Japan learns web language

July 12, 1996

Twenty-one-year-old Takehiro Shinkai spends 12 hours a week learning English at a language school in Tokyo and just ten hours a week attending the lectures and workshops which make up the information technology degree course he is completing at one of the Japanese capital's leading private universities. The ability to speak good English, he says, will help him obtain a job after he graduates next March.

"Many companies will only hire graduates who can speak fluent English," he explains. "The ability to speak and comprehend the English language is now an essential qualification for job-seeking senior students."

Certainly, the internationalisation of Japan has resulted in a huge increase in the country's overseas business interests and a parallel increase in the demand for graduates who have mastered the English language.

But it is the growing importance of the Internet, which is dominated by the English language, which lies behind the recent upsurge in demand for graduates with a good understanding of English.

"Important information including doctoral theses and other research papers are now available on the Internet" said Takehiro Shinkai. "The Internet is quickly becoming the principal means of exchanging information on a global basis."

Leading computer companies like the Fujitsu Corporation have already announced plans to introduce rigorous English speaking tests as part of their 1997 graduate hiring programmes.

Japanese universities have responded to the demand for English language qualifications by expanding their foreign language departments and by allowing English conversation schools to offer classes on their campuses.

University language faculties are themselves attempting to boost the standard of spoken English by introducing more conversation classes.

"Schools and universities have traditionally concentrated on the development of the reading and writing language skills tested by university entrance exams" explains Takehiro Shinkai. "The result is that most undergraduates are competent at reading and writing English but not speaking it."

The demand for graduates with good English speaking skills, however, is encouraging high schools to offer more courses on oral communication. At the same time a growing number of universities are thinking of introducing spoken English tests as part of their entrance exams.

Universities are also seeking to strengthen English-speaking skills by forging more exchange arrangements with universities in English-speaking countries and by offering overseas placement schemes which provide their students with invaluable work experience with overseas companies.

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