The Guidelines for the Course of Study 《→gakushu shido yoryo 学習指導要領 Guidelines for the Course of Study》 for senior high schools state that the objectives of teaching foreign languages are "to deepen students' understanding of language and culture through the study of a foreign language, to encourage active involvement in communication, and to cultivate practical communication skills for understanding information and the views of others, and for expressing one's own thoughts, etc."
English is the most common foreign language taught in the schools and foreign languages are generally taught beginning in junior high school. Although an elective subject in junior high schools thus far, foreign language becomes a required subject when the new Guidelines for the Course of Study are implemented in 2002. Formerly, English language education tended to focus heavily on grammar and reading comprehension, but under the 1992 Guidelines currently in use, more emphasis has been placed on English conversation, and many junior and senior high schools employ native speakers invited by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology or resident native speakers of English as assistant teachers. University entrance examinations sometimes include a listening test. Many schools have language laboratories equipped for practicing listening and speaking skills.
Subjects consist of English I/II, Oral Communication I/II, Reading, and Writing, and students must complete one credit in either Oral Communication I or English I.
Teaching of courses in foreign languages other than English varies from school to school. As of July 1999, there were 22 foreign languages being taught in 551 schools (343 public, 208 private) with a total of more than 40,000 students of these languages. Chinese was the most common, taught at 372 schools (18,441 students), followed by French (206 schools, 9,923 students), Korean (131 schools, 3,972 students), German (109 schools, 4,446 students), and Spanish (76 schools, 2,325 students). (From the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology report, Heisei 10-nendo kotogakko ni okeru kokusai koryu nado no jokyo [The Conditions of International Exchange, etc., in High Schools 1998.]) Some schools place particular emphasis on foreign languages, such as Keio Gijuku Shiki High School in Saitama, which offers thirteen subjects, including Arabian and Indonesian.
In 2002 makes it became possible to include English education in elementary school curriculums.