The average Japanese student starts learning English from grade 6. They then continue all the way through High-School and many times even at University.
In total this means a minimum of 4 years if you finish Junior High School, 7 if you go to High-School and a grand total of 10 years if continued at University.
As you live in this country you kind of get used to the fact that this has no real meaning in actual life. People do not generally speak English here. Sure there are those who have made the effort to go abroad and study and speak very well but they will always be the minority.
The reason that I am writing this particular post is an advertisement I read on the train to work today. It said (in very loose translation) “Since I do not know how to argue my point in English I am simply going to say yes”
What hit me is that this has absolutely nothing do with leaning English. Instead it is advertisement trick used for many many years by some of the most clever people ever to wear suits. What you do is you find something that you can make people feel guilty or ashamed of.
Unwanted body odour? Hair in places where there should be none? unable to satisfy your wife?
In the same way this advertisement bases itself on the inherent fear of the Japanese to loose face. I.e. make a fool of themselves in front of other people (without alcohol).
Fear is a good tactic in the short run as it will give you results in a very short period of time. But as people start reflecting in the longer term you will find that they “come to their senses” and thus do not respond to this tactic any more. It is a drastic measure and you will desensitize your customers to a point where they will start questioning your authority on the matter.
Having learned Japanese as my fourth language (after English and French) there are some things that I can say for a fact.
- With motivation you can learn anything
I wanted to speak to a boy who had moved to our village from America and I therefore picked up English at record speed.
- Without motivation you will never be good.
I learned French for close to 6 years and even though I can read it fairly well I can not say I really learned to speak it.
- Motivation plus effort makes perfection
I wanted to stay in Japan and I wanted to learn Japanese. But it took quite some effort to get to a point where I felt really comfortable using it.
So what I am saying is that for most Japanese people it is the motivation, or driver, to learn English that is really missing. If you do not know why you want to learn a language then your motivation to immerse yourself in it will never be enough. If you have no plans on leaving your country and/or work with other cultures then why would you waste your time learning about them? I will go out on a limb and say that this is true for any people in any country.
So if you want someone to really learn something find what motivates him/her. For some it is money and respect. For others it might be fame or new opportunities. But if your strategy is to scare people into submission you will find yourself very lonely in the mid- to long-term.