Japan Today



Why you shouldn’t learn Japanese


Anyone with an interest in Japan should learn a little Japanese, I really believe. Daily life is much better when you know a few key phrases: Hello. My name is. Please. May I? No really, please. Why not? Oh come on, please. You sure? Last chance. Well fine, be that way. Sorry for causing a scene. Even if I pay you? No? Hmph, well I didn’t want to anyway.

But when I say “a little” of the language, I mean it. Beyond a handful of survival sentences, you should give a really good think to whether or not you want to continue learning Japanese.

So this is Phase II of the Japanese Rule of 7 Learn Some Japanese project. Phase I was here. Phase III? Well, okay I haven’t written that yet. Hey, what can I say, I’m lazy. Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, Phase II. The “selection” phase. For this, you’re going to want to find yourself a really tall mountain. The taller the better, preferably with a sturdy pine tree. Climb to the mountaintop and sit there. If there is a pine tree, then climb to the top of that and sit there instead. Then stay there for exactly one week. You should probably pack some sandwiches, now that I think about it, and maybe some beers too. Just think how refreshing they’d be. And while you’re there with your pine cones and sandwiches and beer, ask yourself: Do I really want to study Japanese? No, really. Because here’s what it’s all about.

It’s Going to Take Time. A Really Freaking Long Time

I want to tell the world that learning Japanese is easy and fun. Because that would be great and the world would like that, and then I could sell the world some secret method that I dreamed up and I’d be rich and the world would be happy. But on a scale of 1 to Hot-Tub-at-the-Playboy-Mansion, learning Japanese slots in somewhere between soldering together your own black-and-white TV and copying the Bible by hand while wearing a Medieval monk outfit. Plus, it takes a long time.

Look, everyone thinks they can learn Japanese quickly, fueled in part, no doubt, by the number of websites claiming to help you do so if you buy their products. But honestly, when I look at the very few people I actually know who’ve succeeded, it’s clear why. They got up at 4 a.m. every morning to do speaking drills, or wrote 50,000 flash cards, or went to language school five hours a day. Myself, I can honestly say I’ve spent at least 4,000 hours actively studying, and that’s not counting watching Japanese movies, singing karaoke, having conversations all day long in Japanese, and working in Japan.

Part of the problem lies with ever-loftier goals. At first, I thought it would be enough just to master some survival phrases. But every time I met someone, they asked me questions I couldn’t answer. So I learned more, until I could finally have a conversation. Then I wanted to have a longer, more interesting conversation, until eventually I realized what I really needed was to make myself understood in both speech and writing at roughly the same level I’m at in English. In other words, even fluency wasn’t enough. It’s a little bit like putting yourself through high school and college all over again, alone, in Japanese.

If I had to say how long it would take to get reasonably good at Japanese, I’d estimate a minimum of 3 to 7 years, and possibly much more, depending upon how much time you devote and how many advantages you bring to the table.

Safe Return Doubtful

Of the hundreds of people I’ve seen study Japanese over the years, only about 10 succeeded in speaking the language with any level of competency. The rest eventually stopped. You might want to give some thought to undertaking a project with a higher dropout rate than that oShackletonf the Navy SEALs. Just saying.

Of course, you can spend the years of your life any way you like, but it seems a shame to buy a cookbook, go to the store for eggs, flour and a cake pan, come home and mix up a batter, put it in the oven, and then half an hour later yank open the oven and throw the whole thing out the window. In other words, either bake the cake or do not. There is no try. Pretty sure Yoda said that.

Most people seem to last about a year and a half. They’re all balls-out at the start, and then after several months it dawns on them that it’s a much bigger task than they were led to believe. So be aware of how long it’s going to take. If you want to spend the years, you absolutely can do it. But think about whether you want to spend a decade on Japanese before you set out. Doing it halfway seems kind of a waste of time.

Opportunity Cost

This is a term economists use to make you feel bad about your behavior. If you spent $10 on a delicious dinner, well, see there Ken, that’s $10 you could have invested in the stock market, and now you’d be rich and could have two delicious dinners. That kind of stuff.

Studying Japanese takes some money, but more importantly, it takes time. In the 3 to 7 years you spent learning Japanese, you could have learned to play the guitar, and now you’d be in a cool rock band. Or you could have gone to the gym and now you’d have abs of steel. Or gone back to college.

The Payback

I don’t like the word “problem.” I prefer “challenge.” And one of the challenges — oh the hell with it—the problem with Japanese is that it’s pretty much only useful in Japan. So how long are you going to be in Japan? Let’s say you turn out to be some super prodigy kind of dude and learn Japanese in just two years. Great, now I hate you. Whatever. If you stay in Japan for two years, then that’s 1:1 and maybe it was worth the time investment. But what if it takes you five years to learn and you only stay for a year? See what I’m saying? I’ve known people who spent years learning Japanese and watching anime and reading manga and then once they got here . . . eh, it wasn’t as great as they thought it’d be, and they went home. Open window, insert cake.

You Really Don’t Need Japanese

Of the roughly 20 countries I’ve been to, Japan is probably the most set up to accommodate people who don’t speak the local language. Many foreigners live here with no more than a handful of simple phrases and do just fine. Lots of signs and menus are in English, and the entire population has received at least six years of English education. Even if you try to speak Japanese, it may not work. Sometimes no matter how perfectly you ask a question in Japanese, you’ll get an answer in English, or at least dumbed-down Japanese. Contrary to many countries that demand you speak the local language, Japan sometimes seems to prefer you don’t speak Japanese.

Japanese Can Make You Less Popular

You know David Blaine, the magician guy? Think about like him at a party. People see him and they just wig out, like, wow, David Blaine! Do some card tricks or hold your breath for 10 minutes or something! And he’s like, Nah, I just want to drink a beer like everybody else. That would suck, right? You’d be like, I went to a party with stupid David Blaine and he didn’t even levitate or anything.

