The Importance of Learning English and Why it Should be Fun
Article published in Japanese in AEON Press

By David Payne

More people around the world than ever before are studying and learning English because it has become the international language of education and business. Our mission at Educational Testing Service (ETS) is to promote learning and support education and professional development for people worldwide. We work hard to help learners pursue their dreams of higher education or getting a good job in English-speaking environments worldwide.

The popularity of English can be seen in the growing number of people taking the TOEFL® and TOEIC® tests, the most widely used and accepted English exams in the world. ETS creates these tests and for this reason, perhaps readers might be interested in our perception on the importance of learning English and why it should be fun.

Since its creation in 1964, more than 27 million people have taken the TOEFL® test, including hundreds of thousands in Japan. The TOEIC® test, which began in Japan in the 1970s, was taken more than seven million times in 2013 alone.

Working at ETS, and working with our English language testing programs, people often ask me, “What is the best way to learn English and why does it have to be so hard?” I tell them that learning any second language is hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun at the same time. The key to mastering a new language is providing opportunities at an early age while also emphasizing the development of one’s native language.

More and more countries are introducing English-language instruction earlier in school. Japanese students begin learning English in the fifth grade and receive more intensive instruction in junior high and high school. MEXT’s call to introduce English-language instruction in third grade is a positive step in that direction.

But regardless of when you begin learning English, the best way to do so is with engaging materials, talented teachers and an opportunity to develop everyday conversational ability utilizing the four skills — listening, speaking, reading and writing. For more than 40 years AEON Corporation has grown to become one of the leading private educational institutes of its kind in Japan. They know how to engage learners.

Last fall ETS master instructors came to Japan to offer a special Propell Workshop to AEON trainers from across the country. These master instructors develop actual TOEIC and TOEFL tests and by the time the intensive workshops were over, participants had new and powerful techniques to using the integrated-skills approach to teaching Japanese students English as a second language and preparing them for success.

Also, recently, Edusoft, a subsidiary of ETS, and itself one of the pioneering companies offering English learning solutions, worked with AEON to create Power Up Reading, a customized online academic reading course for its students. It is a self-study program monitored by AEON teachers. It is three months long, has 12 intermediate-level reading comprehension lessons and a final test. It also offers a customized weekly report about students’ progress for AEON teachers and students have access to Edusoft’s interesting Discoveries Magazine.

For all English learners, the TOEFL family of academic English-language tests can also be valuable tools to help teachers effectively measure students’ English-language proficiency and contribute to communication-focused English-language teaching and learning.

The TOEFL iBT® test measures all four skills in an integrated fashion, exactly in the way that English is used at the university level. TOEFL Junior tests assess if students have the communicative skills they need to succeed in a classroom that uses English. It is designed for students ages 11 and up, and gives teachers comprehensive performance feedback to tailor their teaching, helping them pinpoint where help is needed most to build students’ skills, and guide conversations with parents.

The TOEFL® Primary™ tests are the newest addition to the TOEFL® Family of Assessments, and are the first step on a student’s path to reaching his or her full potential. These low-stakes tests assess the general English-language proficiency of young students ages 8+ and provide a snapshot of each student’s ability in listening, reading and speaking. They also support teaching and learning by giving information about students’ abilities in relation to a widely accepted international standard.

This is an exciting time in Japan. Our English language experts are following current reform efforts, and we look forward to supporting Japanese students, teachers and professionals improve their English communication skills, and by extension their global competitiveness. For additional information on the TOEFL family of academic English tests, visit http://www.ets.org/toefl_family

To view this article as it was originally published in Japanese for AEON Press please click here.

Tagged: Global English