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Editorial: Japanese children need exposure to English outside the classroom, too

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has released the results of Japan's national achievement examination conducted on sixth-year elementary school and third-year junior high school students this past April.

In addition to the Japanese language, mathematics for junior high school students and arithmetic for elementary school students, an English test was conducted as part of the exam for those in junior high school for the first time.

The results showed junior high school students' levels of English reading and listening comprehension were quite high. On the other hand, they tended to experience trouble when expressing themselves in writing and when speaking casually in English.

A report on exam results proposes transforming English classes into platforms for children to converse with each other in English, expressing their own opinions. In other words, it underscores the need for English lessons to center on practical dialogue in the language.

A survey that was conducted as part of the examination provides clues as to how to improve children's English. It asked children if they liked studying English and if they could understand the English classes they took at their schools. The relationship between their answers and their scores in the English test were then analyzed. It was evident that the more interested children were in English, the higher their average scores in the test were.

In other words, children's command of English depends largely on how much they like English. To boost children's interest in English, it is important to teach them about other countries' cultures in addition to English vocabulary and grammar.

An increase in opportunities for children to use English as globalization progresses and information and communications technology advances can help children develop an interest in the language.

More than 30% of children covered by the survey said they were regularly exposed to English outside the classroom, such as by visiting websites in English and talking to foreigners in their neighborhoods. The average rate of questions these children answered correctly in the English test was higher than that of other children.

Since the national achievement examination began in 2007, it has been pointed out that Japanese children have sufficient basic knowledge but tend to be poor at applying it -- not only in English but also in other subjects.

Schoolteachers are busy not only with lessons but also with other work such as supervising club activities and clerical work. It has also been pointed that this makes it impossible for them to change their traditional approach of giving children one-way lectures -- though they are well aware of the problems associated with such a teaching style.

Instead of leaving English teaching entirely to teachers, it is necessary to consider measures to expand opportunities for schoolchildren to get familiar with English outside the classroom by cooperating with regional communities to increase opportunities for children to interact with non-Japanese residents.

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