The Japanese Ministry of Education has announced a new initiative designed to improve English ability by requiring English lessons to start in the fifth and sixth grades of elementary school, instead of the first grade of junior high school, which is the current policy. You might think that the future might see an improvement in the language skills of the Japanese due to this bold new plan, but if you’ve taught ESL in Japan for as long as I did, you’d know that precious little will actually change. The program essentially calls for Japanese teachers who may or may not have any special language skill to add an hour of English instruction per week. Since many homeroom teachers don’t know English at all, other than the dreary grammar they were forced to memorize for their university entrance exams, I’m afraid many students will have katakana-ified English ingrained on their brains and will have even more trouble learning any kind of natural, living English later. Even bringing in native English teachers doesn’t solve the problem. An hour of English per week simply isn’t enough to build a base of vocabulary and give students confidence at using the language. I don’t mean to be pessismistic, but without Japan studying successful bilingualism programs in countries like Canada and the Netherlands and making touch choices, Japan will always be EFL (English as a Foreign Language), not ESL (English as a Second Language), and things will pretty much always be the same.
Japan is rolling out another English reform program.