Well that’s you in Japan, unless you look super Japanese, and then people will be confused until they figure out you’re secretly white. Your magic trick is that you can speak English. That’s what everyone wants you to do. And every time you do it, and tell them about how big the cheeseburgers are back home and how people wear shoes inside the house, their eyes will light up and they’ll be like, wow, amazing!

And every time you speak Japanese, people will say, “Oh, your Japanese is so good.” And then they’ll try to speak English with you. You can say the most profound thing ever in Japanese, make the funniest joke, talk about the earth being taken over by space robots, whatever — and all you’ll get back is “Heeeeey.” But say any stupid thing off the top of your head in English and everybody will bust up laughing. English is a pretty upbeat language; Japanese, eh, not so much.

Japan Isn’t all That

If you came to Japan for a vacation, you probably had a pretty mind-blowing time. Everything was new, and everything was interesting. But it was also, in a sense, free, because you used money you’d saved up or you credit-carded it or something. Either way, you didn’t have to work in Japan in exchange for the experience you were having.

But once you live and work here, that changes. You can go clubbing, take trips to onsen, hang out all night in karaoke booths, but you have to work in order to make those things possible. And the more fun you want to have, the more you have to work. That realization changes the equation. It’s not fun for free once you live here.

Now, I like Japan, don’t get me wrong. And I like conversing in Japanese, and reading and writing it. But Japan’s still just a place, with plenty of both good and bad. That’s why it’s called Japan, and not heaven. The architecture — mmm, it’s not so great. The natural scenery — yeah, that’s not so great either. The people — ah jeez, well, you get the idea. But hey, at least the food’s good. That’s something.

Choose Wisely

So if you’ve never wanted to learn Japanese, here’s your big chance to do absolutely butt nothing. On the other hand, if you still really, really want to study Japanese, and make it a significant part of your life’s work, then I’m 100 percent behind you. Well, maybe like 90, but that’s pretty good anyway. So it’s probably safe to come down out of the tree now and continue on to Phase III. I mean, as soon as I write it. Okay, maybe you better stay up there a bit longer.

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Sometimes no matter how perfectly you ask a question in Japanese, you'll get an answer in English

Exactly. Often when trying my hardest to speak Japanese, I end up wondering why do I bother?

12 ( +22 / -10 )

Hilarious as always Ken, but you forgot my personal number 1 reason for not learning Japanese, the confused and panicked looks on the faces of the locals as I speak English and their brains scramble to try and assemble the scraps of English they learnt decades ago under some teacher who was more interested in grammar than speaking English.

I do have a minor bone to pick:

Of the roughly 20 countries I’ve been to, Japan is probably the most set up to accommodate people who don’t speak the local language.

... which countries are these? Seriously man, I've lived all on almost every continent and I've never met a country as anti-English as Japan... except for France, but they've got a good reason, that 100 year war thingy. Actually, now that I think about it, even France, with its actively anti-English laws, isn't as bad as Japan, because the French just sneered in arrogance at my speaking English, they didn't actually start panicking and look like I should dial 119 for an ambulance. While the French score quite poorly at English on international tests they're actually not bad at communicating in English.

The Japanese on the other hand are god-awful at communicating in any language, including their own. You can have a whole conversation in Japanese consisting of one or two word sentences and monosyllabic grunts... its like trying to communicate with a teenager!

My point though is that I'd love to know which countries these are. If they're "the north pole", "the south pole", etc. then I might acknowledge your point, penguins are notorious for their elitist attitude and refusal to speak English, unlike their more civilised equitorial relatives, the parrots, mynahs, and so forth. However, in my experience from sweaty Brazil to frozen Russia I've never run across a country with as acute an English-phobia as Japan.

11 ( +21 / -10 )

Japanese isn't that difficult to pick up, although of course it is difficult to get good - very good - fluent at (just like any language).

You should persevere and learn to understand, speak, read and write Japanese as far as possible, because otherwise it's a massive waste of a good opportunity, and of your time here; and because otherwise you'll become a tiresome cliche of that foreigner.

There are plenty of people who can use Japanese very well indeed. They just don't go on about it, continually apologising or justifying their lack of language, as non-speakers end up doing.

10 ( +15 / -5 )

I think that foreigners who don't wish to learn Japanese are quite fortunate in Japan. When I first came in the 1980s, I was surprised that many TV programs were bilingual, that signs were in English and that there were four English newspapers. It made me very lazy about learning Japanese.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

"But Japan’s still just a place, with plenty of both good and bad. That’s why it’s called Japan, and not heaven" LOL thats the quote of the year!

11 ( +13 / -2 )

well my Japanese is very average but that has not stopped me from earning a lot more than the average Japanese wage. you certainly dont need to speak Japanese well to be successful in Japan.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Japanese is a lot easier, more systematic, and suited to being an international language than English. The Kanji especially make Japanese easy non-European language to learn due to the systematic formation of the vocabulary from 1000 to 2000 building blocks, via agglutination. Learn 2000 English words and you may be able to converse at kindergarten. You'll need a thousand more to join primary school (at the above the level of Japanese learners) and you'll probably keep learning about one thousand words a year till your 40's if you are an educated native English speaker. Learn 2000 Kanji and blam, you can read a Japanese broadsheet newspaper. There are no tones, consonant clusters (try getting a Japanese person to say "clothes"), very few irregular verbs, no verb conjunctions, and completely transparent spelling (unlike ghoti/fish English). The difference between "wa" and "ga" is a bitch but not as arbitrary at the use of "the" (The Times, Newsweek, The Kings Head, Macdonalds). IME/ATOK make kanji input easy and Rikai.com and Firefox "Furigana injector" make reading them, with auto-placed "rubi" readings simple too. There are no relative pronouns, so making the most of a limited learner vocabulary is relatively easy - just put the adjectival clause in front of the noun. Google "Japanese as an international language" for more, and keep learning Japanese because, unlike most Japanese learners of English, you will get there.

