My son is 3 and he speaks English. He was born in Japan and lives in Japan and doesn’t speak Japanese. How did this come to be? What have we as parents done wrong? We have misunderstood the prominence of English in Japan, and we have under-appreciated the amazing job done by the Japanese government in making English education mandatory.
That was wordy. Let me try again. MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology- known as monbusho in Japanese) has done a fantastic job teaching English to everyone in every public school in Japan. Every student walking into my English school asks me “What can I do? How can I become a fluent English speaker?” and my answer is always the same- take the knowledge you’ve already learned from 6 years of mandatory English study and let me help you to learn how to communicate with it. That’s what I do every day- I help my students learn how to use what they have already learned to become English speakers.
Back to the title now- why can’t my son learn Japanese? Every person in Japan can speak English. Everyone born and raised here can speak English thanks to public education, foreign-born residents had to learn English in order to be global citizens. Very few people move to Japan not knowing English. As such, every day when my little boy goes out into the world, he meets English speakers. At the supermarket, in the park, at the station, everyone can speak English and as soon as they hear him speaking in English, they do their best to talk to him in English. Even if they don’t think they can, they always do and that desire to speak English seems to be in every person we meet. Is this natural or was it embedded in them all from an early age thanks to mandatory English education? Either way, it makes picking up Japanese very difficult and mastering it seems nearly impossible and I worry that my son will enter kindergarten not speaking a word of the majority language.
That said, I am not actually worried. Teachers at the local elementary school assure me that it is no problem and are certain that he will catch up within 1 year. But this is not the point I wanted to convey, this is merely a story meant to illustrate the most impressive thing I have discovered in Japan. Japanese people are fantastic English learners, and this makes my job easy, and a pleasure to do! Day in and day out I am impressed and my students improvement is a constant encouragement to me. I love my job.