Work in Japan Advice Board
This interview was conducted with Robert Habbick, Asia Digital Marketing Manager for Cambridge University Press, the world’s oldest and most respected publisher specializing in English learning materials.
In your opinion, what mindset, learning skills, or study habits are most effective in accelerating the Japanese mastery of English as a foreign language?
Two things come to mind:
Competitive Mindset Keiko and Reiko are in a coffee shop. John comes in and speaks in English to Reiko. After John leaves Keiko says in Japanese, “Wow! You can speak English.” The typical Japanese response is, “Ah… only a little.” Contrast that with a Mainland Chinese mindset. First they would not say that. Second, they would be listening carefully and contrasting their skill with the other person to see which was better. Very competitive! Speaking English is given―after all they studied it at school. The question is, how good is my competition and how can I get better to beat them? They are not “floating in a warm tub smiling with others” like in Japan. They are in a very competitive game of “musical chairs,” and there are not many chairs. I feel that Japan lost that feeling about 15 years ago and that it is killing the nation.
Daily Study Habits Like any skill, for example your Aikido or Shodo. It is the discipline of doing a little of something every day that eventually makes you a master. The Cambridge Apps and online materials are perfect for that. Study when you can, where you can, a little every day.
What are some of the common misconceptions about learning English that actually interfere with Japanese ability to learn English?
The main problem is a lack of urgency. There is a lack of understanding that it is critical for the survival of the nation, a lack of true commitment. My wife Mayuka has never lived abroad, but when I met her, her English was already “high level” and fluent. She works over 16 hours a day 7 days a week to help the nation improve education, not only English education, but education over all. Visit her website http://www.jj-education.com, and you will see the motivation is for the children and the future of the nation. That is the kind of commitment that is critical for the success of Japan and what drew me to her to get married. That kind of commitment is tough on the individuals involved, but is super important for the greater good! How much are Japanese willing to commit and sacrifice for the future of the country? That is the kind of question the nation needs to ask itself. Korea, China, and Singapore have shown us their answer and are rapidly rising, as are Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. What will Japan’s action be at the individual “grass roots” level? Stop waiting to be fed! Go get your own food!
Once a Japanese person develops basic conversational ability in English, what sorts of opportunities are there for people to step up to the world stage and express themselves in English?
Japan has masters in many areas that are not able to share their skill with the world due to their inability to communicate in English. I recently worked with my wife to help one of her former classmates, a world class specialist in aesthetic dentistry. My wife is a pronunciation specialist who can “see” people’s tongue positions in their mouth and fix things like “R” “L” problems in 15 minutes. I helped with the content and was taught interesting things about dentistry by a world class expert! This was volunteer work done to enable the sharing of Japanese expertise at two international conferences: in Taiwan and more importantly the global conference in Boston, home to Harvard and MIT. Another venue is the one provided throughout Japan by Michihiro Matsumoto, the famous simultaneous translator and NHK host, who has been working for years to move the nation to be able to debate in English at a high level using his unique method which he calls soccer debate. He holds a contest every year which is open to all at Kanda Gaigo in Kanda, Tokyo.
Also, your own Tokyo World Class Speaking Academy will provide a “dojo” for Japan’s aspiring English speakers to hone their skills. It takes guts and commitment to get a “black belt” in anything.
Do you think that there is no better time than now for Japan to step up to the plate with English?
It is not so much “no better time than now” but rather that “there is no time to lose” for the nation. We are getting badly beaten in the market place. Einstein said that Japan would be the leader of the world after the third world war. I don’t want a third world war, and Japan can’t afford to wait for it to see if Einstein was right! The time is now for the nation to commit, plan, and move!
[These are Robert's personal views, not those of Cambridge University Press.]
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William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.