11 ( +22 / -11 )

Most people seem to last about a year and a half.

Based on what? Your personal experience? Stories from friends? The thing you fail to mention in this "article" is that English is like a sport. Some people are born with the ability to pick it up quicker than others.

8 ( +14 / -6 )

'Japan is probably the most set up to accommodate people who don't speak the local language'. I take it he's not a fan of Ryokan.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

Not speaking Japanese is your ticket to an easi(er) ride as a kindergarten mother. There were 3 of us furriners. 2 didnt speak a word of Japanese, and then there was me. The other two got away with a lot. I didnt.

On the other hand now I am outside Japan you wouldnt believe how "cool" it is to be fluent in Japanese. Everyone is well impressed. I am enjoying my new found and temporary star-status because I give myself 6 months at the outside before I have lost the lot unless I can convince my husband that we need to speak it at home as he always promised we would. :-/

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Spergin about Japanese here!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

And every time you speak Japanese, people will say, “Oh, your Japanese is so good.” And then they’ll try to speak English with you.

Nah, what I find is people you meet for the first time hang back because they assume they can't communicate with you, them not speaking English and you being a furriner. Then they find out you can speak Japanese (usually by hearing you talking to someone else, and that someone else's head not exploding from the effort of trying to speak English) and heave a huge sigh of relief. Then they start telling you their life story.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Cleo, that is probably more true outside the Tokyo anthill.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

nandakanda - Probably. But then why would anyone want to live in Tokyo anyway? (Well, my mil and her pals do, but none of them has ever considered for an instant speaking to me in English....)

0 ( +4 / -4 )

you certainly dont need to speak Japanese well to be successful in Japan

..but how much more successful would you be if you did?

(assuming that you realize the missed opportunities?)

13 ( +15 / -2 )

I work at an engineering/manufacturing company and one of the problems we often encounter is the poor use of written Japanese from Japanese. I'm a science major ( as you can probably tell from the standard of the English in my mails ) but I can at least write a set of instructions or specifications in clear, digestible English or Japanese if I have a native-speaking, literate proofreader. Japanese education does not pay anything like enough attention to how to write, or in some cases even speak and present, in a lucid, concise manner. The usual 'Japanese is very vague' myths are trotted by someone who has given me sheets of poorly written, vague garbage. Japanese isn't some magical code understood by those who share similar sensibilities. It's a language like any other which can be learned with effort, but many Japanese still buy in to the idea that it cannot be mastered by outsiders. If it is the vague, badly expressed Japanese have to put up with, many of our native-speaking Japanese translators haven't got a clue either.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

It’s Going to Take Time.

It's funny that a bunch of gaijins living in Japan who won't/don't/can't learn Japanese always complain about the abysmal English ability of Japanese people. Of course it's going to take time. Is it worth it? That depends how much you want to understand the country and how deep you want your friendships to be, but I think knowledge is better than ignorance, don't you?

Japanese Can Make You Less Popular

If you are a single guy in a bar, true.

But who wants to be friends with a person who only wants to use you for free English lessons? I have found that it is much easier to talk to people when they know you can speak Japanese. Like Cleo says, often people really open up to foriegners in ways they wouldn't to other Japanese people - though as nandakandamanda says, perhaps that is only in the sticks.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

my son learned english and japanese... he's 4.

I'd reason wtfjapan is successful in Japan is that because of his ability (or in this case lack of ability) means he can't be hired by a japanese firm, therefore saving his work/life balance and not being ko'd by having to work until 11pm every night.

I'd definitely call that a success

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I've become highly disenchanted with learning Japanese. I studied in university, studied abroad, and it has been my goal to ace the level 1 of the JLPT for some time now, but, I have a terrible confession: since coming to Japan, my Japanese has GOTTEN WORSE. Why? I don't even need it to work in Japan. As I teach English, I speak English all day. My boss is American, so we converse in English, and on the occasions where I go out with students, they... you guessed it, want to practice their English. I have gotten very good at living in Japan, but besides daily conversation, I have no time to put in serious study (besides waking up at 4 am), and there aren't any reasonably priced Japanese classes in my city. It's really frustrating. I don't want to bail on the whole thing, as I've already invested so much time, but Ken nailed it: it's so easy to quit when there's no reason to continue. Ah, well, I'll keep trying when I can, but it's a shame I have to stop working in Japan to improve my Japanese...

3 ( +7 / -4 )

It's just better to be dumb, naive and stupid then to make the effort. I have a friend that is a astrophysicist that works for NASA. I used to wonder why would anyone bother spending half their lifetime looking at a bunch of stars searching for the origins of the universe lol. I can think of a lot better things how one can be spending their time doing. Yet I wonder how many people have actually talked to one. My friend put it to me this way.

Who has not felt a sense of awe while looking deep into the sky, lit with countless stars on a clear night? Who has not asked themselves if ours is the only planet that supports life? Who has not pondered the nature of the planets, stars, galaxies, and the Universe itself? I seek to to explain through Science everything that we observe in the Universe, from the comets and planets in our own solar system to distant galaxies which are far beyond what anyone can imagine. By studying the cosmos beyond our own planet, I can try to understand where we came from, where we are going, and how physics works under conditions which are impossible to recreate on Earth. In astronomy, the Universe is our laboratory! That is why I am a astrophysicist.

OK, that was a bit more of an answer then I was looking for but I had it coming lol. I could tell this is what he lived & breathed for and I respect that. In retrospect I didn't learn Japanese or continue to learn with the assumption of ever becoming a master of the language. I did it to challenge myself and try to push beyond my limitations of what I thought was possible. It helped me to become a better more attentive listener. In addition to being more discipline in my daily life as well.

