Japan and English

Japan has a problem with English, that much I’m aware.

They have two mentalities, I think, going against them here.

First, this is a culture that doesn’t like mistakes. There’s a kind of public shaming that takes place, even in elementary school classrooms where I used to do assistant teaching, when someone makes a mistake. I remember being told by my organization at the time to not point out mistakes teachers write in English on chalkboards. I thought that was strange because it meant the kids would be writing down in their notebooks blatantly wrong English and learning it. However, pride gets in the way here, I think. People here want to just magically be perfect at English. As anyone who’s learned a second language can attest, however, mistakes come with the territory of learning a language. Even if you’ve never tried to learn a second language, think back to when you were a kid learning your native language. Did you come out of the womb speaking that language perfectly? I think not. Mistakes are crucial to language learning, and Japan seems to be allergic to mistakes.

Second, they share the isolationist mentality that America enjoys as well – Why bother learning this language when we live in Japan? For America, I often hear the idea of “We’re never leaving the States so why learn anything beyond English?” Japan has that mentality, too, I think.

I don’t have a clear answer to why anyone should learn another language, just my own opinion. I think learning another language helps sharpen your mind, for one thing, but it also helps you better understand just how vast the world is. Even if you never leave your own country, at least you’ll have experienced a taste of a different culture in trying to learn another language. I think that’s so crucial to human development and empathy.

I also understand that English is the major second language of the world, but I think that’s kind of a shame because English is just so complicated and contradictory. I remember trying to learn Esperanto just for fun, and I have to say the creators really did work hard to make that language so much easier to learn than English.

As Esperanto isn’t taking off at all, however, unfortunately lots of people across the world have to suffer through the insanity that is English. And I think Japan’s roadblocks to English success aren’t going to go away anytime soon.