Some tourist guides suggest that young people may be more suitable than older people for communicating in English, such as Wikivoyage's section on communicating in Japan.

While I understand the theory that many Japanese may learn English at school and then lose it, and I also assume that governments like to think that the current English education is better than that of previous generations, I haven't really noticed a strong connection between age and English speaking ability.

In Japan, is English more likely to be understood and spoken by young people compared to old people?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Maître Peseur, Gayot Fow, Nean Der Thal, CGCampbell, VMAtm Sep 21 '15 at 21:48

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    never crossed your mind that maybe older people didn't study English at all? – Guido Preite Sep 21 '15 at 13:39
  • This is a little vague, Japan is a big country, surely you'd be more likely to find English speakers of all ages in large cities with a tourist infrastructure – blackbird Sep 21 '15 at 14:48
  • @Guido English has been compulsory at school since the 1920s, according to an middle-aged Japanese friend of mine. – Andrew Grimm Sep 21 '15 at 21:56
  • according to this article on wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-language_education_in_Japan experimental mandatory English classes began in 1998. In addition I highly doubt that Japan had compulsory since the 1920s and kept it, considering the role of Japan in WWII – Guido Preite Sep 22 '15 at 14:05
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    Sorry for chiming in so late but only recently did it became compulsory in primary school. People born in at least 1950 or later still learned it in junior-high school and high school, and sometimes university. However almost all of them can't handle even a basic conversation such as asking a way to a stadium. – Blaszard Aug 24 '16 at 5:07

Having a friend who lives in Japan, I can assure you that the new generations have at least a basic knowledge of english. As you said, it is hardly unthinkable that older people may be able to speak english. In any case, the level is not that high due to the fact that they have to learn a brand new alphabet, write and speak in a totally different way to the one that they are used to.


I don't know about young people today, but my experience in Japan 25 years ago was that almost no one spoke English except those for whom it was an obvious job requirement, e.g., Palace tour guide. Hotel keepers spoke broken English, enough to explain necessities (breakfast, bath rules). The only exception was one boy about 16, who saw us staring bewildered at a cafe where it was necessary to order food by purchasing tickets from a monoglot vending machine. His English was fluent, but when we complimented him he insisted it was no better than his friends'. That was our second cultural lesson of the day.

TL;DR. Young people may speak English, but older ones outside established tourist venues, no.

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    Is 25 years ago even relevant anymore? – EdmundYeung99 Sep 21 '15 at 21:18
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    @EdmundYeung the people he met 25 years ago will still be around, but they may have got better at English since then. – Andrew Grimm Sep 21 '15 at 21:58

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