So that sure doesn't sound like a waste of time to me! Learning Japanese while extremely difficult is not unattainable as is climbing Mount Everest. You believe in something enough and are willing to make the sacrifices. As well as put forth the effort one needs to get there it's possible. In closing I grew up as a stutterer and dyslexic to boot. English was a nightmare for me and yet I prevailed. Japanese in contrast is just like me reliving my childhood all over again. Actually I am kinda ok with that! :)

8 ( +10 / -2 )

They made amazing country for themselves and even you stay here for 40 years you will not be integrated, whatever you do, learn language, get Japanese wife, ..... I am 63 very wealthy with Japanese wife and 3 kids, extremely unhappy. Live here for awhile and leave as soon as you can. I regret my life path and now I am trapped here.

1 ( +10 / -9 )

You should persevere and learn to understand, speak, read and write Japanese as far as possible

It is not easy at all to learn Japanese and reading Japanese is two to three times more difficult. First, the words are not separated in Japanese writing so even if you have a dictionary, you do not know where one word ends and another begins. Second, the use of Kanji effectually makes it nearly impossible to be able to read. The Japanese spend from the time they are babies up through high school and college to learn Kanji and then there is some Kanji they do not know. I have met many people who sincerely try to communicate in English which is greatly appreciated. I have not met many that are willing to teach me Japanese. Sure, I learned the hiragana and the katakana but can't read anything due to everything is in Kanji and if there is some hiragana or katakana there is Kanji mixed into it. I just say, satpaliwakaranai, that has to be my favorite Japanese word.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

timtakMay. 13, 2013 - 09:55AM JST

The Kanji especially make Japanese easy non-European language to learn due to the systematic formation of the vocabulary from 1000 to 2000 building blocks, via agglutination

Are you for real or haven't you ever studied kanji?

Kanji, with it's multitude of readings, makes Japanese difficult even for Japanese.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

It is not easy at all to learn Japanese

As malfupete points out, little kiddies can do it.

the words are not separated in Japanese writing so even if you have a dictionary, you do not know where one word ends and another begins.

That's really no problem. The big words tend to be separated by the kana in between, providing hints about grammar and stuff. それは問題ないよ。単語と単語の間に仮名が入るからね。See what I mean? It's only in very convoluted officialese that you get strings and strings of kanji with ne'er a break in sight.

the use of Kanji effectually makes it nearly impossible to be able to read.

Yet Japan has a 99% literacy rate....

2 ( +6 / -4 )

the use of Kanji effectually makes it nearly impossible to be able to read

Actually a good portion of the world's population actually can read Kanji, with no problem. Just ask the Chinese.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Not speaking Japanese is your ticket to an easi(er) ride as a kindergarten mother. There were 3 of us furriners. 2 didnt speak a word of Japanese, and then there was me. The other two got away with a lot. I didnt.

What did you not get away with? You mean the other mamas invite you to all their events? I speak Japanese but feel I get away with certain stuff at the workplace just for being a foreigner.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

can't be hired by a japanese firm, therefore saving his work/life balance and not being ko'd by having to work until 11pm every night.

Not everyone works that late. I am a system engineer and usually leave work before 7:30 (Normal hours are 9:30-6:30)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I don't know, Ken... this is certainly not your best work. The amount of times you say, "Whatever" really dulls it.

"Of the hundreds of people I’ve seen study Japanese over the years, only about 10 succeeded in speaking the language with any level of competency."

My guess is that you've met mostly foreign language teachers. And definite 'competency'? One thing people keep in mind is that when you study a target language, it is best to immerse yourself in that language as completely as possible, and is very hard to do when a large part of your day is teaching and/or conversing in your native tongue as well.

It also depends on the person and not just their diligence.

Timtak: "The Kanji especially make Japanese easy non-European language to learn due to the systematic formation of the vocabulary from 1000 to 2000 building blocks, via agglutination. Learn 2000 English words and you may be able to converse at kindergarten."

Show me a Kindergartner that can write 2000 Kanji.

"There are no tones, consonant clusters (try getting a Japanese person to say "clothes"), very few irregular verbs, no verb conjunctions, and completely transparent spelling (unlike ghoti/fish English)."

All you're saying is Japanese is easy to learn while other language are not. As such in my mind that runs counter to it being ideal, especially as it's the national language in ONE country (there might be an island in Micronesia or the Marshalls... I forget!). There are more irregular verbs than you think, in Japanese, though I agree English has FAR too many and there's nothing you can do but memorize them, but your snippets of examples of how Japanese benefits from English having this or that do not mention all the archaic, difficult points they have in Japanese that do not exist in English or many other languages. No relative pronouns? Instead you change particles... not a whole lot different. And anyway, all you seem to talk about is Kanji, but what about Keigo and all it's formalities? And what about people who don't like Kanji? I happen to love it, but still.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Do the irregularities in a language really matter at the end of the day? I mean, how many people have time to think about rules before they speak, anyway.

My daughter was picking up English faster than Japanese (until she went to a Japanese preschool at least) despite the fact that I am the only one speaking English to her and at work on weekdays. She had no clue what Japanese words meant and would say "haha, that's Japanese!" when she heard anything other than English.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I barely know where to begin with this article. Yes, some good points about return on investment and all that. But everything good that happened to me happened because I took learning Japanese seriously. I frigging won my wife's interest because I could draw the kanji for 薔薇 (bara, rose) from memory...back when I could, before computers ate all my kanji knowledge. I now have a successful company with many employees and if I hadn't learned Japanese none of this would have happened.

If you want to consider ways to learn Japanese without wasting your time learning to write kanji, we might have a discussion. Learn to read only, forget testing on writing kanji, do reading only...it could actually work out pretty well.

