Japan is seeking to widen students’ grasp of the English language in an education reform blueprint unveiled last week as Tokyo braces for the influx of foreigners during the 2020 Olympic Games.

The new education plan dictates that formal English instruction should start in the fifth grade of elementary school. Junior high school English teachers are required to conduct classes exclusively in English, and will undergo English proficiency tests.

Under the curriculum, English teaching would start in the third grade in “activities-style” classes conducted one or two times a week, with a focus on laying the foundation for communication skills.

“Classroom-style” teaching will start in the fifth grade and will continue to the sixth grade. Classes in these levels would focus on communicative skills both by homeroom teachers and specialized English teachers.

In junior high school, students should be able to “understand and exchange information on familiar topics, and express thoughts.” By high school, students are hoped to “understand abstract concepts on a broad range of topics” and “converse with English speakers at a viable level of proficiency.”

“We want to raise the standards for English education at the junior high and high school levels by having teachers conduct classes in English in junior high school, and focusing on the presentation and debate aspects of English usage in high school,” education minister Hakubun Shimomura said.

The proposals, part of the education ministry’s “Execution Plan for the Reform of English Education in Response to Globalization,” is aimed at strengthening English-language education amid heightened interest in the language ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

One principal at a junior high school in Tokyo thought that the new curriculum was a good step. “I think this is a welcome development,” said Takaaki Matsuoka, principal of Musashino Dai-Ichi Junior High School.

“Classes are more focused on sound (verbal and listening), which should also help,” Matsuoka, a former English teacher, said. “I have the impression that we will finally be able to catch up with South Korea” in English education.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: sebra / Shutterstock.com