In Japan, eigo-kyouiku (English-language education) starts the first year of junior high school and continues at least until the third year of high school. Surprisingly, most students are still unable to speak or to comprehend English properly after this time.
Reasons for Lack of Comprehension
One of the reasons is the instruction focusing on the skill of reading and writing. In the past, Japan was a nation composed of a single ethnic group and had a very small number of foreign visitors, and there were few opportunities to converse in foreign languages, therefore the study of foreign languages were mainly considered to obtain the knowledge from the literature of other countries. Learning English became popular after World War II, but English was taught by teachers who were trained under the method that emphasized reading. There were no qualified teachers to teach hearing and speaking. In addition, Japanese and English belong to different families of languages. There are no commonalities either in structure or words.
Another reason in the Ministry of Education's guidelines. The guideline limits the English vocabulary that is to be learned during the three years of junior high school to about 1,000 words. Textbooks must be screened first by the Ministry of Education and result for the most part in standardized textbooks making the English language learning too confining.
However, in recent years the necessity has increased to communicate in English as the ability to listen and speak English is in demand. The students and adults who study English conversation have increased rapidly and private English conversation schools have become prominent. Schools are now also putting strength into eigo-kyouiku by the installation of language laboratories and the hiring of foreign language teachers.