7 ( +10 / -3 )


I you really want to do it keep at it & the single best thing you can do is take another job & i mean ANY job that throws in with the natives, unless your goal is to teach that is.

Another long timer here, while doing good if I could go back to day 1 I would have come & left after 2yrs max. While I certainly dont regret what I have done & do its just that watching Japan decline & be poorly run is damned depressing.

But if you can miss the misery of being a salary dude it might work for ya

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Actually a good portion of the world's population actually can read Kanji, with no problem. Just ask the Chinese, well thats only usefull if Japanese & Chinese want to communicate with writing. there needs to be an international lanuage for communication, and thanks to the Brits for colonising many parts of the world, its now ENGLISH.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to speak French."

PG Wodehouse

2 ( +2 / -0 )

One's English ability will do little if nothing for you while in Japan. I have rarely if ever ran into anyone wanting to practice their English on me. It isn't as common as people are led to believe. It just creates more problems then not usually.

Language is much more than just a means of communication. It is also an inseparable part of our culture.

While there's still some debate among scholars whether or not a particular language influences someone's thought process? Which I very much believe to be the case. Or is it someone's culture that influences the language or both? In my own opinion language and culture are closely connected. Some have argued that all languages are dialects of one language, which is the human language. Even though they may appear very different, they are in fact very similar.

Nevertheless, different cultures have a predominant fashion in which they use their language and they have differences which cannot be underestimated.

Such as in the case of United States or Western Europe values self-expression and verbal precision. We are encouraged to be direct and to speak our mind. In the case with Japan as with other Asian cultures use an indirect style of communication. Words such as perhaps and maybe are used much more frequently than yes, no or for sure.

In Japanese precise articulation is appreciated much less than speaking between the lines or being understood without words.

Therefore the language is used quite differently in contrast. The style of language is focused on speaker and depends on a person's status and identity. If you wanted to learn Japanese, it would be impossible to do so without learning about their culture as well.

Japanese pay a lot of attention to a person's status and use honorifics, which apply according to the rank of the person who is speaking and who he or she is speaking to.

The word shopping for instance which is used quite heavily in the west does not exist in some other languages (such as for example in Russian) as a noun. Why? Because it is not a huge part of the other cultures. The same goes for the word fast food, which is not only not popular, but unacceptable in many other cultures. Another interesting example is the word ilunga.

The Tshiluba language comes from the Republic of Congo and is considered to be the most untranslatable word in the world.

Well so they say at least. Ilunga describes a person who is ready to forgive any transgression a first as well as a second time, but never for a third time. The point I am trying to make is that due to the very nature of the Japanese language. It is foolish to believe English will get you much if anywhere within Japanese culture and society. Unless you have your own personal translator that follows you around that is lol.

Your English ability might win you some brownie points within some circles or a temporary flavor of the day. Yet that will quickly wear off and you will be hung out to dry before you know it.

This article is a farce and is only playing on stereotypes which is not helping anyone here. The more you know the better off you are. This is coming from someone who had to learn this the hard way.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@Bertie yep the french are very proud of there lanuage, and hate the idea that the Brits did a better job at colonising the world than they did, now English not French is the international lanuage. and the French hate it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


Kanji, with it's multitude of readings, makes Japanese difficult even for Japanese.

Pronouncing things like names perhaps but not for reading (with the occasional exception).

I lived in Japan for 4 years before I decided to learn Kanji (as opposed to getting by with knowing just a few). It took me about 2 months of studying a page or two a night to become reasonably proficient. (Reading newspapers and magazines, etc). This is because I was able to recognize words I knew that I had never seen written before. Still applies, I can usually guess the meaning of words from the Kanji and/or context.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I go to Japan for my holidays every year and I do my best to learn as much Japanese as I can... out of respect. Why should the locals have to struggle to understand my English? As for those who work and live in Japan, I would have thought that learning the language would have been essential.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Of course you need to learn and understand the language of the culture you are in, otherwise you miss so much, the humor, the stories, the added weave to the human experience of the tapestry around you. If you're here, learn, embrace and enjoy.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I guess your incentive to learn a foreign language depends largely how long you intend to live here, and how much you intend to become a part of the community.

I taught myself for 2 years, practising with my friends, writing to penpals, etc, with the intention of staying here for as short as 6 months. Thinking I would be laughed at by all the other foreigners, I was amazed to learn that many foreigners never made an effort, even after living here for years.

But that was back in 1991. These days I'm very happy to see (hear) a lot of foreigners speaking good Japanese. It shows. Most "natives" where I live are not surprised when I talk to them for the first time. "Oh, this guys speaks Japanese, that simplifies things". If anything, it's going to be about my speaking the local dialect - again, something I started late last year when I moved to a new region because how else would I understand what's going on around me?

I agree with Get Real...

how much more successful would you be if you did?

Seriously, I understand short termers not bothering but otherwise, I personally think long term expats in any country who don't make the effort to learn the local language are parasites. It's not how good you are, It's whether or not you tried.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

I am definitely one of THOSE foreigners who haven't learned the language. 10 years living here. I teach english and I can tell you that a lot of English teachers who can speak Japanese use it in the classroom. Well, I can't. So the students have to use their English if they want to communicate.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

English will get you much if anywhere within Japanese culture and society

neither will japanese fluency if you dont look the part

3 ( +3 / -0 )

From personal experience, it is much simpler to go to a country, having learnt only a few phrases, and your counterparts, knowing nothing of your own language, to.. learn the language. Survival instincts are by far the greatest stimuli of the human psyche.. particularly in learning, to co-exist and survive. Support mechanisms are fine, but they can only go so far.. self-study, is the wrong word.. since from the day you are born till the day you die.. you never stop studying.. or rather learn..

