Those people who are eager to learn a foreign language take great pains in mastering it. The Japanese, famous for their clumsy manner for conversation, are desperately seeking the way to put their English learned during their school days into practical use. But however hard they may try, however inspiring those books on English are, they find it most difficult to get a working knowledge of English.
Reading, the most seemingly static aspect of learning of a foreign language, is regarded as the most familiar category, since too much emphasis is put on translation in English education in Japan. Grammatical analysis is precisely conducted, but using too many technical terms may hamper the understanding of the whole sentence. The trouble is that teachers cannot explain the English sentences without using grammatical terms such as 'adverbial phrase, preposition, adjective clause, etc.'
The grammatical jargons may hamper the learning process of the students. I would like to advise them to use parentheses to pick up adverbial and adjective phrases. To divide a sentence into sense groups may be the most effective way to grasp the whole context. First of all, try to read some very condensed passages as a text carefully and over again almost to the point of thorough memorization. Once they become familiar, then proceed to random reading.
You will get tired of consulting a dictionary if you have to do it more than 5 times per page. You should start reading those books for children, and that those which you have read in your childhood. Reading these books will make English learning all the pleasanter because you have been excited or impressed over the books years before.
Is it important to increase the number of vocabulary? It will be so. Once you acquire the reasonable number of words and phrases, the procedure will become far less difficult.... Daily newspapers will be of great help, but since spare time allotted for each individual is very scarce, weekly magazines may be recommendable.
The passive process of reading, when reaching some point, can be turned into active process of writing. The first phase is to memorize basic sentences; well-chosen, approximately 120 sentences will be enough. Then try to replace the words for new ones and get used to using these sentence patterns. This process is most important, seeing that this helps rapid construction of sentences.
To begin with, keep a diary every day and write down whatever impresses you. When you find an attractive expression in the paper or magazines, use it at once, but don't take a note, because taking a note may deprive you of your willingness to keep in mind.
Our brain is so made that it functions best when stimulated constantly and properly. That is the reason why everyday writing is essential. The more constant, the more inspiring your ideas become and the easier it is to recall what you have memorized.
Thanks to the availability of phones and tape-recorders as means of vocal communication, hearing comprehension is no longer a problem requiring expensive gadgets. One of the most inexpensive way to improve it is to listen to the radio on short-wave.
Regular programs of VOA, BBC and Radio Australia are clearly received all over Japan. Compared with FEN(the Far East Network), these stations use comprehensible, slow English. This is probably because almost all the listeners constitute those whose mother-tongue is not English.
At midnight, when the rest of the family go to bed, the sounds of various stations can be heard and you will feel as if you were in a fantastic world. The duration of listening is a key to improving hearing. However fast an announcer speaks, the longer you listen, the more proficient in hearing comprehension you will become.
Only by practice of writing, can you speak English with confidence... Once you have something to say, all you have to do is to pay attention to your pronunciation. Many people are worried about their poor pronunciation. They say they cannot make distinction between 'th' and 's', 'r' and 'l', but it is easier to be done than said.
When talking with foreigners, they understand that the Japanese cannot pronounce properly and listen to us all the more carefully for it. Never mind. Take it easy. If you take care only of your intonation, what you say will be communicated effectively.
I have once heard Cambodian Prince Sihanouk speak in public. His pronunciation was bad, terribly influenced by his own mother tongue, and yet what he said was clearly understood. He spoke with definite stress on every word; he said 'econOmic' and everybody took it as it was.
You don't have to use idiomatic expression too much. Many of them come from the US and those whose mother tongue is not English do not know many of them. In speaking with them you had better use 'orthodox' expressions.
In the light of a child's learning his own language, hearing seems to be the most fundamental process of acquiring it. You can't be a dumb before you are a deaf. Reading and writing follow only after you can speak and listen, except, of course, for some rare occasions.
Seeing that we Japanese seldom have opportunities to use English, it is essential to create artificial environment in which we feel as if we were living in New York City. For example, subscribe to English daily newspaper, listen to VOA (Voice of America), make one-minute speech every day and write an essay at least once a month (or preferably, once a week).
It is surprising that even such advice will not enable many Japanese to become conversant with English. Why? I don't know. There are so many good ideas, books, cassettes and English schools , and we can choose them as long as we can afford to, and yet our English is still as good as in the Meiji period.
Perhaps we dislike English (or foreign languages). We may be an isolated people. We may be too particular to be a member of international community. We may be content to be a part of a culture and afraid to face other peoples.
So far only a fraction of our people are good at dealing with foreign languages. But to put it sarcastically, the very fact that the majority's inability to use foreign languages enables the few to have chances to make money! ---teaching, translating, interpreting, etc.---for the time being, they will be monopolistic occupations! (grinning)