English education in the world


If you can speak English, you can communicate smoothly with people who live in many countries. At present people who speak English as a first language number 340 million. The total of people who speak English as a first or second language is 600 million. (WELT-NETZ, 2006) Also, it is said that 80% of the information on the Internet all over the world is exchanged in English. (Honna, 2002) So, if you can read and write in English, you can get more information than people who can not read or write or English That is to say, English is the common language of the world.
Many non-native speakers of English throughout the world learn English because of their hobby, their job, their grade for English and so on. And, many countries’ governments oblige students to learn English as a compulsory or optional subject. Japan is also one such country.
Now, in Japan, the English educational system is changing. Then, how is it being changed in other countries? In other countries, how is English education conducted? I would like to compare the Japanese educational system with other countries’ systems.

Difficulty of learning languages

When you compare Japanese people’s English skill level or education with people in other countries, you have to make allowances for one point. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), an attached agency of the U.S. State Department, made a certain interesting chart public. It is “Expected Levels of Absolute Speaking Proficiency in Languages Taught at the Foreign Service Institute.” Table 1 shows how long Americans who speak English as the mother tongue should take to be able to speak other languages based on FSI’s long actual experience. Languages can be separated into four groups Languages easy to learn and difficult to learn in this chart. This is a research announcement based on observation of real learners, not an inference or a theory. Languages belonging in each group are as follows. Group 1 is comprised of the easiest languages to learn and Group 4 contains the most difficult languages to learn for native speakers of English.

Table 1 Language groups according to learning difficulty

(Akaida, 2001)

By looking at the table, you can find that it is difficult for native speakers of English to learn Japanese. To put it the other way around, it is difficult for Japanese to learn English, as well. For example, suppose that certain Americans start to learn Dutch. Dutch belongs to Group 1. Let us suppose that the learners’ goals are “1. Construct sentences correctly. 2. Make good use of a large number of words. 3. Join in the conversation of everyday topics in social situations and one’s specialty. 4. Make mistakes only occasionally, but so as not to interfere with native speaker’s understanding. 5. Though pronunciation is not native. Speak with fluency.” To arrive at this goal, they have to learn for 960 hours. But, if they start to learn Japanese, they must learn for about 2,400~2,760 hours. (Akaida, 2001) Following this logic, it is so difficult for Japanese to learn English. And, South Korean and Chinese people also learn English under the same circumstance as Japanese.

Comparison of TOEFL score

Japanese average TOEFL score has been behind South Korean and Chinese in recent years. (See Table 2.) There is a noticeable gap of twenty points between Japan and Korea, with China and Korea almost the score. Average score of TOEFL in 2000-2001 is on Table 3.

Table 2 Average TOEFL scores

(ETS,2006, Onuma, 2003)

Table 3 2000-2001 average TOEFL score (Asia)

(TOEFL data, 2004)

It is difficult to compare scores of all countries because there is a world of difference in the number of candidates from each country. But, since the number of Japanese, South Korean, and Chinese candidates is nearly the same. (Torikai, 2002) I will compare these three countries.
In the international ranking, China took the third place, South Korean took the eighth place and Japan took the sixteenth place. In any case, the scores of the three countries have improved little by little compared to before. The background of this result is as follows. In South Korea, people who intend to study abroad have increased with the country’s economic development. Thus, public interest in English education has increased by degrees. Also in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong people who intend to study abroad have increased like in South Korea. Therefore, universities and graduate schools in U.S., decided to raise the standard TOEFL score to enter because applicants have flooded universities and graduate schools. For this reason, their passions for English have mounted more and more, raising the average score on TOEFL. (Akaida, 2002)
The compulsory educational systems of the three countries are exactly alike. However, the Japanese educational system seems to trail the South Korean and the Chinese systems, because in Japan the starting age of English education is later than the other two countries. But, in fact, substance of classes, quality of teachers, methods of teaching, and textbooks are all related to their improvement in English skills, as well. I will focus on the educational system of these three countries and their textbooks in the next part of this report.

English educational system of each country

Table 4 Education situation of each country

(Jiten Asia no saisin eigo jijou, 2002, sekai no ugoki, 2000, Chugoku Gaikyou---11. kyouiku, 2005)

1. In the case of Japan
Japanese people have been interested in learning English for sometime now and in lifelong learning in recent years. Of course students, some members of society, and housewives learn English in various ways. Enterprises consider that learning English is not for only hobbies or education, but it indispensable in the business world. Now, there are 428 (56.1%) companies are considering whether or not to adopt the TOEIC test as an employment examination in the future. Though there are 104 (13.4%) companies that are now using the TOEIC test as criterion for judgment of employees for advancement and salary increases, there are 306 (40%) companies that are considering the TOEIC test score as a criterion for employment in the future. Thus, employees are asked to improve their English skill to conduct business internationally from now on.
In Japan, government has adopted a 6-3-3-4 system as basic education. English teaching starts from seventh grade (first year of junior high school.) In elementary school, English teaching is done only in “class of general studies” as a part of the class for understanding other cultures. But the purpose is not to learn English as in done junior high school. It is carried out only to understand other cultures.
The government decided to carry out an educational system that aims to strengthen students’ English communication skill in junior high and high school in recent years. But, some schools that have a high percentage of students who advance to higher education tend to carry out English classes for entrance examinations. (Honna, 2002)

