May 22, 2007
Peter Payne asks why the subject of English presents such a high hurdle to the average Japanese, even after six years of mandatory classes. He suggests "the fear of making mistakes," which is certainly a significant problem in language acquisition (and a major reason why children are such good language learners--they don't care).
But thinking in more concrete terms, teaching-to-the-test and the ubiquitous use of katakana are extremely problematic in a country that wishes to make English its second language.
Just as in the U.S., the former is a bureaucratic nightmare. What's depressing about the latter is that nobody is willing to take the simplest of baby steps. Take the news. While furigana could come in handy with some foreign names (i.e., "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad"), there's no excuse to turn on the news and see names like (George) "Bush" or (Christopher) "Hill" spelled out in katakana.
And high school textbooks should use the "Roman" alphabet for all terms and names that are obviously foreign in derivation and use.