Looking back on a 5000-hour history of learning English

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When someone ask me, “How long have you studied English?”,  I do not always know how to answer.

I may answer only 3 to 4 years, when I began to prepare to study abroad, but in fact I also studied English at junior high school, high school, and college. Furthermore, the learning hours for each year are different.

Therefore, here I have roughly summarized my learning hours.

In conclusion, here is an answer.

Q. How long have you studied English and whay is the result?

A. During 10 years learning as a student, I studied English for about 2000 hours and have gained a basic skill for reading, but it’s far from practical. During 4 more years studying abroad (including preparation period), I studied for roughly another 3000 more hours, and finally acquired a basic practical skill of English.

The details are as follow:

*NOTE) This is a case of the learning history for a typical scientist from Japan who is not good at learning foreign languages.

Elementary School: 50 hours

When I was a sixth grader, I started learning English at KUMON (a well-known Japanese private tutoring school). However, it was only once a week and there was little homework, so there was not much time to study. What I learnt was perhaps half reading and half writing.

I’m not sure of the exact hours, but I estimate the following:

1 hour a week × 50 weeks = 50 hours

Junior High School: 546 hours

I started learning English at a public junior high school in Tokyo.

According to the Japanese government course guideline, junior high school students study English for 140 hours every year at school. As I was unable to find any past data, I will use this as a substitute this data for my estimation. (Although I believe it was much less when I was at school)

In my first and second year, I believe that I spent the equivalent of about 20% of class hours outside the classroom for extra learning (review, class preparation, homework), i.e. 28 hours of extra learning. In my third year, this was more around 50% (70 hours) due to preparation for the high school entrance exam.

140 hours × 1.2 + 140 hours × 1.2 + 140 hours × 1.5 = 546 hours

The learning ratio was roughly 50% reading, 25% writing, 25% listening. I have no memory of learning to speak at the school…

High School: 1,092 hours

I entered a public high school in Tokyo.

There seems to be no specific regulations about the amount of hours for learning English in the government course guidelines, so I will assume that it is t double the amount of learning hours than those at the junior high school. At that time, I focused on studying science and math at that time, so maybe I did not spend much time learning English.

546 hours × 2 = 1,092 hours

The ratio of learning was the same as junior high school: 50% reading, 25% listening, and 25% writing. Where was the speaking lesson…

Retry for the entrance exam:300 hours

I was not able to pass the entrance exam for my dream university, so I waited one more year.

However, my dream school was a science university, so I did not focus very much on learning English. I will assume that  I studied English for 2 hours for a total of 100 days.

2 hours × 100 days = 200 hours

My score for the National Center Test for University Admissions in Japan was 150 (out of 200). There was no listening test at that time, so I only studied only reading.

Undergrad: 150 hours [TOEIC: 585]

After I enrolled in the science university, my pace of learning English became extremely slow.

From freshman to junior

As general academic subjects, I got the 4 credits for reading English, 2 credits for writing English, and 2 credits for speaking. According to the university’s regulations, 1 credit is the equivalent to 15 hours, so:

8 credits × 15 hours = 120 hours

This was my first time to practice speaking English. However, I was not diligent enough to study English at that time, so I only studied in class.

Senior year

I needed to use English for my research after I joined a laboratory. However, my thesis only referenced 5 or so English articles, and I only read some English articles and papers for the study meeting. I have roughly estimated the following:

10 papers × 3 hours = 30 hours

Also, I took the TOEIC exam for the graduate school entrance exam, and the result was just 585 (out of 990).

Graduate School: 50 hours

I entered graduate school. I submitted a paper for an international conference, but the frequency of using English was almost same as my days as an undergraduate. I would guess that I read 20 papers and wrote 1 paper myself during those 2 years.

20 papers (Reading) × 2 hours + 1 paper (Writing) × 10 hours = 50 hours

As a Worker (0-4 years):0 hours [TOEIC: 685]

I entered a Japanese IT company after receiving my Master’s degree. When I took the TOEIC as the company’s entrance exam, the score was just 685. As of that time, I had studied English for approximately 2000 hours.

There was no opportunity to use English in my job, and I did not study at all during those 4 years. When I took the TOEIC at the end of my 4 years working there, the score was 655.

I did not have any practical English skills at that time.

・Reading: If there is a dictionary, maybe I could understand but it would take some time.

・Writing: No experience of practical writing

・Listening: I could understand the English for TOEIC, but I could not understand  English in real situations at all, such as movies or TV shows.

