How to study English (second language)


On average, we usually spend 4,000 to 5,000 hours studying English to reach a TOEIC score above 900 level. Also…on the number of hours needed for native English speakers to become fluent in a second language.

By the way, how many hours do Japanese study English in junior high and high schools? In junior high, students have four 50-minute lessons per week for 35 weeks a year. That is a total of 350 hours. In high school, the students have five 50-minute lessons per week for 35 weeks, for a total of 437 hours. The grand total adds up to 787 hours. This is far from sufficient (十分な).

Most Japanese do have a basic English learning experience in school, but never get a chance to practice or use our newly-found skill. English, for most students, is just a classroom experience, nothing more.


It is difficult for foreigners to master Japanese

Let’s take a look at data about language learning difficulty for native English speakers. The data shows how many hours of study are required on average for well-educated and highly-qualified people, to be able to achieve the daily conversational level in any particular language (どんな言語でも).


The result differed among four groups of languages as follows : 


Group 1  :  including French, Spanish and German, required 480 hours; 

Group 2  :  including Greek, Hindi and Indonesian, required 720 hours; 

Group 3  : including Russian, Hebrew and Turkish, required 1,320 hours; 

and Group 4  :  including Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Arabic, required 2,500 hours. 


In fact, out of the 62 languages examined (調査された), Japanese was listed as the most difficult language to learn.

They (foreigners) do exceptional (並はずれた) effort to learn Japanese. If you can use another languages, you are able to immediately connect with people around the world. So you have to do your best too!




Let’s overcome two problems

(1)   Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

I believe that one of the greatest problems is the Japanese fear of making mistakes. You cannot make a mistake if you do not speak. However, you cannot learn if you do not speak. Making mistakes is part of any learning process.


(2) To lift up your motivation for studying language

One of the tough things about learning a language is the sheer (険しい) volume of vocabulary that needs to be memorised. You won’t do it without a strong sense curiousity. I’ll say it. Learning a language is tremendous (ものすごい) effort.




To learn something, you have to actually do it

You cannot learn to drive a car, ride a bicycle, cook, play golf or anything else solely (単に) by studying in a classroom. Classroom study may help, but you must actually practise doing what you are studying to learn it. This is certainly true about learning a language.

There seems to be a listening problem that Japanese have, by the way (ちなみに). English for Japanese may be noise. Japanese simply ignore it.


On the other hand…

For example in Laos, they are jungle people and have good hearing. You hear a bird. They tell you what kind of bird and can imitate its song. That reminded me of the first time I went trekking Thailand. The whole English sentence was repeated  by a Thai boy who had never studied English, but was good at listening.


I sometimes see high school students studying on the train. When I see what they are studying, idioms, complicated and extremely advanced grammar and so on, I wonder what the school actually teaches. 

School teaches us that English is difficult. This is exactly the opposite of what the school should teach. Why is that we study such advanced English but still cannot say. I do not understand. To learn something, we have to actually do it! (you should focus on listening first)





Japanese education is focused on rote (丸暗記) learning and memorization. “Good” students are one’s that are quiet, do what the teacher tells them to do, and memorize, memorize, memorize…

Society and mass media as well are a part of the problem. While everyone acknowledges (承認する・認める) that Japanese “students” are not good at English, nobody offers proper English. Please use proper English in their media presentation or advertising). 


And the Japanese teachers of English in Japan that I have met can’t even speak English and textbooks such as New Horizon are constructed with that in mind, allowing the teacher to spend half the lesson in teacher talk time, in Japanese, of some obscure (曖昧な) grammatical point or another which arose in the unit of the book.

He / She may enter high school with an interest and enthusiasm for English, but the education system is gonna do its best to change that. 


Japanese can’t speak English because we don’t practice speaking English. There’s no other reason. Reading and writing English doesn’t count as practicing speaking English. The idea that Japanese need English is the biggest myth of all.

Maybe two percent will need it during our work, but that’s about it (まあ、そんなところでしょう) . The rest of the citizens shouldn’t be forced to practice something. Only a few percentage of the people actually need.

After all, the secret of the master of English is to have the feeling that wants to learn English seriously.