August 26, 2016
  • Rakuten Research, Inc.

Rakuten Research Announces Results of
“Survey on attitudes towards English”

- Around 70% of respondents feel they are poor at English.
TOEIC score of 700 is the borderline above which people feel they are good at English -

Tokyo, August 26, 2016 – Rakuten Research carried out an online survey about attitudes towards the English language. 1,000 men and women from around Japan aged 20 to 69 were selected from among monitors registered with Rakuten Research (around 2.3 million people) to complete the survey, which was conducted from August 5 to 6, 2016. The results of the survey are as follows.

Survey Results

Around 70% of people feel they are poor at English. This result was the same regardless of the gender or age group of the respondents.

When asked initially “are you good at English?” around 70% (69.6%) responded that they are “poor (poor, very poor).” The ratio that responded that they are “good (good, very good)” was 8.7%. Regardless of the gender or age group of the respondents, around 70% replied that they are “poor (poor, very poor).”

A TOEIC score of 700 is the borderline above which people feel they are good at English

Comparing the difference between consciousness of their level of ability in English and their TOEIC score, more than 70% of respondents with a TOEIC score of 700 or higher replied that they felt that they are “good at English (good, very good), while more than 70% of those with a score of 699 or lower replied either that they “do not know / cannot say either way” or that they felt they are “poor at English (poor, very poor).”

The most common thing people use their English ability to do is travel abroad. The second most common is sing English songs (29.9%).

When people who replied that they feel they are “good” or “very good” at English in the previous question were asked about what they do using their English ability, the most common response was “travel abroad (44.8%),” with “sing English songs (29.9%)” in second place, followed by “regularly interact with foreign people (27.6%)” and “read English books and newspapers (25.3%)” coming in third and fourth respectively. Looking at results by gender, more women gave the response “travel abroad” than men, with a difference of 18.8 points (women: 55.0%; men: 36.2%). On top of this, more women also responded with “regularly interact with foreign people” than men, with a difference of 32.2 points (women: 45.0%; men 12.8%), indicating a trend whereby women are inclined to make use of English in more active ways.

When those who replied that they feel they are “poor” or “very poor” at English were asked what they would like to do if they were able to speak English fluently, the most common response was “I want to travel abroad” at 38.4%, followed by “I want to watch English movies without subtitles (29.0%)” and “I want to regularly interact with foreign people (20.4%).” As many as 35.5% of respondents said “there is nothing in particular that I would like to do,” indicating that those who harbor no interest in the English language account for more than 30%. This differed very little by age group.

No confidence in their English ability? More than 70% replied that the Japanese people have a low level of English ability.

When asked about the English ability of Japanese people, more than 70% felt that the level is “low (low, very low) (74.2%).” Compared with those who felt that the level is “high (high, very high) (3.6%)," there is a huge difference of 70.6 points.

The proportion of people who dislike studying English was 43.9%. The methods employed by those who like it included using educational materials and studying by listening to English songs.

When asked whether or not they like to study English, 43.9% replied that they “dislike (dislike, dislike a lot)” it, while 21.3% replied that they “like (like, love)” studying English, a difference of 22.6 points.

When asked about the study methods they currently employ or have tried in the past, the top three answers were “study using educational materials (27.8%),” “study by listening to radio courses (11.5%)” and “travel abroad (10.9%).” More than half of the respondents said they “are not employing (have not tried) any study methods (51.0%),” indicating that the majority of respondents are not doing anything to study English.

In the results from the people who said that they “like to study English” in the previous question, the top method of “study using educational materials (42.3%)” did not change in position compared with the overall results, but “study by listening to English songs (24.4%)” differed from the overall results, ranking higher in the list.

Reasons for considering the study of English to be necessary include communicating with foreign people, broadening ones perspectives, and plans to travel abroad.

When asked whether they consider the study of English to be important, there was an 8.0 point difference between those who responded “unimportant (unimportant, utterly unimportant),” at 36.7%, and those who responded “important (important, very important),” at 28.7%. Comparing the results by whether the respondents “like” or “dislike” studying English, we find that the ratio who felt it is “important (59.6%)” was highest among those who “like” to study English, while conversely, the ratio who felt it is “unimportant (56.0%)” was highest among those who “dislike” it.

The people who said that studying English was “important (important, very important)” and “unimportant (unimportant, utterly unimportant)” in the previous question were asked their respective reasons. The top reasons for feeling it is “important” were “to broaden my perspective (47.7%),” “to communicate with foreign people (47.4%)” and “because I have plans to travel abroad (24.0%).” Meanwhile, when asked why they feel it is “unimportant,” while the most common response was “there is no particular reason (37.9%),” the top reasons given were “because I have no plans to travel abroad” and “because I have no opportunity to communicate with foreign people,” which each had 30.5%, followed by “because it is not necessary in Japan (28.6%)” and “because I have no plans to go abroad for business trips or transfers (26.7%).”

The top language people want to learn other than English is Chinese. Differences arose between men and women on this matter.

Respondents were also asked what languages, other than English, they would like to study. The top five answers were “Chinese,” “French,” and “Korean,” in that order. However, a difference between the genders was seen in the responses, with men answering “Chinese,” “Spanish” and “German,” and women answering “Chinese,” “Korean” and “French.”

The most respected Japanese person active globally is baseball player Ichiro Suzuki (Ichiro).

When respondents were asked who, among the Japanese people that are active globally, they most respected, names from the sporting world were at the top of the overall rankings, with baseball player Ichiro Suzuki (Ichiro) in the top place and tennis player Kei Nishikori in second place. They were followed by the late diplomat Chiune Sugihara. When looking at the results by gender, the results differed from third place down.

17.5% have taken the TOEIC test. Around 80% have never taken the test.

The final question was whether respondents have taken the TOEIC test, and, if so, what their score was. 17.5% of respondents have taken the test, while around 80% (79.4%) have never done so.


Survey Overview

Area: Japan

Survey target: Men and women aged 20-69

Samples returned: 1,000

*Total combined with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Statistics Bureau “Population Estimates” population as of October 1, 2014 (published April 17, 2015)

Survey period: August 5 to 6, 2016

Organization conducting survey: Rakuten Research


For more information, please see the Rakuten.Today blog: Is karaoke the key to mastering English in Japan?

*Please note that the information contained in press releases is current as of the date of release.

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