・Speaking: No experience of speaking English

As a Worker (5-6 years): 850 hours [TOEIC: 835 & 885]

Overseas Training Course

I had an opportunity to join an overseas training course for two months and I studied English intensively for 10 hours a day.

10 hours × 60 days = 600 hours

I think that the ratio of the learning contents (Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking) was almost the same.

When I took the TOEIC after finishing the course, my score was 835, which is 180 higher than the previous result thanks to the 2-month intensive study program.

After the training corse

I decided to choose a global career path after joining the training course, and I continued to study English for 5 hours at weekends.

5 hours (every weekend) × 50 weeks = 250 hours

The short-term goal was the TOEIC, so I focused on learning reading and listening. The score after 1-year study was 885, but that was still far from having practical English skills.

・Reading: There was no problem with the TOEIC reading, but it was still not easy when it came to the business books, magazines, etc.

・Writing: I managed to write easy articles with a dictionary.

・Listening: There was no problem with the TOEIC listening, but I could only understand about 20% of movies without subtitles.

・Speaking: Only a simple self-introduction…

As a Worker (7-8 years): 1,000 hours

I decided to go to a business school. I started to prepare for the MBA entrance exam while working. I was pretty busy at that time, but I managed about 1000 hours of learning for:
  • The GMAT training (at a cram school)
  • The interview lesson (via Skype, 1-2 hours a day)
  • The essay lesson (with the MBA consultant)
  • Miscellaneous (go to an English school in Philippines, join a training course in the US)

This was basically my first time using English in a practical situation, not a learning one. I mainly studied English for GMAT, and the ratio of learning was 50% reading, 10% writing, 10% listening, and 30% speaking.

When I passed the business school, my level of English was as follows. (I could not take the useless TOEIC anymore)

・Reading: I could read books or articles though my speed was not fast.

・Writing: I could write articles or emails, but thye still contained many grammatical errors.

・Listening: I could understand news programs, but just understood less than 50% of movies without subtitles.

・Speaking: There was no problem with daily conversations with non-native speakers, but was still hard to discuss complicated topics.

Study Abroad: 1,000 hours

I entered a business school in China where classes were all instructed in English.

1st Year

I took 40 credits courses during the 1st year, and I will assume that 1 credit is the equivalent to 25 hours of learning, including review, preview, assignment, etc.

40 credits × 25 hours = 1,000 hours

I used a good balance of all my English skills, using reading (case study and textbook), writing (report), listening (lecture), and speaking (discussion, presentation, daily life). As a side note, the Chinese English accent is very easy for Japanese people to understand, but it is not very good in terms of learning English…

At that time, my total number of hours spent learning English was over 5000 hours, but I’m embarrassed to say that my English level was far from a professional level, although I could manage to use English in the business contexts that I am familiar with.

・Reading: TBasically no problem, but my speed of reading was not fast, around 150-230 words per minutes (compared with 300 words for English natives).

・Writing: No big problem, but there were still many grammatical mistakes and my structure of documents was also far from a professional level.

・Listening: I could basically understand the lectures. However, the daily conversation with English natives was still not that easy, also, I could not understand conversations in movies or television shows such as FRIENDS without subtitles.

・Speaking: I could manage to discuss the topic that I’m familiar with. However, it was still not easy for me to speak in professional environments such as debates, negotiations, sales talks.

・Vocabulary: There might be one unfamiliar word on a page when reading business books. My total vocabulary size was estimated to be 14300 and 13900 in this brief test (compared to 20k-35k for English natives).

2nd year

I focused on studying Chinese during the 2nd year. I will introduce the progress of my Chinese in another article.

My path of learning English

I created a graph of my learning history, which totals to more than 5,000 hours.

Screenshot 2016-02-29 02.33.20

It’s like a typical kind of Japanese student, who does not focus on speaking lessons.

I probably need an additional 1000 hours of listening and speaking lessons to get to a practical business level. It’s almost impossible to reach that level only through study. On the other hand, if I use English in my work, 1000 hours would not be so difficult to reach.

These are my conclusions.

1)TOEIC is really useless. TOEIC 800 is just the start point for a beginner.

2)10k vocabularies are not enough for business English.

2)Practical English environment >> a brick wall >> English at schools

3)The order of Importance is Listening > Speaking > Reading > Writing

That is all. This was a typical case of typical scientist from Japan who is not good at learning foreign languages…

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  1. HONG says:

    good article that reminds of my experience~