Kaizen for learning English in Japan

This is a kaizen proposal for English language learning in Japan.

音声ファイルは以下の英文の(片言の)日本語吹き替え版 The sound recording is my (clumsy) Japanese interpretation of the following text


They (=people in general, in this place called Nippon = The Sun-Rooted Country) say



“We, Japanese people in general, cannot speak English”

Actually, not really.


Well, my answer to this is

“Welcome to the club. Many other people in the world don’t or cannot speak English, so stop worrying.”

Actually, stop thinking that it is a “only-in-Japan-thing”. English language education programs all over the world have not been providing the kind of efficiency we expect of our machines. If you take one class of 40 students anywhere around the world where English is taught as a foreign language, there is a very strong probability that 4 (or 8) years later only 10-20% of them would be able to communicate in English. Imagine somebody trying to sell you a machine for making sandwiches and he says

Well, from all the materials going into the machine, we expect a maximum of 20% to end up as sandwiches, the remaining 80% you’ll have to throw away and start with a new batch.

Would you buy this machine?

Why do we have this situation? First of all, notice that my production machine analogy above treats the input stuff (materials: bacon, cheese, bread, salad etc.) as having no possible role in helping you (the sandwich producer) to make more/better sandwiches.

This is why this is an apt metaphor for (English) language teaching, because that’s how students (the “materials”) are treated by teachers (the “producers”).

Of course, in the real world teachers quickly realize that you get better results the less you treat them like passive matter to be molded, so they adapt and try to support their students, help them identify their strong/weak points, encourage them to describe their learning styles, etc.

Notice how the teacher is still the agent, the person in charge of accomplishing the task of making you, the student (= passive subject) a “proficient user of English”.

Well, I have news for you students in Japan and across the world: It is YOU who are in charge of teaching yourself English, because (unless you’re really rich and can afford 10-15 hours of private language coaching every week) you simply cannot get enough time to communicate in English in Japan (or your country where English is a foreign language, ie. not heard on regular TV channels, the supermarket you shop at, not spoken by the taxi drivers, politicians or musicians in your society).

1, 2 or even 3 hours of English instruction (=lessons) a week will not make Japanese students more proficient in English; the only thing that can accomplish this with better efficiency is a

reform of the way Japanese students see themselves as learners of English.

Become a responsible learner, stop trying to find the perfect learning material, textbook and/or English conversation school. Start with the following procedure:

  1. Ask yourself WHY you need English? If you cannot give a good, convincing answer to this, then you probably don’t really need English. End of the story. If you do have good reasons to get better at English, move to step 2 below.
  2. Ask yourself HOW MUCH TIME can you spend each day interacting in English. This interacting should include 4 things: reading something you find A. interesting and B. understandable to you; listening to some spoken English (YouTube the kind of situations where you imagine yourself in a position where you need to use English); writing an email, a blog, your English grammar homework etc.; and, lastly, speaking in English (if, like most people, you cannot find somebody to practice with, I suggest shadowing which means you first listen to somebody speaking (slowly, at your level) in English and then repeat in a loud voice trying to imitate that speaker).
  3. Keep an input (reading/listening) and output (writing/speaking) record of how much time you have spent each day (see this tutorial in Japanese about Customised Interaction Approach) and make sure to update it once a week.
  4. Take whatever questions/problems you have in English to your teacher (if applicable) and get the feedback you need to improve your ACCURACY.
  5. Use the Internet, because that’s where you can find all the material you’ll ever need and much, much more FOR FREE and, what is more important, because that’s the ONLY way to find the material you, personally, are interested in.
  6. (optional) Check this blog for tips about language learning tips.

That’s it.

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