2. In the case of China
The market economy has been expanded and people have become interested in learning English in China in recent years. Some European, American, and Japanese companies have located in China lately, so a great number of students long to get a job with such foreign-affiliated companies because of the high salaries’. In China, students know that English skill is directly linked to income, so their motivation to learn English is high. The government has adopted a 6-3-3-4 system as basic education in China. This system is the same as Japan but they have some different points. On the occasion of their graduation, all students must take the graduation examination. If students can not pass, they can not graduate from university.
English education starts from first grade in China. The government also decided to carry out more English classes from first grade in the cities from 2001. The areas include, for example, Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. But, there is a world of difference between the cities and the provinces in the style of education. This is one of the problems that they have to solve. (Honna, 2002)

3. In the case of South Korea
In South Korea, as well, the government established a 6-3-3-4 education system. They decided to introduce English education to elementary schools from 1997. English education starts from third grade. In elementary school, mainly English conversation is carried out. English classes have been conducted all in English since 2004. Furthermore, the government is planning to start English education from first grade from 2008. Though they have pushed forward with the English teaching which made a point of communication, there are few teachers that are able to carry out classes all in English. In other words, only 4% of all teachers in South Korea are qualified. As a result, the teachers have to go to English school. (Honna, 2002)

About textbooks

(1) In the case of Japan
Figure 1 High school textbook in Japan

(Keirinkan koukou eigo kyoukasyo no goannai, 2006)
There are 150-200 pages, twelve lessons, 350-850 words per lesson and 500 new words per year, in an average high school textbook. (Keirinkan, 2006) A remarkable feature of textbook in Japan is that many are written about other cultures as lesson topics.

(2) In the case of China
Figure 2 High school textbook in China

(Chugoku no koukou eigo kyouiku, 2003)

There are more than 200 pages, in an average high school textbook. (Mito, 2003) A remarkable feature of the textbooks in China is that almost all of them are written in English, including instructions.

(3) In the case of South Korea
Figure 3 Elementary school textbook in South Korea

(Jiten Asia no saisin eigo jijou, 2002)
There are about 300 pages, twelve lessons, 650-1000 words per lessons, in an average high school textbook. (Midorikawa, 2002) A remarkable feature of textbook in South Korea is that the Confucian ethic and Korea’s own culture are treated as lesson topics. As a result, English, American, or other cultures are seldom treated.


I have wondered why Japanese are poor at English. Through this research, I understand some reasons making it difficult for Japanese people to learn English, but I think I have to study this topic in more depth. On the other hand, though South Korean and Chinese people belong to the same language group as Japan, their English skills are better than Japanese skills. At that, I realize that there are several differences between Japan and the two other countries concerning English education. There are many examples that have a big effect on language skills. First, Chinese and South Korean textbooks have many more pages than Japanese ones. Second, in Japan, teachers tend to carry out English classes almost all in Japanese, but in China and South Korea, teachers carry out English classes mostly in English. In addition, the graduation examination of China is an effective system. I think most students study hard, though some students may not study so hard. But all students come to study of their own volition according to this system. Also, in China, elementary school English study starts from first grade. Thus, their total English learning time is longer than in Japan and South Korea. In addition, in China and South Korea, teachers must be able to speak English fluently and conduct classes all in English. In reverse, in Japan, whether or not to conduct classes all in English is dependant on the individual teacher. Finally, it is important to learn foreign languages by studying familiar topics, so that they will be able to introduce themselves in English. Familiar topics mean, for example, their own culture, their religion, about their country, and so on.
Now, Japanese government practices “less strenuous education” but it seems that they only reduced school hours, and the content and teaching methods have not been changed at all. I think that the quality of education should be improved in clear and specific ways following other countries’ merits.


Akaida, T. (Korea), Onuma, T. (China) (2001-2004). Web Peripatos. Retrieved November 7, 2006 from http://www.kirihara-kyoiku.net/peripatos/index.html

Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), BEIJING. (2005).
Chugoku Gaikyou. Chapter 11. kyoiku. Retrieved November 14, 2006 from

Educational Testing Service. (ETS). (2006). TOEFL Total Score and Section Score. Retrieved November 14, 2006 from http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/TOEFL/pdf/Test%20and%20Score%20Data%20Summary%2004_05.pdf

EDVEC. (2004). Kokunaigai no eigokyouiku jijou: kaigai no eigokyouiku jijou. Retrieved October 26, 2006 from http://www.edvec.co.jp/research-institute/ educative-info/overseas-info/13.html

Gender Equality Bureau Cabinet Office. (2006). Shingakuritsu no suii. Retrieved November 7, 2006 frompen/chap04_08.html| http://www.gender.go.jp/whitepaper/h16/danjohp/html/hon pen/chap04_08.html

Honna, N. (2002, December). Jiten Asia no saisin eigo jijou. Taishukanshoten

Kojin tokkun kyoushitu. (2004). TOEFL data. Retrieved September 28, 2006 from

Keirinkan. (2006). Keirinkan koukou eigo kyoukasyo no goannai. Retrieved November 14, 2006 from

Midorikawa, H. (2002). Kankoku no eigo kyouiku jijou (2) --- shinkatei no eigo kyoukasho
Retrieved November 7, 2006 from http://www.bun-eido.co.jp/textbook/ujournal/uj53/uj532023.pdf

Mito, M. (2003). Chugoku no koukou eigo kyouiku. Retrieved November 14, 2006 from

Torikai, K. (2002, April). TOEFL/TOEIC to nihonjin no eigoryoku. Koudansha.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. (2006). Republic of Korea. Retrieved November 2006 from http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/world/kuni/0010korea.html
WELT-NETZ. (2006). Communication tsuru toshite no eigo no juyousei. Retrieved November 24, 2006 from

Yamada, Y. (2005, April). Nihon no eigo kyouiku. Iwanami Shoten.