Interview June 2013

Jeff Streeter

British Council, Japan

Please tell us a little about your background and career.
I am from Devon in the UK, and grew up on a farm. I studied English Language and Literature at university and have worked for the British Council—mostly outside the UK—for many years. I really enjoy living in Tokyo.

For what reason did the British Council come to Japan?
The British Council opened its Japan office in 1953, since when it has been working to build fruitful relationships between the two countries. We are celebrating our 60th anniversary in Japan this year.

What services and products do you provide here?
We work in the areas of English, the Arts, Education and Society, through which we provide various services and products that support Japan’s global jinzai (human resources) agenda, as well as our cultural relations activities.

Our activities in the area of English are diverse. Not only do we offer a wide range of English-language courses to students, corporations and organisations, but we also provide online English learning materials and applications for all generations.

In addition, we offer the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)—one of the major English exams in the world.

Aptis, our newly launched English exam service, has been designed to assess the level of English communication skills and can be tailor-made, based on an organisation’s needs.

Our partnerships enable us to run better activities together by utilising each other’s expertise.

What is your opinion on the recent proposal, by the Liberal Democratic Party’s education reform panel, that TOEFL be required to enter, and graduate from, public universities?
I have followed with great interest the recent announcements.

Given the need—expressed both by the government and businesses—to improve foreign language learning in Japan. I agree with the panel that it is, indeed, important to tackle the current state of English-language testing in the country.

However, we also believe in choice. I think it will be great if students and institutions have the opportunity to choose from among different exams—especially UK ones!

For example, IELTS is the most popular international English proficiency test in many parts of the world for those who wish to study or work in an English-speaking environment. In 2012, it was taken by over 2mn people.

The test is already widely used in Japan, including by The University of Tokyo, and is offered here by ourselves and Eiken—another non-profit organisation that is dedicated to enhancing English language levels in Japan.

Are more Japanese than before studying English in the UK?
The UK has always been one of the most popular destinations for Japanese students. About 4,000 of them go to the UK every year to study at institutions of higher education.

The recent trend is to learn business English in the UK as the country has a well-deserved reputation for offering high-quality English teaching.

In recent years, how have student numbers been at the British Council in Japan?
While the student number at our classes has been firm, we are seeing more business people at the classes than before, due to current global business needs.

The trend also has had a positive impact on our customised English training courses for companies and educational institutions. We teach the courses at global and local companies in Japan, and at many leading universities.

Why is the level of spoken English in Japan perceived to be lower than that in many other countries?
We believe that this is partly due to Japanese being very shy about making mistakes. We encourage students through our classes to gain confidence in speaking English.

We emphasise that English will open doors, and that learning English can be fun!

Some critics blame foreign teachers, in part, for the low level of English-speaking ability in Japan. How do British Council teachers—and lessons—differ?
All our British Council teachers must have a Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and at least two-years’ teaching experience.

Through our global network, we share our experience and knowledge and stay up-to-date with trends in English teaching.

In addition, we are committed to teacher development. We use communicative approach methods to teach real English that enables learners to communicate with others through the medium of the language.

Are Japanese people interested in British culture? How about those outside Tokyo?
I find that Japanese people generally enjoy the culture of other countries, including the UK.

We believe there is a huge interest in British culture. We have seen from our own activities, and those of our partners across the country, that there is an appetite all over Japan for UK arts.