JIN-352 -- Shhh--They're Listening to English in There

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 352
Friday January 20, 2006 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: Shhh--They're Listening to English in There

Entrepreneur's Handbook Seminar 4th of Feb, 2006

If you have been considering setting up your own company,
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founder of over 12 start-up companies in Japan, will be giving
an English-language seminar and Q&A on starting up a company
in Japan February next year. This is an ideal opportunity to find
out what is involved, and to ask specific questions that are
not normally answered in business books. All materials are
For more details: http://japaninc.com/handbook_seminar3/

+++ VIEWPOINT: Shhh--They're Listening to English in There

The Japanese are reputed to be poor at English. They sometimes
attribute an inability to speak English to racial, among other,
reasons. Twenty or so years ago a certain doctor made
a splash by "proving" that the different Japanese brain
hampered their acquisition of foreign languages. Tongue-tied
Japanese students of English quickly touted his claim as it
shielded them from accusations of being lazy or misguided
and inept in language study. Then there are Japanese who
point out that English presents an almost insurmountable
challenge to native speakers of a language as different as
Japanese. Meanwhile, some pundits claim that English
comprehension requires such powers of concentration that
Japanese listeners run of out gas. Novelist Haruki Murakami,
during an American sojourn, experienced just such a thing.
He described this as "Ultraman's battery shutoff," after the
campy Japanese cybernetic hero who must recharge his battery.
Finally, there are observers who squarely blame the education
system for the fact that after 12 years of instruction the average
Japanese would still have trouble, say, ordering a take-out pizza over
the phone in English.

One oft-cited fault of English education is overemphasis on
reading comprehension on university entrance exams, which
encourages a focus on parsing sentences at the expense of
listening and speaking. So the introduction this year of listening
comprehension to the English exam was a bold -- and long
overdue -- innovation. This Saturday half a million university
candidates will simultaneously hearken to the same 30-minute
English tape at exam centers across the country.

But will they be able to hear the tape? It is a fact that background
noise makes comprehension of a foreign language more difficult.
For that reason numerous universities have requested organizations
near campuses refrain from unnecessary noise on the exam day.
For example, Ryukyu University, near the US Marine Corps
Futenma Air Station on Okinawa, has asked the US military
not to fly helicopters, transport planes, etc. over the
university on the exam day.

Here in the capital, Tokyo Metropolitan University has requested
movie theaters and large commercial facilities in the vicinity of
the campus to reduce the level of noise during the exam. All
proved good neighbors, with the result that a jazz concert and
street performer festival scheduled for Saturday were postponed.

But noise can be as unexpected as a peal of thunder or backfire
of a car or even a sneeze. Candidates can't ask to hear the tape
again. They have one chance, and one chance only.
An unexpected noise could cause them to lose concentration;
their battery to shut off.

If you happen to be near an exam site this Saturday, tread softly
and speak in whispers.

--Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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