
My point is that when learning a language it is very important to develop the accent for that language. When I speak to a Japanese person in their language they assume that I am half Japanese and think that I have been speaking the language my whole life. The same is for both Italian and English. Another example is when I take my parents out to dinner. They both have lived in Japan as long as I have, but when they order the waitress will not understand and when I repeat the same exact words they will understand because I use a Japanese accent.
If the English accent was specifically taught the people of Japan then this would open up a lot of doors for them. If you bring up the number of accents there are (American, English, Australian, Irish, etc.), you let the student decide which accent they would like to go with and give them the class that suits their needs.
Another issue that I noticed was the infinite vocabulary of the English language. One problem here is that each English speaking country has its own vocabulary where one word in England might not exist in America, or a word in America might mean something totally different in England. So in a way, each English speaking country has a vocabulary of its own. This causes a lot of confusion for the people of Japan because when they try to communicate with an American but their instructor was English, they start using words that the American is not familiar with.
One more issue that I here from the Japanese their school system. They study English in junior high school and high school. They have also just updated their system to include English lessons into their elementary schools. This is a good thing to get the kids started at an early age, but the bad side to it is that they are being taught wrong. Non-native teachers are the ones teaching these kids and the students are receiving bad lessons. If native English speakers were the ones teaching these classes then they would be able to develop good English at an early age.
Looking at these issues I feel that it is very important that the adult students be able to choose which form of English they would like to learn and only be exposed to that specific form. I understand the need to teach it universally as one but it is difficult for the Japanese to grasp. They are a small country and it is the only country for the Japanese language. It is difficult for them to grasp a universally spoken language with so many variations.
Most of my information however, came from the people I have talked to over the years and the things that I have noticed over the last eleven and a half years. The above sites were just to do some digging into what has been put out there on the subject.
Author: Kennith Smith
Date of post: 2007-04-12