If you wish to learn a secondary language, first.. learn to love the country, before you utter a word. Because a baby, utters words.. once it feels secure, once it feels, a part of its environment.. and most importantly, once it feels accepted by those around the child..

that is how i learnt Japanese and English simultaneously... ugh.. i despise Kanji.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )


If the real reason for not learning is as you say - fair enough. I'd still try to learn the basics so you are not a burden in the case of an emergency etc. (Assuming yo have not done so already)

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Kanji was a lifesaver for me. After learning how to speak Chinese, when I came over to Japan, I found getting around so much easier. I was like, This! This I can read! The more Kanji there was, the happier I was.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

while its true that its different when you are just "travelling" or vacationing in Japan VS living and working in Japan.. its true that a better lifestyle you want to acquire living in Japan the harder you need to work.. based on my experience yes, this is true.. BUT by all means I would not say that JAPAN is just another country..ARE YOU KIDDING ME ?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I would not say that JAPAN is just another country

what would you call it?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Taxis shops restaurants bars a bit of basic conversation and voila, life in Japan is breeze.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

80393 what would you call it?

Culture is what I call it :)

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Culture is what I call it :)

as opposed to the cultureless countries?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I just say, satpaliwakaranai (sic)

and ask if you can keep your shoes on?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It's not worth doing anything you don't want to do. Musical instruments take a notoriously long time to master, and if you really don't enjoy making sounds on the piano, why spend all that time practicing?? If you want to totally give up, get cable tv, and lie on the couch when not at work, and there will always be something to entertain your brain thingy.

Of course it's worth learning Japanese. It is important to communicate with your fellows and really understand why ppl around you say/ and do the things they do. If you don't need it and don't want it, well, no one is going to care whether you study or not.

As far as taking a long time to learn, that is debatable. A lot depends on your method and your study habits. (you can sit all day at the piano poking the ivories w/o learning a thing if you want to...)

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Hahaha, good article Ken! Exactly, I've been in Japan for 20 years and I'm still getting away with my daily simple J phrases and a lot of English speaking.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

As malfupete points out, little kiddies can do it.

Little kiddies can speak little kiddie Japanese. They can't really read, can't really write and have to spend 12 years in the public school system learning kanji. Not exactly a great example. You're average eight year old can't read most of the train advertisements nor a standard newspaper.

Frankly, I found the better my Japanese got, the more annoyed I became with the place. Ignorance is bliss and when I didn't understand the shallow conversations and yammering on about stupid things, the better I thought this place was. Nothing like being able to understand TV shows here to make the rose tinted glasses fall off and shatter.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

"Even if I pay you? No?"

Oh my...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This "Opinion" piece is based on a nonsensical premise: Why you should not expand your mind or learn about another culture.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Jimizo and tmarie, I couldn't agree more. Listening to my inlaws, you'd be hard pressed to find one complete sentence throughout the entire conversation. Love them, but they definitely were never taught how to express themselves in a lucid manner. I think the lack of education in this area contributes a great deal to the trouble Japanese have learning foreign languages too.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Learn 2000 Kanji and blam, you can read a Japanese broadsheet newspaper.

Timtak, sometimes it is better to not say anything...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Although it is a bit exaggerated, the writer makes some good points. Certainly for Tokyo it is very valid.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Why you should not expand your mind or learn about another culture.

Not speaking the language doesn't mean you can't learn about another culture or expand your mind.

Language is all about intelligibility anyway, no?

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

I got here 27 years ago, never attended a class anywhere, passed the 日本語能力検定1級 (as if that counts for anything) ...it all comes with time and a sincere interest in talking with the sweet people of this country.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

There's a few things about this article that rubs the wrong way to me: 1) That there really is no means of expanding your horizons in Japan by learning Japanese. False in a few circumstances. If you're a history buff (like me) or have family who are Japanese (like me) then all the more reason to learn the language. I can't count how many times I've gone to a museum or location and the English only covered half, if that, the content the Japanese covered. The Edo-Tokyo museum has a great exhibit in the early history of Edo, but try to see all the history in English only. It's pathetic. Learning the language will open new windows to understanding it. And as far as the family is concerned, they have little time to learn English, so it is a hobby of mine that leads to understanding with family.

2) The premise that you shouldn't learn Japanese if you're only a tourist could be extrapolated to say if you are a tourist anywhere you never have to learn the language. Not quite. Yes there's signage, and helpful things IN TOKYO but venture outside of that bubble and things go downhill very quickly. I couldn't imagine being able to go to Shirakawa-go and not know a word of Japanese. Again, learning the language opens up new windows that if you want more than pre-canned phrases and easy-to-digest facts.

3) And all those years of English language instruction haven't really given the native Japanese the ability to communicate whatsoever.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Bizzarely, the place I most used my Japanese was Hong Kong. I couldn't speak Chinese, they couldn't speak English, but we could both speak Japanese ;)

2 ( +2 / -0 )


I don't always agree with you but your comment above was right on. I get more negs move for supporting good comments of others, than I do for making my own dumb comments, though.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why you shouldn’t learn Japanese? iam 2years in japan now and didnt learn a word. and i will not even try to learn anything in the future. no point cos i always will be a foreigner here and i like it that they treat me this way.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Let me try to expand your horizons a little. Why should you learn Japanese really well?

First: Because it's good for your brain to master foreign languages, and the more different, the better. You get a slightly different way of thinking and of approaching problems.

Second: A culture is encoded in a language. You can't understand a culture without it.

Third: You might get a Japanese girlfriend, and unless you can switch languages back and forth, you'll always feel like you're the beta in the relationship. If you go out with her friends, they will always be humoring you with a switch to English, and they will become tired of this. If you meet her grandparents, you're going to want to have a normal conversation with them. They won't think you're serious if you didn't bother learning their language.

Fourth: Gaijin who can't speak Japanese are more likely to hit a glass ceiling at work. Language skills don't automatically take you through, but they do improve your chances.

