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February 24, 2004

Give Us More English!

A recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey shows that most Japanese want English taught as a regular subject at public elementary schools. The survey, taken in late January, asked 3,000 adults (1,889 respondents) about their opinions on the teaching of foreign languages and their own language skills. At present, about half of the country's public primary schools have included English as part of their general studies classes from the third grade.

87% of those surveyed were in favour of promoting further early English education, of which two thirds said it should be acquired as a skill for future employment. Over half believed it would help children improve their English skills, while 39% said it would help students feel more comfortable with foreigners. Of the respondents who were against further expansion of the English curriculum, 62% said children should study other subjects, such as Japanese and math, harder; 34% believed it wouldn't really help raise English language levels; 27% said it would place an additional learning burden on students; and 14% said it wouldn't help the future job prospects of all students.

67% of all respondents believe universities should become more serious about giving students the foreign language skills needed to play a role in the international community. Of the languages considered most important, English came out easily on top, chosen by 89%, followed by Chinese (58%) and Korean (31%). Asked about what they would do if they got a phone call in English from a native speaker, less than 2% said they would have no problem handling it alone. More than half said they would struggle just to explain their insufficient language skills and almost a quarter said they'd just hang up.

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