Japanese is considered one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. With its complex writing systems, unfamiliar grammar, and rigid system of honorifics, many see Japanese as an intimidating language. However, despite its reputation, learning Japanese has become extremely popular among Americans in recent years. There are many excellent reasons why Americans should consider taking up the challenge of learning Japanese.
Definition of the Japanese Language
Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, mainly in Japan. Along with Chinese and Korean, it is considered one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. Japanese has three different writing systems - hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana is mainly the Japanese alphabet, Katakana is mainly used for foreign words, and kanji is for meanings of certain words. It also has complex grammar rules and a system of honorific language that reflects social status and hierarchy. While difficult, Japanese is a rich and multifaceted language that offers great rewards to those willing to study it.
Popularity of Learning Japanese in America
Despite its reputation for difficulty, Japanese has become an extremely popular foreign language to learn in the United States. A report from the Modern Language Association showed that more American college students were studying Japanese than any other language except Spanish. The study of Japanese grew by nearly 13% between 2013-2016. More and more Americans are seeing value in taking up the challenge of learning this complex language.
Reason #1: Travel
Importance of knowing Japanese while traveling in Japan
One of the best reasons to learn Japanese is to be able to travel and get around in Japan. As an island nation, Japan offers a wealth of natural beauty, incredible cities, world-class cuisine, and fascinating cultural experiences. However, English is not widely spoken outside major cities and tourist sites. Learning Japanese allows you to fully immerse yourself in the culture and interact with local people. You'll be able to read signs, menus, and maps, as well as talk to people you meet during your travels.
How learning Japanese can improve travel experiences
Knowing Japanese enriches the travel experience in Japan tremendously. You'll be able to go off the beaten tourist track and have more authentic interactions. Understanding some of the language shows respect for the culture. Locals will appreciate your effort and be more welcoming. You'll gain insights into the culture that you'd miss otherwise. Immersing yourself in the language helps you connect at a deeper level.
Reason #2: Higher Education
Benefits of learning Japanese for pursuing higher education
Learning Japanese opens up opportunities for higher education. Japan has over 700 universities, and many offer programs taught in English. However, knowing Japanese allows you access to an even wider range of programs at these top-ranked universities. Japan offers a high-quality university system, with strength in technology, science, and engineering programs. Being able to study in Japanese means you can fully take advantage of the country's excellent higher education system.
Discussion on the opportunities in Japanese universities
Some of Japan's most prestigious universities like Tokyo University and Kyoto University have exchange programs and partnerships with American colleges. This allows American students to study abroad in Japan. There are also specialized Japanese language study programs that allow you to improve your language skills while experiencing university life in Japan. Studying abroad is an amazing way to immerse yourself in the culture and get first-hand experience with the language. Knowing Japanese makes studying in Japan a much richer experience.
Reason #3: Career Advancement
How knowing Japanese can enhance your career prospects
Learning Japanese can give your career a boost. Japanese companies have a major presence globally across industries like technology, automotive, engineering, and business. Being able to speak Japanese allows you to work for Japanese companies either domestically or abroad. Knowledge of the language and culture is highly valued. For many companies, being bilingual in English and Japanese is a huge asset that can set you apart from other applicants and open up more job opportunities.
The professional value of knowing a foreign language like Japanese
Beyond just working for Japanese companies, knowledge of any foreign language makes you a more attractive job candidate. Learning Japanese demonstrates important skills like dedication, cultural sensitivity, communication ability, and cognitive agility. It shows potential employers that you are intelligent, adaptable, and open-minded. In our increasingly global economy, being bilingual gives you a competitive advantage. Japanese skills can provide that career boost to help reach your professional goals.
Reason #4: Professional Value
Understanding how Japanese language skills add to your professional value
As discussed above, Japanese language skills greatly increase an individual's professional value in today's global marketplace. Firstly, it shows intellectual ability, discipline, and commitment to learning a complex foreign language. Secondly, it provides access to the large and important Japanese market. Being able to directly communicate, understand cultural nuances, and build relationships with Japanese partners is a huge asset.
Exploring job markets and industries where Japanese is an asset
There are certain jobs and industries where having Japanese language skills can be particularly beneficial. Some examples are international business roles that deal with the Japanese market; tourism and hospitality jobs; education and academic research related to Japan; translation, interpreting, and localization jobs; jobs with the government or non-profits in areas connected to Japan; jobs with Japanese companies both in and outside of Japan.
Reason #5: Culture
The role of language in understanding and appreciating culture
Language is deeply intertwined with culture. By learning Japanese, you gain direct access to Japanese culture in a way that would not be possible otherwise. The language reflects cultural perspectives, customs, history, and ways of thinking. You can gain insights into traditions like tea ceremony, martial arts, and theater. You can read classical Japanese literature in the original language. Knowledge of Japanese allows for a much deeper cultural experience.