Fifth: You have to climb out of the "contemptible valley" of your language skills. I made up that expression to be similar to the uncanny valley of animation. Here's the idea. When your Japanese is obviously a bunch of inadequate, strung-together phrases, the locals will like it. It looks like you're trying. When you become really fluent, they will also like it, because they can just speak to you effortlessly, and you sound as smart as you are. But in between these points, there is a contemptible valley, where your skills are good enough to converse, but you sound like kind of like an intellectually challenged Japanese person. Once your skills get good enough to where your mistakes sound like the mistakes of a Japanese child or moron - rather than an obvious foreigner - you've reached the depth of the contemptible valley. Whoever hears you can't help but suspect that you're shallow and stupid, even if they consciously realize that this is probably the result of a language barrier and not your stupidity. Once you're there, there's only one way out, and that's forward toward full fluency.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

@Iwandabaka, I think you mean 日本語能力試験1級

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Sigh, this is an all-too-common attitude among expats from English-speaking countries. English-speakers are the first to whine if an immigrant to their country doesn't speak English the minute he or she steps off the plane, and if a national or local government provides official forms or signage or information in any language other than English, it is "coddling those immigrants who refuse to learn English."

I've even seen websites that tout retirement overseas and assure the retirees that they can live in Mexico without speaking Spanish. (Any North American familiar with the English Only movement will see the irony here.)

I'll give you my experience. Granted, I came to Japan for the first time as a student of Japanese historical linguistics and eventually became a translator. My experience was different from many people's study abroad experience in that I was one of two native speakers of English in the entire university. Most of the other foreign students were from Asian countries, such as Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, and our only common language was Japanese. I also lived in an apartment in an all-Japanese neighborhood and spoke English perhaps once or twice a week. I spent much of each weekday reading scholarly articles in Japanese. (I had already gone through Cornell University's FALCON intensive program and three years of graduate school before arriving in Japan.)

During this time, I knew an expat couple who had lived in Japan for many years and took the same approach as the author of this piece, that you just need a few phrases. Worse still, their children, who had come with them to Japan as infants or toddlers, and were teenagers by the time I met them, did not speak Japanese.

Aside from the fact that my language skills have been useful professionally, they have enriched my life immeasurably.

For one thing, I can talk to anyone, not just people who speak English. I've had interesting conversations with people from all walks of life and of all ages. It's hard to maintain stereotypes when you've had in-depth conversations with all kinds of people. If I need to ask fairly complicated questions of train station employees or bank tellers, I can. I can get information and make reservations over the phone, even if the person on the other end of the line doesn't speak English. Many times, I have seen panic on the faces of retail clerks or ticket sellers, only to see them relax when I address them in Japanese and explain what I need.

I am not illiterate in Japan. I can read signs, newspapers, magazines, even novels. If I have a layover in a country train station, I can pick up a newspaper and read it.

I can understand what's happening on TV. Granted, much of it is inane (but if you think that inane TV is uniquely Japanese, you haven't seen the inanities shown to the viewing public in your own country recently), but being able to understand what is happening on TV can be a useful skill. I was living in a gaijin house in the summer of 1985 when the big JAL crash that killed 495 people occurred. I was the only person in the house who could tell my housemates what was going on.

I'll never be mistaken for a Japanese person over the phone, and since I live in the States, I don't have many opportunities to speak Japanese. But I do read and watch movies, and when I visit Japan, my brain soon clicks into gear.

People who live in Japan and don't speak Japanese beyond a few phrases don't know what they're missing. Saying "You'll never be accepted no matter how long you live here, so why bother learning the language" may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. True, you'll never really be Japanese, but many of my fellow translators have proved that you can live a full adult life in Japan if you bother to learn the language to what is called "professional competence."

7 ( +10 / -3 )

I would LOVE to learn Japanese, hiragana and katakana, plus kanji. Any one interested in taking on a student?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@JustinPascoe - you can learn hiragana and katakana in a few days - get some flashcards and a writing practice workbook. Easy as, if you knuckle down for a short while.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@Maria. Problem is pronounciation and recognition between the characters. I do know that Japanese kids learn the characters by relating them to pictures with a statement...kind of hard to explain. What I'm after is coaching. I can get the flash cards from many different web sites, but to learn the correct pronounciation and contexts, thats the hard part.

3 ( +3 / -0 )


I do.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I read the title, I was ready to disagree right away.

BUT, You made a lot of great points, and I would agree that most of us here in Japan from other lands can just enjoy the adventure, eat the food, and stick to the essential phrases like "nama-biru kudasai!" and "okawari kudasai!"

"A draft beer, please", and "one more, please!"

Very will written!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

For short-termers I completely agree there is no real need to learn much Japanese. Of course do so if you wish but its not required to enjoy life here at all.

For long-termers or lifers I cannot understand the mentality behind NOT learning the language. There are lots of reasons to learn and it should need to be explained. For me personally the biggest reason is career. I work for a 外資系 but fluent Japanese ability is pretty much mandatory in my field and gives me an edge. Without Japanese my employment choices and potential for salary growth would be very very limited. Money is not a huge factor for me but if allows my children to have a decent life and education.

But going beyond that, if I met someone in my native Australia who had been living there for than five- ten years and could not speak at a general conversation level then what would I think of them...? What you you think?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

tmarieMay. 13, 2013 - 07:43PM JST

Frankly, I found the better my Japanese got, the more annoyed I became with the place. Ignorance is bliss and when I didn't understand the shallow conversations and yammering on about stupid things, the better I thought this place was. Nothing like being able to understand TV shows here to make the rose tinted glasses fall off and shatter.

Often don't agree with your opinions, but this is spot on.

Many many years ago, when I could only speak socially functional Japanese, often the discussions had to be conducted in Japlish. I attributed the horrendous negotiation/discussion skills of my Japanese co-workers as being down to their limited command of English.

