I have learned English for over 3 decades. No, actually it’s for 4 decades including my school age. When I went abroad for the first time in 1986, I only could speak some terms of everyday conversation such as ” how are you?”, ” how much?”, ” what time is it?” and so on.
I still cannot believe that I could achieve that reckless trip along the Silk Road in China, Tibet and Nepal with my poor English speaking ability for several months. Since then, I worked at an international hotel franchise and most of the employees spoke English there. So I learned it through working.
Most of Japanese learn English from the age of 12 to 18 but these 6 years don’t make them fluent in speaking. They are forced to be concentrated on grammar, reading and composition, which is called “preparation studying” for entrance exams of universities. Once they enter colleges or universities, they tend to forget most of the terms and sentences they learned in those period of “exam war”.
This is one of the reason that Japanese seldom speak English.
In the end of January, I was in Annaburg, near Berlin and was having a product training of some agricultural machinery. While I was having a dinner with representatives of machine dealers from EU, there were guys from Czech republic and Slovakia. The job training itself was held in German and it was simultaneously interpreted into Russian and English by two sales persons of the manufacturer. I was astonished with their fluency and asked one of them how they learned and trained their skills of speaking foreign languages. On the dinner table, sipping a glass of good wine or two, our dialogues became focusing on the education of second languages in each countries.
I explained them about the education in Japan as mentioned above and the guy from Czech told me that they had quite the same way of learning English in his country. Another man from Slovakia agreed with him and said ” only reading comprehension was the most important things for us when we were students. And when I graduated from a college, I couldn’t speak English at all. So I decided to learn English again and went to the United States. Those two years made me capable of communicating with English speaking people”.
I had believed that the grammar-translation method in English-learning is taken only in Japan and therefore Japanese people are not good at communicating in English, but I was wrong. I found that there were not so drastic differences between those EU nations and Japan.
I assume that “how to seize an opportunity” to speak out the terms and sentences which he or she has learned at school is a KEY and the accumulation of these experiences encourages people to speak English in front of native English speakers.
Fortunately, I can write English like this but my composition and usage of terms are obviously the one of non-native’s and my speaking ability must be still in the level of primary-school children. I sometimes think if my mother tongue were English, my life would be totally different. On the other hand, I admire the beautiful structure of Japanese language and I appreciate living as Japanese on this globe.
Only one thing I want to emphasize for my children is that….
If you speak only Japanese, you can communicate with 0.14 billion people. If you learn and speak English, you will be able to communicate with 1.4 billion people.