This time, we will introduce what is necessary for Japanese children to speak English.
There are various levels of “being able to speak English”, but this time, we will talk about what is necessary to acquire bilingual level English proficiency that can be used in daily life and work.
- Three Factors Necessary to Master English in Japan
- Why Can Some People Acquire English and Others Cannot?
Three Factors Necessary to Master English in Japan
People who can use their native language, “Japanese,” and their second language, “English,” in their daily lives and work are called “bilinguals of Japanese and English.”
These bilingual people have something in common.
It is that “the time spent using English is overwhelmingly long.”
It also means that they had an “environment” and “human relationships” that allow them to speak English for many years.
Many people naturally acquire English when they are in an English-speaking country. That is because these three elements are easily obtained.
In the other words, if these three factors are met, it is possible for children to acquire English proficiency to the level of being called bilingual while living in Japan.
Time spent using English
According to research on bilingual education, the time spent using English is proportional to English proficiency.
For example, it goes without saying that there is a big difference between someone who has swum for 100 hours in a pool and someone who has watched YouTube videos about swimming for 100 hours.
This is obviously due to the difference in “actual swimming time”. Similarly, for English, “the time spent using English” is the most important thing for becoming able to speak English.
So, does it mean that studying English without using English is meaningless?
If you want to become able to speak English, it is an extremely roundabout way if you only attend such classes or study.
It’s like trying to learn how to swim without going to a pool.
The knowledge acquired through classes and studying is important. However, in speaking English, it is only a supplement. The foundation is built by actually using English through speaking and listening.
So how long does it take to acquire English proficiency to the level of being called “bilingual”?
It is said to be 3,000-5,000 hours at least.
It is said that approximately 3,000 hours are necessary to speak simple English fluently.
On the other hand, it is said that it takes 5,000 hours to speak difficult English that can be used in business fluently.
This time has also been proven in Canada’s “immersion program” (bilingual training program), which has trained tens of thousands of bilinguals in the past.
This program, which is said to be the most effective for bilingual education in Canada, is conducted entirely in their second language, “French,” for five years from around 5 to 10 years old.
Children use their native language (English) at home and use their second language (French) at school.
The total time spent on activities using the second language for 5 years from preschool to elementary school 4th grade is about 5,000 hours.
This 5,000 hours is almost the same as the time needed for many children to acquire their mother tongue.
A child who started attending school abroad for overseas migration purposes will start to have no problems with classes and communication after surpassing around 5,000 hours.
Sustainable English Environment
It takes effort to have the amount of time spent using English to 3,000-5,000 hours while living in Japan. Therefore, it is essential to create a “sustainable English environment.”
In the past, it was considered difficult to become bilingual in Japan unless one parent was a native English speaker or the child attended an international school.
However, many people can now make this possible.
In modern times, even from a young age, you can use YouTube, picture books, CDs, games, etc. to expose yourself to English at home. There are also English kindergartens, classrooms where you can learn English, online schools, etc., so it is easier to create an English environment than before.
Even if you cannot touch English for hours every day, if you can maintain an environment and time to speak English little by little, you will reach 3,000-5,000 hours after graduating from high school or university and be able to use English freely.
What is important is to continue using English.
However, maintaining an English environment for more than 10 years is not easy.
Therefore, the following “human relationships” become very important.
Even if parents create an “English-speaking environment”, if the children does not have motivation and cannot find value in English, it will be difficult to acquire English.
In the worst case scenario, they may end up losing the English language skills built up over many years since childhood.
Therefore, “human relationships” are the key.
English is originally a tool for communication.
In other words, the true value of English lies in connecting with someone.
What parents can do is create opportunities for their children to meet people who they need to communicate in English.
At first, it is recommended to find overseas teachers who are patient listeners, such as those in online schools.
It would be great if they could make friends overseas online.
If they can make even one close friend through English, their approach to English and the speed of their acquisition will change significantly.
It may seem like the most difficult thing, but it is actually the most important.
If they can establish relationships, they can create an English-speaking environment. And if they can create an English-speaking environment, they can ensure the time needed to acquire English.
