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Sociolingüística internacional

The Sociolinguistic Situation of English in Japan, by Nobuyuki Tukahara


Table 6. Radio Course: Languages and Weekly Broadcasting Time (April 2002-March 2003)


Weekly Language Broadcasting Time (minutes)

















Source: Own work based on data taken from the course textbook "English Conversation".
* The weekly broadcasting time for English is the sum of 6 different courses.

There are eleven English courses in total, and 10 of these use textbooks that are published every month. The total number of these textbooks printed each month is 4,420,000. (11) This confirms that English has a greater presence than other languages.

2.3. Use of English

In everyday life, there is no need to use English as the vehicular language. The few areas in which English is used generally are limited to some university courses and certain departments of large international corporations. Let us now turn then to the business world.

Here, we will analyse two surveys. One is a survey carried out on TOEIC candidates regarding the frequency with which they used English in the workplace. In the year 2000 (April 2000 to March 2001), there were 493,184 candidates, of whom 185,143 confirmed that they needed to use English in the workplace. (12)

The second survey was carried out by the Japan Overseas Enterprises Association (13) on its members. At the end of 1999, the Association had over 347 member-companies, of which 130 answered the survey. A total of 32 (24.6%) of these 130 companies answered that they preferred to recruit candidates with English skills. Fifty companies (38.5%) included an English test in their recruitment process. A total of 31 (23.8%) companies said that they took English skills into account when promoting staff. (14)

Below are some examples of company language requirements.

Table 7. Examples of English Requirements


Language requirements
(the figure refers to TOEIC points)

IBM Japan Head of Department 600

Deputy Manager 730

KOMATSU (construction machinery) Intermediate management 500
KAOU (domestic products) Main foreman 450

Head of Department 500

Staff of the international department 650

SHARP Staff of the international department 600
SMK (electronic components) The internal vehicular language is English and Japanese.

Source: Report about the general study of the current status of English teachers and their ideal model. (15)

Given the growing trend to request English language skills, people are now beginning to talk of the "English Divide". That is to say, individuals with a knowledge of English have a superior economic status. In this situation, English is a discriminating factor, both professionally and economically. A study entitled "English Proficiency and Earnings of University Graduates: Is the English language forming a new upper class in Japan?" (16) discusses the possibility of this division and confirms that it exists. However, this is only a partial study and cannot, in our opinion, be confirmed generally.

We have now seen the general situation of English in Japan. Despite the lack of statistical basis, we can observe certain points.

1. There is no need for knowledge of English in everyday life.

2. In the business world, certain sectors need staff who are able to communicate in English. However, this is not a generalized phenomenon.

3. Nevertheless, not only are there many students of English, there are also many candidates for English proficiency tests.

From these three points, we can conclude that there is an discrepancy between the need to learn English and the actual learning of the language.


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