I have been living in Japan for half a year now and it has become apparent to me how few
people speak proper English in this country. Upon arriving here, it was impossible to find my way
around. I couldn’t ask people for directions on the street. Ordering at restaurants without English
menus was near impossible. I don’t think I would have been able to get a phone or a train pass
without a translator to help me. One could think that these are small, insignificant issues, however
Japan is a country hoping to host millions of tourists in the upcoming Olympics. Without more English
speakers, problems will arise very quickly.
Since Japan had been occupied after the second World War by the US, the low number of
English speakers is surprising. Throughout history when a country was occupied by another, the
language was somewhat adopted in the occupied country. This is the case for post-communist
countries in eastern Europe. During the Communist occupation period, Russian was introduced in
these countries into the public school curriculum as a mandatory subject. The result of this is that
many Serbians know at least some Russian. The key difference is that the US occupation was much
shorter meaning that English could not be integrated into the Japanese society.
A surprising thing about the Japanese people is that they do know a lot of English words but
cannot converse in the language. This is because a vast amount of English words were integrated into
the Japanese language and are known as “gairaigo”. These words are used for the majority of
products that where first introduced in Japan after the war. Despite this, most people in the street
have no idea how to answer when asked a simple question in English, due their lack of understanding
of the language.
The issue becomes apparent when it comes to Japanese medical services. Despite the
Japanese government creating JMIP (Japanese Medical Service Accreditation for International
Patients), there is a low number of institutions which received this accreditation and are able to host
English speaking patients. During the Olympics, with the large amount of English speaking tourists,
there will be a high chance of people getting hurt yet not being able to receive the proper medical
attention due to the language barrier. Another issue is the lack of English speaking police officers
who will be needed to interact with the crowds of tourists during the Olympics.
In order to increase the amount of English speakers in the long-term, the Japanese
government has launched a project which aims to help teach English through the use of robots which
would replace teachers. This solves the issue of the low supply of English teachers in Japan, and the
government is hoping to make English a mandatory subject in the future. While this is a great
initiative, short term action is needed as well, since the Olympics are coming up soon. I strongly
believe that increasing the amount of English speakers is crucial to make the 2020 Olympic games a
success.

Article by Adam Zbikowski