Note: I first encountered this information a few years ago on a blog called on ikuma's log. Since the JHS and SHS curriculum has changed, I thought the information should be updated so I decided to write this post.
According to the Foreign Service Institute in the United States, to gain "General Professional Proficiency" in Japanese, a native English speaker would have to take 2200 hours of Japanese language classes and also live in Japan for a period of time. Someone with "General Language Proficienct" means that a person can "speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy to participate in most formal and informal conversations of practical, social, and professional topics." Considering that learning English for a native speaker of Japanese would be equally difficult, this number can give us an idea about the time necessary for Japanese speakers to become highly proficient in English.
Of course, the goal of JHS/SHS English education in Japan is not nearly as high as "General Language Proficiency.". This is the overall goal for senior high school English in Japan:
To develop students’ communication abilities such as accurately understanding and appropriately conveying information, ideas, etc., deepening their understanding of language and culture, and fostering a positive attitude toward communication through foreign languages.How many hours do students spend in English class in junior and senior high school? In junior high , students have English 4 times a week for 35 weeks and classes are 50 minutes each. This amounts to about 116.66 hours a year (35 x 4 x 50 minutes) and 350 hours for the whole three years.
Calculating senior high is a little more complicated.
A senior high school student who attends an academic high school (rather than a technical high school) will take the following classes. One credit is 35 class hours.
Basic English Communication (2 credits)*
English Communication I (4 credits)
English communication II (4 credits)
English Communication III (4 Credits)
English Expression I (2 Credits)
English Expression II (4 Credits)
English Conversation (2 Credits)
Overall, a senior high school students will have 612.5 hours of English class in their three years (21 credits x 35 class hours x 50 minutes = 612.5 hours).
If you add the JHS and SHS hours, it means that secondary school students in Japan will have 962.5 hours of English class. Considering that the Foreign Language Institute is assuming that it will take highly motivated learners 2200 to become high level speakers of Japanese, it seems that 962.5 of English class for questionably motivated JHS and SHS students will not produce fluent speakers of English. I think that when teaching at the JHS and SHS level, we need to have realistic expectations on how well our students will learn how to use English. If a JHS or SHS student is a poor speaker and really labors to express herself, we should perhaps consider one reason to be the lack of time she had to learn English. Japanese are notorious for not being able to communicate in English after 6 years of secondary school study but this criticism might be unreasonable considering how much time it takes to master a second language which is might different from your own.
I am writing this with droopy eyes and am falling in and out of sleep. I hope this post has been readable! I will post now without proofreading, I'm too tired...