Exploring Japanese culture through its language
Only by learning the language can you fully appreciate the many facets of Japanese culture. For example, the complex system of honorifics reflects the social hierarchy and customs of politeness in Japan. Understanding this nuance in language usage helps understand the culture. Immersing yourself in the language opens the doors to traditional arts like kabuki theater, rakugo storytelling, and Noh drama. It allows you to explore philosophy and religion through original texts. Language is a gateway to truly experiencing a culture.
Reason #6: Workplace Status
How knowing Japanese can raise your status in the workplace
Being bilingual in Japanese and English can raise your status in many professional settings. It marks you as someone with specialized skills that others lack. It gives you expanded responsibilities, like being able to communicate directly with Japanese clients, partners, and coworkers. Your input will be valued more highly when dealing with Japanese markets. Knowing Japanese makes you an asset to your company and an invaluable link between cultures.
Exploring the competitive advantage of bilingualism in the workplace
Bilingual employees who can bridge language and cultural gaps are always in demand. Companies competing in global markets need people who can help them expand into places like Japan. Someone proficient in Japanese has a competitive advantage over monolingual applicants. Multinational companies will come to depend on your specialized language skills. You may find yourself traveling to Japan to represent your company abroad. Being bilingual opens up more opportunities.
Reason #7: Approachability
How knowing Japanese can make you more approachable
An unexpected benefit of learning Japanese is that it can make you seem more approachable. Speaking even a few phrases in someone's native language triggers positive feelings. It creates a connection, shows interest in their culture, and demonstrates a willingness to meet them halfway. Using Japanese greetings, expressions of thanks, and simple phrases will make native speakers appreciate the effort and be more open to conversation.
The social benefits of knowing a foreign language
Learning any new language also makes you more approachable in general. It shows open-mindedness, worldliness, and intellectual curiosity. The ability to speak multiple languages is a social asset that intrigues people. Conversing in Japanese in social settings invariably impresses people. It's a great way to enhance your social interactions, meet new people, and make connections. The social benefits of language learning are just as valuable as the professional ones.
Reason #8: Appreciation of Japanese Entertainment
Role of language in enjoying foreign entertainment
For fans of Japanese entertainment, learning the language opens up a whole new world of content to enjoy. Japan has a thriving popular culture scene that has become a major cultural export. Being able to understand Japanese allows you to watch anime, read manga, listen to J-pop music, and play video games in their original, untranslated form. You'll get so much more nuance and meaning when you can directly engage with the content in its original language.
Exploring Japanese anime, movies, and games
By learning Japanese, you gain access to the massive world of entertainment in the original language. Fans of anime can watch new shows as they air in Japan rather than waiting for subtitles. You can play Japanese video games when they are released rather than hoping for a localized version. Understanding Japanese opens up opportunities to experience pop culture directly from the source. It allows fans to explore and appreciate the full diversity of Japanese entertainment.
Reason #9: Personal Challenge
Learning Japanese as a self-imposed challenge
For some people, the main reason to learn Japanese is the personal challenge. Japanese is considered one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. The writing system alone takes great effort to master. Just being able to hold a basic conversation in Japanese is an accomplishment. Pushing yourself to take on such a complex challenge is incredibly rewarding.
The rewards of overcoming language learning challenges
The sense of achievement you get from putting in the hard work and reaching proficiency in Japanese is immense. Learning kanji, absorbing all the grammar rules, and becoming comfortable speaking takes dedication. Overcoming these challenges proves to yourself that you can achieve what you set your mind to. It builds confidence, and mental acuity, and sharpens your thinking. It's a goal worth pursuing just for the personal growth it provides.
Reason #10: Job Opportunities
Exploring job opportunities that demand Japanese language skills
There are a variety of career paths and jobs where being bilingual in Japanese is a huge advantage or even required. Some examples are translator/interpreter, an English teacher in Japan, jobs in international business, tourism, and hospitality, software/game localization, and jobs with the government or non-profits connected to Japan. Any field that involves dealing with the Japanese market values Japanese language ability.
The demand for Japanese speakers in different sectors
Major Japanese companies like Toyota, Sony, Nintendo, etc. are always looking to hire bilingual employees. The tourism industry needs Japanese speakers to cater to visitors. Academic and scientific fields need Japanese skills for research collaboration. Non-profits and government agencies need Japanese speakers for exchange programs. Startups need Japanese localization to expand their products into the Japanese market. There are so many opportunities once you have Japanese language skills.
Summary of the 10 reasons why Americans should consider learning Japanese
In summary, there are many compelling reasons for Americans to study Japanese. The language opens doors for travel, education, career advancement, cultural insight, and personal growth. In our increasingly globalized world, Japanese skills provide an advantage in any field from business to technology to arts and entertainment. The language learning journey itself provides intellectual stimulation and a sense of accomplishment. While challenging, Japanese is a very rewarding and enriching language to learn. Given the many excellent benefits, more Americans should take up the challenge of studying Japanese to open up new opportunities both personally and professionally.