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日本の小学校は、2020年度までに英語の授業を少しずつ増やすことになっています。
Japanese primary schools are expected to increase English classes gradually by 2020.

I'm confused about the combination of までに (by) with 少しずつ (little by little) . The direct English translation makes no sense. You can't do something 'little by little' by a certain time. I think the only way I could understand this is "they have until 2020 to start increasing the number of English lessons'.

You can do something 'little by little' until a certain time.

You could also say something like 'expected to increase classes little by little until they reach two hours a week by 2020'

So I think my question is why までに rather than just まで? What does this sentence actually mean?

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    The までに and 少しずつ増やす here does seem incompatible to me. I hazard that the cause of this dissonance may be the conflict between the aspectual constraint imposed by までに and the perceived atelicity of the verb phrase 少しずつ増やす: 少しずつ増やす as written feels like an open-ended activity without a defined goal and までに does not allow this type of verb phrase to be used with it. Hopefully someone more qualified can correct or elaborate on this explanation. – goldbrick Jun 25 '17 at 13:25
  • @goldbrick You have understood my problem precisely. Just to be clear, as a native Japanese speaker, do you find this sentence strange, or are you just saying that you understand why I would find it strange? – user3856370 Jun 25 '17 at 13:40
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    On the first (cursory) reading, I didn't notice anything amiss with the sentence. Upon rereading after reading your question, I find it somewhat jarring, though the intended meaning is easily understandable. – goldbrick Jun 25 '17 at 13:51
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It's interesting to see how まで(に)seems to confuse learners of Japanese as much as the distinction betwenn "by" and "until" confuses the Japanese when they learn English.

To expand slighly on user4092's explanation, までに simply expresses a period between now and a defined future point in time. In this sentence, the 少しずつ simply describes how things will be done during that period.

The point of view adopted is that of the end result: "by the time the 2020 school year comes around, the number of English classes in primary schools will have increased compared to now. The process of increasing them will proceed little by little between now and then."

Addendum: the above explanation is simply an illustration of the viewpoint adopted when までに is used, not a proper translation. Your reading of 増やす as "will increase" is correct. The ことになっています here simply expresses that everything preceding it is fact. Although more awkward in terms of English, a translation closer to the structure of the Japanese would be something like:

It has been decided that primary schools in Japan are going to increase English classes gradually between now and the 2020 school year.

where the part in italics corresponds to ことになっています, and the part in bold is までに.

  • Perhaps I'm misunderstanding 増やすことになっています. In English we say "will increase until 2020" or "will have increased by 2020". I'm reading 増やす as 'will increase' rather than 'will have increased'. Would it be possible for you to clarify a little further please? – user3856370 Jun 25 '17 at 13:25
  • Thanks for the update. I'm accepting your answer since you have clearly explained the intended meaning. I'm heartened that @goldbrick also finds the sentence a little incongruous though. – user3856370 Jun 25 '17 at 14:08
  • I think it's a little incongruous because in typical bureaucratic fashion, the concept of increasing the number of classes is (probably deliberately) kept vague and nebulous. Does it mean starting classes at earlier grades than is currently the case, giving some grades more classes per week than they currently have, or some combination thereof? It's possible that individual Boards of Education have some leeway in how they implement the increase as well, so the sentence limits itself to stating it won't be a sudden big jump in the nubmer of classes. – Philippe Jun 25 '17 at 14:14
  • I like this answer -- までに as "until" is probably the most clear translation, but "by" can mean "until" if used properly. When I first read the sentence I grasped the idea that English classes would increase in frequency so that a specific level would be reached by 2020. (else, in a more literal sense, they would continue to increase "little by little" UNTIL 2020). – psosuna Jun 27 '17 at 2:14
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The example sentence means that they will start to work on the task of gradually increasing English classes at a certain point of time within a period from now until 2020. In other words, they won't necessarily do it immediately and steadily.

  • I've edited my answer with an addendum. Does that make things clearer? – Philippe Jun 25 '17 at 13:54

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