What is the status of English Education in Japan?

Have you ever asked this question yourself?

Recently I have been very interested in how Japan compares to other countries in terms of English proficiency. So far, I haven’t found so many resources on the subject. This is one exception: Education First’s 2011 study, EF EPI: English Proficiency Index. Take a look at the chart below to see the rankings:

Click on this image to see a larger view of this chart


Reading the report, you’ll discover that they used written, multiple choice tests of Adults taken voluntarily over the course of 3 years. It’s practical in the sense that they are getting a portrait of people who have already completed the English program.

I see a few problems in calculating the index this way, however. For instance, the test does not measure oral communication ability. And since it is volunteer, mostly those with an active interest in learning English are measured. This means it really is only a snapshot of the most eager English learners in Japan — as opposed to the general population’s English proficiency.

With these caveats in mind, the study is actually quite illuminating (and surprising).  Read the full report to learn more about their conclusions and insights about English education and its implications.

What about Japan’s Rank?

As you’ll see in the chart above, Japan is ranked 14th out of 44 countries, with a score of “Moderate Proficiency”. The authors of the study don’t define their terminology in the ranking system. But they do say that,

“At the moderate proficiency level (EPI score 50-55) English skills are not well  correlated with income, indicating that other factors play a larger role in determining national income for those countries.”

So the ranking does come with some implications. All the countries given the same ranking of “Moderate Proficiency” are:

Poland (ranking: 10)
Switzerland (11)
Hong Kong (12)
South Korea (13)
Japan (14)
Portugal (15)
Argentina (16)
France (17)
Mexico (18)
Czech Republic (19)
Hungary (20)
Slovakia (21)

Do these results jive with your expectations for how countries would rank? Personally, I was surprised to see Japan rank higher than France and Mexico, which, I figured would rank a lot higher — France because of its importance and  location in Europe, and Mexico because of its proximity to America.

Again, this is a multiple choice test, measuring grammar and reading comprehension. Of course, a study that included measurements of oral proficiency could produce entirely different results.

What are your reactions to this study? Please provide links or references to other pertinent studies about English education in Japan if you have any.


1 Comment

  1. This is the first study I’ve been able to find that compares English proficiency across countries. Some of the studies that compare country statistics based on TESL or TOEIC scores, while interesting, are often not certified by the company that administers these English proficiency tests. Why? As the authors of the 2010 TOEFL Test and Score Data report say,

    “[Using test and score data] may be useful in comparing the performance on the TOEFL iBT of a particular student with that of other students from the same native country and with that of students who speak the same language. ETS, creator of the TOEFL test, does not endorse the practice of ranking countries on the basis of TOEFL scores, as this is a misuse of data. The TOEFL test provides accurate scores at the individual level; it is not appropriate for comparing countries. The differences in the number of students making the test in each country, how early English is introduced into the curriculum, how many hours per week are devoted to learning English, and the fact that those taking the test are not t representative of all English speakers in each country or any defined population make ranking by test score meaningless.” (Page 9)


    As you can see, the administrators of The TOEFL test are fairly adamant that their test and score data not be used in cross-country comparisons. Point taken.

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