Saturday, March 23, 2013

Friday Humor from Idiosyncratic Japan: Government May Make English Proficiency Test (TOEFL) Mandatory for Career Bureaucrat Exam, to Prepare for TPP Negotiations

For those of you inside and outside Japan who don't know, TOEFL is an English language proficiency test for non-English speakers who want to study at colleges and universities in English-speaking countries.

It's basically a test to see if the prospective students can make conversations with classmates and teachers, read not-so-difficult textbooks and newspaper articles and write more or less grammatically correct sentences - English ability enough to get accepted at a college and enjoy a college life in English-speaking countries.

But as Tokyo Shinbun reports, the Japanese government under the Abe administration thinks it may be THE tool to select career bureaucrats who can battle it out with foreign counterparts in difficult and complicated international treaty negotiations, like the one for TPP.

I can't figure out whether Tokyo Shinbun is making fun, or they seriously believe what they've written.

(God save Japan. Or God demolish Japan ASAP...)

From Tokyo Shinbun (3/23/2013):

官僚は英語交渉力を 国家公務員試験にTOEFL 政府が義務付けを検討

Bureaucrats must have negotiation skills in English - government may make TOEFL test mandatory as part of Civil Service Examination

外国と渡り合える人材を求む-。政府は二〇一五年度の国家公務員採用試験から、英語運用能力テスト「TOEFL」の受験を義務付けることの検討を始めた。環太平洋連携協定(TPP)の交渉参加表明などを受け、将来的に対外交渉能力の強い官僚の育成が急務となっていることも背景にあるようだ。 (大杉はるか)

Wanted: People who can cross swords with foreigners. The national government is considering making TOEFL mandatory as part of the Civil Service Examination for the fiscal 2015. The government has formally expressed intention to participate in the negotiation of Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), and may be feeling an urgent need to promote bureaucrats with strong ability to negotiate with foreign countries.


TOEFL is an English proficiency test targeted at people whose mother tongue is not English, and it is used primarily when one applies to study in English-speaking countries. The idea of mandatory TOEFL [for Civil Service Examination] came from commissioners in the Industrial Competitiveness Committee set up by the government, and Tsuneo Hara, president of the National Personnel Authority, has agreed to consider. Details will be discussed later, including whether they use TOEFL only, or whether the TOEFL score become one of the criteria for hiring. According to the National Personnel Authority, only 16% of people who passed the Civil Service Examination (career) in the fiscal 2012 had TOEFL test.


However, as of now, there are already an increasing number of occasions where the bureaucrats [must] study the situations in foreign countries when planning [government policies]. The Japanese government intends to expand international economic alliance in addition to TPP, and the language capabilities, particularly that of English, are indispensable for the bureaucrats in charge of negotiating with other countries.


It is not likely that ability to negotiate can be acquired by making TOEFL mandatory, but there's a possibility that it will lead to the change in the way Kasumigaseki (career) bureaucrats think, who tend to be "inward-looking" and "hierarchical".

So they think TOEFL will prepare bureaucrats for the treaty text like this (US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, Article 11.2):

2. A requirement by a Party that a service supplier of the other Party post a bond or other form of financial security as a condition of the cross-border supply of a service does not of itself make this Chapter applicable to measures adopted or maintained by the Party relating to such cross-border supply of the service. This Chapter applies to measures adopted or maintained by the Party relating to the posted bond or financial security, to the extent that such bond or financial security is a covered investment.

I don't think so.

Besides, English language skills and negotiation skills are two totally separate things, but that apparently does not occur to most in Japan.

Japan has its own, strange English proficiency test called "Eiken". Native English speakers have told me they had a hard time understanding the questions.

They all say "communication", or "komyunikehshon" in Japanese in Japan. And that remains the most elusive thing in Japan, to communicate with others beyond their border. It will remain elusive as long as they think it is a matter of speaking English.


Anonymous said...

It painfully shows the level of your government... Good luck Japan, you are going to need it!

Anonymous said...

The TOEFL deals with academic English in various areas. It has limited value in testing negotiation skills. The test has been criticized as being culturally skewed. Unless you know something about the environment of US universities, many of the situations presented would be alien to many speakers of other languages. Maybe the bureaucrats are preparing to leave Japan and enjoy a future life in the USA. A better test would be the TOEIC.

Anonymous said...

I have taught Toefl and i can tell you it is shit, IELTS is much better but that test is way over most Japanese heads...

Anonymous said...

TOEFL is computer-based which allows no cheating--cheating or "cunning-gu" as known in Japan is rampant at universities.

Anonymous said...

Well, lawyer speak is a skill other than English; I am sure an average native English would also have problems understanding the treaty clause reported above.
Besides, every professional jargon has its own twists; see nuclear technology for example:
Vent: see smokestack (smoke? out of a npp?)
Containment: prevents the escape of nuclear contaminants in case of a severe accident... but not overly severe, in which case contaminants are "vented" (see above) upon the unknowing population.
Spent fuel pool: used to store exhausted fuel, which must be cooled in water for several years (hey, wasn't it spent??). Sometimes also used to temporarily store active fuel (i.e. not spent at all).


Thomas said...

I guess the TOEFL is still better than "Eiken" or TOEIC (I have written a short blog entry about the business behind TOIEC, in case you are interested And I strongly agree with the author, that any test is useless unless the person really wants to communicate.

Anonymous said...

TOEIC is bullshit , doesnt test speaking or writing skills... Eiken 1 is actually quite good , but the lower level eiken are also bullhshit.... problem is most Japanese are so fucking insular and have no real idea about the real world...

Anonymous said...

TOEFL does not test if you can have a conversation, they just make you speak a few times into a microphone and you have a minute to answer questions about a short recording in which americans talk about stupid shit (this is probably a very useful skill if you go to an american college, though.)

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

I did all of those - TOEFL, TOEIC, Eiken, and some more. I think I can argue with the test creator why many of their questions have multiple correct answers.

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