Fear for jobs ignites "English crisis" in Japan

Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:15am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Mariko Katsumura

TOKYO (Reuters) - It's eight in the morning in a Tokyo office building, and a dozen middle-aged Japanese businessmen sit inside small booths, sweating as they try to talk English to the instructors in front of them.

"I hope my wife will understand my hobby," one 40-something man says, opening his mouth widely around the English words.

He is one of legions of Japanese businessmen, or "salarymen," struggling with a language they thought they had left behind them in school as fears mount that the growing push by Japanese companies into overseas business will mean a dark future for them without usable English.

This is especially true these days, with the strong yen and a lagging domestic market prompting more firms to look overseas for business opportunities essential for their bottom lines.

"I had a business trip to Amsterdam last year and that really was tough. My boss spoke no English, and I had to speak English for the first time in 10 years," said Masahide Tachibana, a 39-year-old software developer.

Tachibana now gets up at 5:00 a.m. to take morning lessons at a central Tokyo branch of Gaba, an English language school.

"I've always wanted to brush up my English and that business trip ignited my aspirations," said Tachibana, as around him other businessmen and women pack up and hurry to work after their 45-minute, one-on-one lessons.

Japan, despite being the world's third-largest economy and a major export powerhouse, is known for its poor English-speaking ability even though six years of study are required in middle and high school.   Continued...

<p>A student uses English language learning software on a Nintendo DS during a media event at Tokyo Girls Junior High School in Tokyo June 26, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Caronna</p>