I want to begin with the examination of the assumption that the value of English education is measured by whether the students are able to speak English or not. Why are conversation skills made so much of? There are said to be four skills of English: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Of the four, it seems, speaking skills are thought by many to be the most difficult to acquire. This is why, I think, the conversation skills are valued so highly in Japan. But is it true that the ability to speak English is more difficult than any other?
For example, reading is often more difficult than we think. Take a look at this passage. It is quoted from Bertrand Russell's The Conquest of Happiness.
It is thought by many that happiness is impossible without a creed of a more or less religious kind. It is thought by many who are themselves unhappy that their sorrows have complicated by highly intellectualized sources. I do not believe that such things are genuine causes of either happiness or unhappiness; I think they are only symptoms. The man who is unhappy will, as a rule, adopt an unhappy creed, while the man who is happy will adopt a happy creed; each may attribute his happiness and unhappiness to his belief, while the real causation is the other way around.
This passage has no complex grammatical structure nor difficult words. But I want to ask you what do you think the author tries to convey. Reading is not just about translating each word and combining the meanings into a coherent whole. Reading is also about considering the relationships between the sentences and comprehending what the author wants to say as a whole. Moreover, there are common ways for English writers to express their thoughts. Therefore, learning to read English includes getting familiar with the common patterns of argument. However, most students tend to think that they have accomplished the reading skills when they are able to translate one sentence at a time. In a nutshell, contrary to the popular belief, speaking English is not always more difficult to achieve than the reading of the language. And the same thing applies to the other skills as well. Therefore, the value of English education should be measured by how skillfully the students are able to read, write, listen and speak English.