Why Can Some People Acquire English and Others Cannot?
Tens of thousands of Japanese people are studying English acquisition.
However, many Japanese people have not been able to acquire English proficiency at the level of “speaking fluently.”
This result can also be understood from the three factors of “time spent speaking English,” “English environment,” and “relationships” that have been mentioned so far.
Now, let’s take a look at common English study methods in Japan.
Study of Grammar and Vocabulary
Studying grammar and vocabulary familiar in English classes does not fulfill any of the following: “time speaking English,” “English environment,” or “human relationships.”
Therefore, no matter how much you study grammar and vocabulary, it is not enough to be able to speak English.
If there is time, environment, and social interaction to speak only English, acquiring English can be accelerated by knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.
English conversation lessons provide an opportunity to consistently use English and build relationships through the language.
If lessons are short, it takes a significant amount of time to master English. However, English conversation lessons excel in providing an “English environment” and human interaction.
For example, even if you continue with two hours of English conversation per week for 10 years, the total time will only be 960 hours, and it can be said that it is not realistic to aim to speak English fluently through English conversation alone.
Recently, there has been an increase in English “listening” materials such as radio, YouTube, and podcasts. However, most of these materials use a lot of Japanese, so the actual time spent listening to English is very short. Therefore, it is not realistic to expect to become fluent in English just by using these materials alone.
However, these methods are excellent in creating an “English environment” during free time, and it is recommended to use them in conjunction with other learning methods to accumulate English usage time.
However, it is important to note that simply “listening” to these materials like music without understanding or absorbing the English language will have zero effect on English acquisition.
Watching Movies and TV Dramas in English
Watching English movies and TV dramas is an excellent way to increase exposure to English because you can enjoy it for a long period of time. By continuing this practice for a long period, English will be improved, and the ability to adjust the difficulty by using English subtitles or no subtitles is an advantage.
The downside is that there is not enough time to speak English. To maximize English acquisition, creating an environment to speak English is still important.
Listening to Music in English
Listening to Western music is similar to watching movies and TV shows, but there is a big difference. It’s great to be able to experience your favorite music, but it’s almost impossible for someone who hasn’t yet learned English to understand the lyrics while listening. Therefore, it has zero effect on English acquisition.
However, it is excellent in terms of generating motivation for acquiring English skills, as it helps you get interested in English and foreign cultures.
Reading Books in English
Reading books in English is an excellent way to improve English in terms of its quality and quantity. You can understand at your own pace and the range of English is often quite broad.
The downside is that it can be difficult to continue for some people.
However, the act of “reading” is the process of continuously performing “brain output” in which you create meaning from a list of words in your head, and then understanding that meaning through “input”.
Therefore, if you can continue reading, there will be a great effect on acquiring English.
Short-term Study Abroad
Short-term study abroad is ideal for creating an “English environment” and building relationships through making friends and exposure to English.
However, the disadvantage is that the time spent using English is surprisingly short.
For example, even with five hours of English classes on weekdays at a language school, the total number of hours for three months study is only 300 hours.
Therefore, the key to improving one’s English is how much time can be spent using English and how many relationships can be built outside of class.
Immersion education is a program where subjects such as language arts and mathematics are taught in English, allowing students to acquire English while studying other subjects.
It is excellent in providing the three necessary elements for acquiring English: “time spent using English,” “English environment,” and “relationships.”
When English becomes a part of one’s life in such an environment, many people become able to speak English.
The disadvantage is that it can be difficult to continue for some people.
An all-English environment is an environment where beginners, in particular, cannot understand anything at all. In such an environment, it is not easy for them to feel fun or a sense of security.
Therefore, it is important to choose an immersion program that incorporates ways to feel fun and a sense of security even if kids can’t understand English.
International schools, like immersion education, are excellent in providing the three necessary elements for acquiring English proficiency: “time using English,” “English environment,” and “relationships.”
However, unlike immersion education, international schools are schools for children whose mother tongue is English. As a result, it can be difficult for children whose second language is English to enroll or keep up with the curriculum.