Reasons Why Japanese Should Be Your Next Language

5 Reasons Why Japanese Should Be the Next Language You Learn

There are dozens upon dozens of languages out there that you might learn. Duolingo alone offers forty different language courses.

When faced with so many options, you may be asking yourself: which language should I learn?

While all languages have their merits and their advantages, here are five reasons why Japanese should be your choice. 

Why learn a second language at all?

Native English speakers have it easy. English has more or less become the de facto language around the world when communicating with people who speak a different language than you. English is the most commonly spoken language in Europe as a whole, and if a native English speaker were to travel to a country where English is not the native language (such as Germany), the odds of finding someone who can speak in English with you are relatively high. 

However, there are innumerable reasons for learning a second language. 

When abroad, there are no guarantees that you will be able to communicate in English. Yes, the tourist-heavy areas are likely to use English by default, but if you step outside that bubble, having even basic language skills for the native language of the country you’re visiting broadens not only your capacity to communicate, but also your appreciation for the local culture. 

Outside of personal usage, being fluent in a second language also greatly improves your résumé. For example, if you are pursuing a job in Miami, FL, where over 60% of the population speaks Spanish, being able to speak both English and Spanish is a sure boon. 

Keeping that in mind, let’s look at how these advantages and more make Japanese a compelling next language to learn.

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The advantages of choosing Japanese

Here are five reasons Japanese should be your next target language.

1. It can open your accessibility to new resources and experiences

While English language classes are a compulsory part of the Japanese school system, the vast majority of Japanese people do not feel they have a working grasp of the language beyond the basics. This means that there is only minimal signage and information available to you if you travel to Japan. 

Going to Japan only knowing English would make your ability to enjoy Japan to the fullest difficult with so much being locked behind a language barrier. There is so much out there — from books to movies to academic articles — that has yet to be translated to English, and if you speak Japanese, you need not wait for that translation. 

If there are no plans for that content to be translated, you can also do so yourself! Learning a second language opens up new career paths for you, such as becoming a translator or an interpreter. You could be the person that takes a popular new comic book series from Japanese to English to allow people who do not speak Japanese to enjoy the story. 

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2. A whole new set of languages suddenly becomes more accessible

Languages are connected to one another through common ancestral languages (known as “proto-languages”). For example, you may have heard that Spanish is a “Romance” language. This has nothing to do with how attractive the language is, but rather that Spanish stems from Latin (“Romance” meaning “in Roman”). English, by comparison, is a Germanic language, meaning it shares more linguistically with German and Dutch than it does with Spanish or French.

While Japanese is fairly isolated (more or less being its own proto-language, or a “language isolate”), it does share many aspects with Chinese. Japan’s own writing system was born from Chinese in the 8th century, and over 60% of Japanese words today are of Chinese origin (called kango 漢語 in Japanese). Through learning Japanese vocabulary, you will be introduced to hundreds of Chinese characters (kanji 漢字).

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While these kanji will not be read the exact same way in Chinese (nor written, in some cases), learning Japanese is a great stepping stone to learning other Asian languages. You will have a head start in Chinese after learning Japanese, and then you will have a head start in other Asian languages after grasping some Chinese as well, if you should choose to.  

Korean, for example, has a significant number of Chinese-influenced words in its vocabulary. This is because, just like Japanese, Korean used to be an oral language without a written language until Chinese was adopted as a writing system. Today, there is a native Korean writing system (hangul), but the Chinese influences remain in the vocabulary. By learning Japanese, you will have a head start on Chinese, and by learning Chinese, you will be able to note similarities between Korean and its two neighboring countries’ languages.

3. You will stand out

Less than 1% of the United States population speaks Japanese. Compare that to Spanish, where just over 10% of Americans speak it. By choosing Japanese, you are making yourself stand out among second-language learners. I cannot tell you how many times people have reacted with surprise and interest when I say that I speak Japanese. Learning a European language in the United States is common, but everything else is considered unusual. 

