(Kyodo) _ The number of Japanese learning English in Britain has slowed in recent years, amid signs that growing numbers of young people from East Asia are opting to study in their home country rather than venture overseas.
Experts put the tailing off down to many factors, including the state of the Japanese economy, falling birthrate, the popularity of Chinese and the increasing provision of English language teaching in the region.
According to figures provided by the Council, the number of weeks spent in Britain by Japanese studying English fell between 1997 and 2001, and has plateaued out in recent years. In 1997, Japanese spent 170,100 weeks in Britain. By 2001, this had fallen to 123,626 weeks.
In 2002, the figures picked up again and in 2004 Japanese spent 135,347 weeks in the United Kingdom. However, numbers are expected to be down for 2005.
Emma Parker, education promotion officer at the British Council in Japan, said all of the large English-speaking countries — Britain, the United States and Australia — had seen reductions in Japanese students. She added that the number of Japanese going to overseas universities appeared to be falling, and this inevitably impacted on applications for English courses. (many students take English language courses before studying at a foreign university).
As well as the simple fact that there are fewer younger Japanese people, Parker put the decline down to “more and more potential study destinations, and so increased competition.”
She said there were several Japanese-owned English language schools located in nearby Asian countries and, “although English skills remain very important in Japan, people’s interests and employers’ requirements are diversifying.
Essentially, if this article’s assertion that people are choosing to study at home is to be believed (though why they chose to measure that in hours as opposed to people escapes me), that would mean Japan’s domestic ESL market (for Japanese adults, anyway) has become so developed (to the point of saturation) that people may be taking seriously the idea expressed in top English conversation firm NOVA’s slogan of “study abroad near your local train station.” That would be a sad development — the peculiar nature of the still-flourishing interest in the English language in Japan has now been officially blamed as a factor keeping Japanese people from studying abroad, which ironically means less overseas exposure for the average Japanese. The pros and cons of eikaiwa-style English education aside, it simply cannot serve as an effective replacement for studying abroad if one’s goal is to learn how a language is used and the culture it comes from.
That said, it would take more study to see how true that claim is (I wish I could get my hands on that report for one). And it seems like this story is talking about ESL students only, not undergraduate or graduate degree programs. I’m having trouble locating more recent statistics, but as of 2000, the number of Japanese people studying abroad (including all 3 categories and more, and most of them going to English-speaking countries, presumably) continued to rise, though at a much lower rate than in years past. My guess is it’s a combination of factors: families who are facing lower incomes (and shrinking disposable incomes) may be forced to see eikaiwa as a second best option since they can’t afford to send their kids to study abroad. Or there may be other factors at play: Japanese universities are becoming easier to get into (fewer kids, same number of universities) meaning that studying abroad isn’t being used as Plan B for kids who had trouble on the entrance exams; or perhaps parents/students are getting wise to the fact that ESL programs often aren’t what they are cracked up to be. One explanation mentioned in the report that I don’t buy is the competition from other languages. English is still king in Japan and will be for the foreseeable future.
I’ll try and keep an eye on things, but in the meantime: what do you think?