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Why do Japanese people NOT speak English?

Japan seems like a quite developed country in Asia. However you may be surprised that people in Japan don’t really speak English very well, except for some touristy areas such as Kyoto or Tokyo. Some of my friends asked me “why is that?”

I have a 10 years old niece.

Maybe because my boyfriend is British, she has been interested in learning English since she was much younger. Now she is very happy going to English classes every Saturday which her mother never forced her to go to.

But still now, she doesn’t look comfortable to speak English to my boyfriend, even it was her who wanted to start to go to the English classes.

Do you think because she is too shy? I think it is not only about ‘shy’.

Simply, the difference is so big

If you are a native speaker of English, primarily you need to understand that English is very different from Japanese. These two languages are completely different.

In English you have 26 letters in the alphabet, while we Japanese have 50 Hiragana and 50 Katakana letters, and then we need to learn at least 2000 Kanji characters to read basic Japanese. We have to learn all of them, including more than 2000 Kanjis, before 16 years old at school. Japanese children are already busy working through it.

The grammar structures of two languages are also different, it almost looks like ‘upside down’. So is pronunciation as well.

English education didn’t focus on communicating

This is changing now, but learning second language in Japan used to be mainly improving ability of reading, not of speaking or listening. That is because they didn't used to have much opportunity to communicate with other languages in Japan.

For living in Japan, being able to speak Japanese was just enough and it is more or less same nowadays.

No matter it is French or German, they learned it because they wanted to be able to read in that language.

Thinking about my schools, in the English classes we learned how to translate between English and Japanese, not how to speak or how to communicate. We learned lots of techniques of reading comprehension, but not of expression opinions in English.

They don’t want to be laughed  

I think this is the biggest reason why people don’t speak English in Japan.

Recently I read an article, in a TV show the presentators talked about non-native-speakers of Japanese who are working in convenience stores in Japan, and they joked about their ‘funny’ Japanese.

The consolation is that there are some people who criticized them, because it is normal that you make some mistakes when you are learning a new language, and you cannot laugh about it.

It’s a new movement. People have just started thinking that there is something wrong about it. When I was a kid, it was common to joke about non-native speaker’s ‘funny’ Japanese.

I think that is the point. It is the mentally barrier for Japanese people to speak English.

They don’t want to make mistakes. They don’t want to be laughed by others.

Making mistakes is stupid and embarrassing, Japanese people think, even when they are trying to speak non-native languages.

That is the reason why Japanese people do not speak English even they know some English which is compulsory to learn in school. People are mentally barricaded and so afraid to be laughed at. It is not as simple as ‘just shy’.


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