Japan's Foreign Ministry to require better English from new staff

The Foreign Ministry has decided to require new staff to score at least 100 points on the TOEFL English proficiency test, or at least 7.0 on the IELTS test, beginning in fiscal 2016, so they can be helpful in diplomatic negotiations in English from the start.

The requirement will be set for prospective staff scheduled to enter the ministry in April 2016 or later, and they will have to submit the results of their tests before they begin work.

Only 30 per cent of the about 30 prospective staff who will enter this spring have met the standard. Those who have not achieved the proficiency level are requested to improve before they join the ministry.

The Foreign Ministry will also require the same test results in order for it to recommend other ministries' staff for temporary assignment to Japanese embassies and other agencies. Ambassadors appointed from outside the ministry who have experience studying or working abroad for at least two years will be exempt.

The ministry has provided new staff with training courses in English, French, Chinese and other languages.

However, a senior official said diplomats specialised in non-English languages are also required to have high-level English skills so they can exchange opinions as equals with their counterparts from Europe and the United States.

In China and South Korea, many students become diplomats after attending universities in Europe and the United States. The Foreign Ministry is concerned over its negotiating abilities in English.

To recruit staff with strong English abilities, the National Personnel Authority introduced a system to add 15 to 25 points to a person's score on the fiscal 2015 national public service examination if the candidate has a TOEFL score of at least 65 points, an IELTS score of at least 5.5, a TOEIC score of at least 600 points, or a grade of pre-level 1 or higher on the Eiken English proficiency test.

The Foreign Ministry already has a similar system, but will set a higher goal to require new staff to have English abilities strong enough that they would be eligible to enter prestigious universities abroad.