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Why Japanese People Can’t Speak English

by Ewa Nowogorski

It really is a meme at this point. Japanese English is infamous in the Western world for being broken and almost completely not understandable. The Japanese can’t pronounce certain phonic sounds and the majority will never be able to speak fluently, despite a lifetime of learning.

A major reason for this is their broken education system. English is taught to unknowing Japanese people by other Japanese people who cannot speak the language themselves. The best they can do is to explain the grammar, which is rarely pronounced out loud correctly and at a realistic speed. Many teachers have a good understanding of the grammar on paper, but if it came to practical usage, they’d be no better than a toddler.

Teachers in classrooms also spend a majority of the time explaining English grammar in Japanese, and full sentences are read aloud out of context. Actual conversation is rarely practiced, and when it is the teacher focuses more on accuracy of grammar than pronunciation. A Japanese person might speak correct English but their pronunciation and intonation may be so off that you can’t understand them.

Japan also really likes its vocabulary tests. Every week, middle schoolers and high schoolers usually get a list of 20 or so words to memorize. They will be tested on those words at the end of the week. This list will usually have the English word and the Japanese translation, with no context and no example sentences to show how that word is used. Phrasal verbs, a huge part of the English language, are almost never taught. Vocabulary that is tested is doomed to soon be forgotten afterwards.

With all the boring grammar drills and vocabulary memorization, it is easy to understand why English might be the least favorite subject of many Japanese people. It’s just so dull, and the information will leave your brain right away. There is also very little in terms of opportunity to use this learned English, and what is not used shall be lost over time.

English needs to be taught in an innovative and practical way so that Japanese people can truly learn to start speaking the language.

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