Its prominence in the global economy has made Japan far less enthusiastic about learning English than China and South Korea, according to Taiwan’s Want Daily.
The relative lack of interest in learning English is reflected in the diminishing number of students Japan sends to the US. In 2012 China and S. Korea sent 230,000 and 70,000, respectively, while Japan sent only 20,000 — one-eighth as much as S. Korea on a per-capita basis.
Another indication of Japan’s waning interest in learning the world’s lingua franca is the amount spent nationally on English instruction. China, the world’s top market for English instruction, spends about $58 billion a year, S. Korea $9.5-$14.5 billion and Japan only $966 million. China’s English-instruction market is growing 36% a year while Japan’s is barely keeping up with inflation at an annual growth rate of less than 2%.
As part of a national governmental push at making its population more English-literate, in 2011 Japan made English instruction mandatory from the 5th grade. That’s downright lackadaisical compared with China which requires English from the first grade and S. Korea from the third grade. Unlike China which has established a system to train English teachers, Japan relies on English-speaking expats who teach under short-term contracts.
The high motivation in China reflects the fact that strong English skills can propel a worker to higher salaries and top jobs, according to a Chinese professor interviewed by Want Times. By contrast, in Japanese society a discernible link between English skills and an elite status no longer exists.