English education in Japanese elementary school

by Kaho Nagao

Since 2011, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology decided to introduce English class to 5th and 6th grade elementary school students (MEXT 2002). The aim of this project is to produce people who can command English well and build up English communication skill. In this post, I will discuss whether should we introduce English or other languages education, and whether we should introduce bilingualism.

Before talking about the topic, it will describe that what is bilingualism. Bilingualism is people who can make them understood in two languages. Needless to say, there are some differences of ability depends on people and where they use these language, in school, between family, in society and so on. Now in Japan, most people who live in Japan use Japanese and even foreigner who live in Japan use Japanese to communicate with the society. Within Japanese society, English seems to be not needed, however, in the world what happen now?

On the earth, it is said that there are more than 7 billion people and quarter of them speak and understand English (Amelia n.d.). Thus, if you can understand English, we can communicate with more than a billion people. In addition, we can get much information and way of thinking that is if you only use Japanese or any other local languages.

On the other hand, if the government introduces the English education into elementary school, there are also some arguments. Some thinks that if English education start from when kids are little they cannot handle it and kids make many grammar mistakes and get confused, in addition, they cannot command either Japanese or English well. However, if so, many people who can speak English but non-native cannot speak English in a proper way. For example, in Sweden, English education is started in 3rd grade (Sweden English 1979) and most Swedish people can understand English. Since they are young, they are familiar with English TV, movies and music. ABBA, which is famous music group from Sweden, they sing very nice and easy to listen. Of course there are linguistically difference between Japanese and Swedish. Swedish may be near to English compared to Japanese.

From now on Japanese society is heading to aging society and more and more people may go to abroad and come into Japan. At that time we need to communicate with somehow. At that time, English become one of the ways, so when the government especially MEXT realize it and make more useful policy, it is going to be more good to children and Japanese society.


Amelia English in the World http://www.amelia.ne.jp/user/reading/dialect_01_03.jsp

MEXT http://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/chousa/shotou/020/sesaku/020702.htm

Hiroshima university. English education in Sweden http://ir.lib.hiroshima-u.ac.jp/metadb/up/ZZT00001/CaseleResBull_9_39.pdf

One thought on “English education in Japanese elementary school

  1. Kaho Nagao you are most certainly right that Japan has a growing issue when it comes to the acquisition of English. I taught in Japan for a few years at a 小学校 and an 英会話スクール, both experiences led me to believe that the Japanese have only a few issues when it comes to learning English.

    1. Japanese people are largely indirect and passive even in Japanese. English tends to be quite direct and opinionated which is culturally different than what Japanese people are used to.
    2. Young Japanese people are often more capable than what their teachers think. Their is quite a bit of coddling in the Japanese school system. Many Japanese teachers think they know what is best for students because they are used to the “Japanese Way” of doing things. Yet the teachers themselves are not fully trained enough to teach English and rely on Assistant Language Teachers to teach entire lessons.
    3. Japanese people are used to practice and results. Much of education is a result of repetition and results. While language studies fall into this method there is another dynamic that must be observed; language studies must include real life trials. Many Japanese I found refuse to speak if they feel they are going to be wrong. This is natural but in order to become a better speaker experience is needed. that experience can only be gained through trial and error.

    So become opinionated! Write to your Board of Education! AND PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! It’s not easy. Life isn’t easy, but we do it because its necessary;)

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