When it came to Japanese Cartography, we found out that Japan lagged behind a bit. So what about other things, like English Language Proficiency? Education First recently released their report on worldwide English language proficiency, showing some interesting results. Instead of talking about the Japanese language today, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the English language in Japan (and the rest of the world). How does Japan compare? Let’s find out.
How They Tested “English Proficiency”
One of the main challenges faced was that there’s not “standard” way across every country to test English Proficiency. They used data from two million adults who took free English tests over a three year period. They think (and generally I agree with them) that over time and with enough data, these tests should give a fairly accurate depiction of a country’s English abilities. If you look at the countries (and read through their study) I think this generally holds true and seems accurate enough (at least when it comes to comparing countries with each other).
One thing to note is that they tested adults. They wanted to see how good the adult population was at English (as in, people who have gone through the standard education programs). This also makes sense to me, because then this way it helps to show how the English education program as a whole works out, rather than testing people who are in middle school vs high school (where the English gap would be a lot bigger).
Where Japan Stands
One thing to take into consideration is the test itself. I couldn’t see anything that specified what the test actually tested, but I think it’s safe to assume it wasn’t an oral test, meaning depending on what a school system studied, people are going to do better on the test (or worse on the test). The Japanese system, for example, really focuses on reading and text-based things. Speaking, overall, isn’t that important, which is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for Japanese people to speak / understand English, even though their reading / writing is pretty good.
Overall, compared to the other countries tested, Japan was number 14 out of the 44 listed. Not too shabby.
Click for bigger view (or download the study, link at the top of this post)
As you can see, Europe did pretty well on these tests, which makes sense. Most of the top countries, apparently, require English as your first second language, and of course English is pretty widely spoken in Europe. Most of Europe has had English as a part of their education curriculum since the 1980s, as well, meaning there’s been a chance for enough people to get through the entire program, increasing the number of adults who can do English overall.
Japan has also has had an English language program for a long time (definitely since the 80s, probably before that a bit too, but I’m not absolutely sure), though they’re 14 on the chart. South Korea, Hong Kong, and Malaysia are the two Asian places ahead of Japan (and Malaysia is the only Asian country in the top 10, and the only one with a “high proficiency” rating). China has a “Low Proficiency” rating, but this will definitely change as more people get through the English education program. English learning in China has hit a boom in recent years, so all it’ll take is some time for China to get into the Moderate Proficiency, and then maybe into high.
If you changed the test to be an oral test, I think these numbers would change drastically, though. Japan would probably go down to a low proficiency score (along with many other places as well).
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of English education in Japan (not English education in general, but rather how it’s done). Everything feels so mechanical and old school, and so much (if not all of) the focus is on preparing to take tests that for some reason decide your entire future.
So where did you think Japan stood in English proficiency compared to the rest of the world? I would have thought a bit lower, though apparently I’m a bit sarcastic when it comes to Japan and their English education programs. Also, take a look at the entire study if you’re interested. Lots of cool tidbits of information on English being learned throughout the world, what’s worked for certain countries, and why people are learning English. For those things, at least, I thought it was pretty interesting.