This opens up all kinds of opportunities for you, and makes Japanese one of the most useful languages to learn in this day and age. When applying to new jobs, knowing a second language at all is a highly competitive skill. With Japanese being such an uncommon second language (at least in the United States), being fluent in it makes you a more attractive choice for employers. 

This pertains not only to the language itself, but also the cultural understanding you obtain through learning Japanese. There are many aspects of Japanese business culture that differ from American business culture, and having that understanding and putting it into practice can give you and your company an edge. 

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Learning a language that is labeled as a “super-hard language” by the U.S. Department of State is also a considerable confidence boost. It’s validating to hear people recognize the work you put into learning a new language, even if Japanese isn’t nearly as difficult as it looks! While Japanese is not one of the easiest languages to learn for a native English speaker, the grammar is rather straightforward and quite accessible to anyone who decides to take the plunge. 

On a more personal level, you may find friends and family reaching out to you for quick translations on things that pique their interest (they may even ask you how to learn Japanese!). Pieces of Japanese culture are becoming more and more present in American life. Even in something so normal as your local Japanese restaurant, you will find hiragana and katakana sprinkled throughout and it can be satisfying to be able to understand all the information available to you, and to share it with others.

4. You can live in Japan

As mentioned above, the majority of Japanese people do not have a working understanding of English. This means that if you have an interest in working or living in Japan for any length of time (even for something temporary like studying abroad), you will need a working understanding of Japanese to have a good experience. You should know at least a little bit of the local language of any country you visit, but for Japan in particular, knowing the local language determines how easy it is to find your way from the airport to your hotel, set up your new cell phone, and even go to the grocery store.

If you are a student and are looking for a language to help facilitate studying abroad, Japanese is a great choice. Japan is a close ally of the United States and has many of the lifestyle conveniences a native English speaker would find appealing. A robust public transportation system makes travel accessible, the low crime rate gives you a feeling of security no matter the time of day, and the high quality of education is hard to beat. All of this becomes more available to you if you speak Japanese.

There are even some great job opportunities to help you learn Japanese and earn a paycheck at the same time. The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program is one of the most popular avenues for foreigners to teach English in Japan. Through this program, you can apply to become an assistant language teacher (ALT), where you will help a teacher at a Japanese school teach English to students at any grade level. While you will need to know some Japanese basics at a minimum to apply, the professional and language-learning opportunity it provides is worth the effort.

5. You can maximize enjoyment of Japanese pop culture

Anime, video games, and J-pop music are all examples of wildly popular parts of Japanese culture that have become sources of entertainment in the rest of the world. In many cases, popular anime, manga, and video games have been translated into other major languages of the world to reach as wide an audience as possible. The most recent Pokémon game, for example, is available in Japanese, English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Korean, and Simplified and Traditional Chinese. 

However, much gets lost in translation. One example is the names of Mario and Luigi’s rivals: Wario and Waluigi. While it would be natural to assume the “W” starting their names comes from inverting the “M” in Mario’s name, their names are actual puns. Wario and Waluigi are “bad guys,” and so their names are actual wordplay with the heroes’ names and the Japanese word for bad: warui 悪い. This joke is lost on anyone who does not speak Japanese. 

The same is true for examples of Japanese culture. One part of the translation process from one language to another is called “localization.” This is where the content is translated not just linguistically, but also culturally to fit the target audience with the new language. 

In Pixar’s movie Inside Out, there is a sequence at the beginning of the film where the main character as a toddler is resisting eating her broccoli. To an American audience, we understand that broccoli is a commonly disliked food for young children. In Japan, however, where broccoli is not seen as gross, that joke does not land as well. Therefore, the animators changed that scene slightly so that the character was instead turning up her nose at green bell peppers, which kids in Japan tend to dislike.

By learning Japanese, you can pick up on these cultural cues to find all the little details in Japanese media that get lost in translation. 

Enlist the advice of a Japanese tutor

The future of Japanese language is strong and you will never need to worry about learning Japanese becoming an unusable skill. By choosing to start Japanese tutoring, you can learn about the pros and cons of learning Japanese.

A tutor can help you take advantage of the pros and overcome the cons and set you on the path to achieving your Japanese fluency goals.

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