Find Ways to Develop Students’ Abilities So They Can Speak English

Students never becoming proficient in speaking English even after years of study has been a problem with Japan’s teaching of the English language. It is necessary to examine effective methods of instruction to help students acquire practical English skills.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has released the results of this year’s National Assessment of Academic Ability for elementary school students in the sixth grade and junior high school students in their final year. For the first time in four years, the junior high school students were tested in English in addition to the annually administered tests in Japanese and arithmetic/mathematics.

On average, students correctly answered over 50% of questions in the English reading and listening comprehension sections, but writing was poor at 24%. In the speaking section, only 12% of responses were correct, significantly lower than the previous test’s result.

The speaking test required the ability to make improvised responses and to summarize and present one’s thoughts.

Although it has been emphasized that the level of difficulty was higher than in the previous test, it is hard to overlook the fact that 6 out of 10 students answered all five questions incorrectly.

The current third-year junior high school students have been studying under the new curriculum guidelines that emphasize communication in foreign languages. The fact that the students’ ability to convey their thoughts on their own in English, including writing, was found to be lacking must be taken seriously.

Opportunities for students to speak English must be increased. In Fukui Prefecture and Saitama City, where junior high school students’ English proficiency was high, all junior high schools have assistant language teachers.

Some boards of education have given special licenses to individuals in such professions as English conversation school instructors and have hired them as teachers. Foreign national instructors and Japanese teachers must work together so that students can be exposed to real-life English.

Online tools must be used to have students interact in English with junior high and high school students overseas.

In a survey conducted at the same time as the tests, 70% of the elementary school students said they “like studying English,” while only 50% of the junior high school students said the same.

The number of English words studied in junior high school now stands at 1,800, an increase of 600 from before. The government aims to increase vocabulary while also improving communications skills. But it makes no sense if students come to hate the language as the result of cramming them with too much English learning.

What is important in communicating with foreign persons is whether one can convey opinions and feelings. In classroom education, the emphasis on correct grammar has perhaps made students hesitant to speak and unable to express themselves freely.

The globalization of society is progressing rapidly, and it is imperative to foster young people who can play active roles on the world stage. Rather than worrying about small grammatical errors on tests and in the classroom, more focus should be placed on developing the ability to interact with people from other countries in a fun and open-minded manner.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 1, 2023)