“The only device that’s really handy enough to let you study where, and when, you want is the cellular phone,” says Junko Ogawa, mobile-Internet content producer for Tokyo language-textbook publishing company, ALC Press. Streamlined study, testing and reference sites are used by everyone, from the salaryman hoping to cram in a little English vocabulary during his morning commute, to the high school student with five minutes to spare for brushing up on a few Chinese kanji characters. Mobile Internet technology on cell phones lends itself well to fact-based learning, such as language vocabulary. Many of the most popular services are for learning English, a huge part-time study industry in Japan.
A 2001 government survey found that about 10 million Japanese over the age of 10 were learning English in their spare time. Only the study of computer subjects was more popular. Some Japanese businessmen in major firms have found that English competency has increasingly become a condition for promotion.
New technology may make more sophisticated study possible in the near future. Some third-generation phones are already capable of playing short audio clips — say of English pronunciation — and Morita expects the first voice-recognition applications to be available this year. ALC also hopes to include video clips of native speakers on its English learning site. And more sophisticated content may also allow providers to charge more. Continue >>