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Majority of Japan businesspeople enjoy English but lack confidence speaking: TOEIC operator

This Feb. 25, 2015 file photo shows a meeting held in English at Japan's e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. Participants wear name tags with their first names written in English. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- About 85% of Japanese businesspeople enjoy speaking English, but a majority still report feeling unconfident when it comes to talking in the language, according to the results of a survey on how business learners feel about English by the administrator of the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), a prominent business English proficiency test.

The survey also found that respondents see speaking as the most difficult communication skill to acquire, and the majority said it is the area they wish to improve the most.

The Institute for International Business Communication (IIBC), based in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, conducted an online survey aimed at 500 male and female businesspeople aged between their 20s and 50s who are studying English and are based in Tokyo or ordinance-designated major cities. Responses were collected from Feb. 19 to Feb. 26.

When asked if they like speaking in English, a total of 426 respondents, or 85.2%, answered that they enjoy speaking the language, with 41.6% responding "I enjoy it," and 43.6% saying "I somewhat enjoy it." The survey then asked those who responded with the former why they enjoy speaking English. The most popular response, selected by 73.7% of those asked, was: "I can communicate with people from other countries." This was followed by, "I can become close friends with people from other countries," (53.1%) and, "I enjoy learning and speaking new languages" (49.3%).

Meanwhile, 261, or 52.2% of all respondents, said they either feel unconfident or somewhat unconfident in their English speaking abilities. When asked why, 60.9% cited concerns about their vocabulary, while 60.5% said they "cannot speak fluently," and 53.6% said they were not confident about their pronunciation.

The survey also found that 55.8%, or over half of respondents, view speaking as the most difficult communication skill to develop among reading, listening, writing, and speaking. Additionally, 66.6% chose speaking as the skill they most wish to improve.

More than half of the total respondents, at 55.6%, also expressed a lack of confidence when it comes to pronouncing English; 64.4% said they had experienced situations in which they did not want to speak the language due to uncertainty about pronunciation.

Nearly all, or 90% of respondents, said they wanted to be able to pronounce the language like a native speaker, and 89.2% answered that they would like to try talking to foreigners proactively if they were to become capable of speaking like a native English speaker.

In response to the question, "What do you think is the most important factor in making yourself understood in English conversations with foreigners?" 25.8% answered that "the will and intentions for conveying your thoughts" is most crucial, while 23.4% selected "vocabulary," and 22.4% deemed "pronunciation" as the leading factor.

Popular singer Hikaru Utada ranked first place among Japanese celebrities whom respondents most aspired to resemble when speaking English.

The IIBC seeks to "promote smooth communication in the global community," and runs the TOEIC tests as well as a global human resources development program in Japan.

(By Chinami Takeichi, The Mainichi Staff Writer)

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