Here’s a fun look at when Japanese feel embarrassed by their lack of English ability, with the top ten moments for both men and women. This survey was, as usual, from goo Ranking.

Demographics

Between the 23rd and 26th of April 2010 1,187 members of the goo Research online monitor group completed a private internet-base questionnaire. 61.4% of the sample were female, 10.1% in their teens, 17.4% in their twenties, 30.9% in their thirties, 24.9% in their forties, 10.1% in their fifties, and 6.5% aged sixty or older. Note that the score in the results refers to the relative number of votes for each option, not a percentage of the total sample.

Even though Japanese study English for at least six years in school and it is, as far as I am aware, a compulsory subject in most universities, the level of English is pretty poor, quite frankly. There was some news recently that Uniqlo will make English the office language from next year. I was watching television tonight and they were talking about Samsung, who now sell more electrical goods than the top nine Japanese manufacturers put together, and they will be making English the official company language too. The program compared English levels; Japanese electronic firms set a TOEIC score of between 530 and 700 for management-level jobs, yet Samsung require 700 just to get in the door, then 920 to progress to management, which is pretty close to native fluency.

Ranking result

Q: When do you feel ashamed about your lack of English? (Sample size=458, male)

Rank   Score
1 When a foreigner asks me the way and I cannot answer 100
2 When I see a foreigner with a problem in Japan and strike up an English conversation, but I end up having problems too 68.9
3 When on overseas travel and I cannot order food, buy stuff, etc 62.2
4 When people at work are talking English but I haven’t a clue what they are on about 44.5
5 When people around me are laughing at an English joke but it’s only me who didn’t get it 37.0
6 When I think I’m using correct English but others are sniggering 33.6
7 When I use Japanese English and a native speaker cannot understand me 32.8
8 When I try as hard as I can to speak English but the foreigner replies in fluent Japanese 19.3
9 When it looks like I can silently finish shoppings, but then the staff say something in English that I can’t understand 16.0
10 At an interview, when a foreigner suddenly appears and starts interviewing in English, but I cannot understand them 5.9

Q: When do you feel ashamed about your lack of English? (Sample size=458, male)

Rank   Score
1 When a foreigner asks me the way and I cannot answer 100
2 When on overseas travel and I cannot order food, buy stuff, etc 92.2
3 When I see a foreigner with a problem in Japan and strike up an English conversation, but I end up having problems too 72.1
4 When people at work are talking English but I haven’t a clue what they are on about 49.5
5 When people around me are laughing at an English joke but it’s only me who didn’t get it 48.0
6 When I use Japanese English and a native speaker cannot understand me 35.3
7 When I think I’m using correct English but others are sniggering 34.3
8 When I try as hard as I can to speak English but the foreigner replies in fluent Japanese 31.9
9 When it looks like I can silently finish shoppings, but then the staff say something in English that I can’t understand 25.0
10 At an interview, when a foreigner suddenly appears and starts interviewing in English, but I cannot understand them 7.8

7 Comments

chamade · June 28, 2010 at 21:10

If Samsung is switching over to English, maybe Motorola should embrace Mandarin?

It seems perverse that non native english speaking companies will go this far for … a sale.

    Ben Ward · July 25, 2010 at 18:03

    Why is it ‘perverse’ for companies to use English or another non-native language in the workplace? As the international language of business, it seems sensible for employees to utilize a language that is widely spoken around the world. surely ease of communication outweighs other considerations — unless you believe that making staff use English is too onerous for them or that is symptomatic of the hegemony of English as a manifestation of global imperalism.

DerekNobuyuki Wallace · June 29, 2010 at 12:44

Is the second one supposed to be the female segment surveyed while the top one male?

    Ken Y-N · July 4, 2010 at 23:24

    Ahh, I see what you mean – yes, but there was a mistake in the demographics text which I’ve fixed. Thanks.

Global Voices in English » Japan: Questionnaire about English ability · June 29, 2010 at 22:40

[…] What Japan Thinks translated the results of a questionnaire about “when Japanese feel most ashamed about their lack of English”. The number one situation? “When a foreigner asks me the way and I cannot answer. ” Here's a series of comical commercials from Nova, the now defunct English conversational language school, that feature similar situations. […]

Japanese opinions on their English « GaijinPot In Japan Blogs · July 1, 2010 at 14:40

[…] to be greeted with a look of confused embarrassment. According to market research service ‘What Japan Thinks,’ there are plenty of times when Japanese feel ashamed by their lack of English ability. The […]

On Being Illiterate in Japan | 馬鹿外人 | This Japanese Life. | 生命を外面九天です · December 8, 2010 at 02:43

[…] learn the words for “left,” “right,” or “straight.” It’s embarrassing for them – it carries connotations of being uneducated, too lazy, or a rube. (I suspect […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: