Why I Can’t Speak

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Many Japanese adults have had six years of English education in junior and senior high school, but struggle to have an introductory level conversation. The reasons for this are manifold, but recently a new realization occurred.

Already I was aware that most people over 76 years old, growing up during the Great Asian War, did not study English in school as this was a period of strong opposition to Western influence. With this in mind, I had progressed with the idea that everyone 73 years old and under had studied English for six years. During a conversation with a 73 year old man the pieces fell into place in my head. Japan, even today, only has compulsory education through 9th grade: a surprising fact considering their image as extremely focussed on education. Combine that with the severe economic conditions of Japan for a good twenty years after the war, and you might be able to picture a situation where a large number of citizens went straight to work from junior high school.

Living in a rural farming area (still now) many students quickly transitioned to produce food for a starving country. Foregoing an expensive and, at the time, unneeded high school education. This means a large number of people in their 60s (and perhaps 50s) only received three years of English.

My high school French is pretty rusty, even though it is closely related to English and I have travelled in France and Quebec. (And I am far from my 60s)

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