However I have since discovered that many Japanese have worse discussion/negotiating skills in Japanese!!!!!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

But going beyond that, if I met someone in my native Australia who had been living there for than five- ten years and could not speak at a general conversation level then what would I think of them...? What you you think?

I would think that since they've lived there that long and manage, it appears they don't really have a need.

If Japan really wanted to improve the language skills of foreigners they might want to oh, I don't know, stop having city/ward Japanese lessons at 11:00 on Wednesdays when no one can attend, start looking at their teacher trainer, look at the quality of textbooks... Let's be honest, much like Japanese learning English, those who manage to learn Japanese fluently do it inspite of the materials out there. Teachers, textbooks and materials here for Japanese are often 30 years behind those of other languages. The methods are outdated and the price they charge here for schools is crazy. Sorry but Japan really isn't offering any incentive to the average Joe who lives here.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I'd also like to ad that the literacy rate here is dropping. My average uni student writes things in easy kanji or hiragana and often asks other students how to write something in Japanese. Add in the katakana version for things and I don't think the Japanese language is doing so well even with the young Japanese.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I personally am very happy I made efforts to learn Japanese while I was living in Tokyo.

1 It helped me understand the people around me much deeper than I could have without it. 2 With 3 sets of characters, including kanji, it is intrinsically interesting, and a worthwhile hobby. 3 It taught me something a little scary about myself: "how much of me is ALSO based on the culture I was raised in?" 4 It's polite to make an effort to communicate with people in their country in their language. 5 You meet different types of people. Not every person is interested in a free English lesson. Some of these people and I had pretty interesting & satisfying discussions in a mix of Japanese and English. 6 Not every girl is interested in speaking English with a foreign boyfriend. Some of my most fulfilling relationships were with women like that. 7 I have had numerous conversations with Japanese people in my own city in Japanese when I meet them here, and they love being able to confide/relax with a "foreigner" in their own language. (Much the way a lot of lazy-ass westerners do in Tokyo - may I add)

A middle-aged American man sitting next to me on the Yamanote line saw me studying kanji once. He said - I'll never forget the arrogance - "Why are you studying for? All you need to say is 'hello' and the women drop their panties."

I was mortified. Please don't think like this man.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

You can say the most profound thing ever in Japanese, make the funniest joke, talk about the earth being taken over by space robots, whatever — and all you’ll get back is “Heeeeey.” But say any stupid thing off the top of your head in English and everybody will bust up laughing. English is a pretty upbeat language; Japanese, eh, not so much.

Strange, over the 10 years that I've been visiting Japan this never happened to me (apart from drunk men in izakaya's). Maybe you talk to the wrong people in Japan?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Of the hundreds of people I’ve seen study Japanese over the years, only about 10 succeeded in speaking the language with any level of competency.

The remainder just bitches and whines about every one and everything and quite often letting their frustrations typed on this very site.

-7 ( +3 / -10 )

'Japan is probably the most set up to accommodate people who don't speak the local language'.

... yeah, until you leave the city! I've lived in the countryside, as well as the big city, and let me tell you things are VERY different out there...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

MY family is Japanese and trust me, knowing Japanese hasn't really been beneficial. I'd prefer to be the ignorant fool when it came to their enlightening conversations.

lol. Sounds like my in-laws, but at least I don't judge the entire nation on the experiences I have with my wife's crazy parents.

You can't understand a culture without it. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Care to elaborate? How do you truly understand a culture without knowing the language?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Who said I was judging JUST based on my in-laws? Mentioned TV shows as well.

I guess you think we don't know anything about former civilizations and their culture because we don't speak their language, right? I guess all those articles that people read in their native language about different cultures doesn't mean anything, right? I guess all those deaf/mute/blind folks don't know anything about their culture, right? Do you think all Japanese folks have a clear insight to their culture because they speak Japanese or because they learn about it?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Who said I was judging JUST based on my in-laws? Mentioned TV shows as well

Oh, the in-laws and TV?? Well then, I stand corrected...

You know it's sad that someone who has obviously spent an extended period of time in this country feels so bitter towards the locals. I hate to sound like a travel brochure, but if all you are judging Japan's worth on is your in-laws and TV, then you don't know what you're missing. Try making some real friends, get out more and enjoy the country, and you might just find the Japanese language is pretty damn useful for a person who has decided to settle down here.

I guess you think we don't know anything about former civilizations and their culture because we don't speak their language, right?

As always, you are being over-simplistic. Of course you can learn about a culture from a Lonely Planet guide or textbook, but the only way to truly (note that word, as opposed to superficially) learn and understand a culture is to immerse yourself in it. That's pretty hard to do if you don't speak the language, or even try and make an effort to do so.

I guess all those deaf/mute/blind folks don't know anything about their culture,

If they are deaf, mute, and blind, then yeah, they probably don't know as much as someone with all their senses in tact. But if they are deaf they can read and speak, if they are mute they can hear and write and if they are blind they can hear and see, so they still have the language to communicate. The foreigner who thinks Japanese is a waste of time doesn't. If they are deaf/blind/mute and on top of that have no linguistic skills whatsoever, then I'd wager, yes, they probably know little about their culture, or anything for that matter.

Do you think all Japanese folks have a clear insight to their culture because they speak Japanese or because they learn about it

Like I said, real culture is not something you learn in a textbook. It's something you experience. Go to Osaka, live among the locals, learn the dialect. That is a unique culture you aren't going to learn from a textbook. So do they have a "clear insight to (sic) their culture"?? Yes, more than the clueless foreigner at least. Do they have a clear insight into whatever you read on Wikipedia about what foreigners think is Japanese culture? (geisha, samurai etc..) Probably not, because that is not what Japan's living culture is.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Well then, I stand corrected...

Indeed. Do I really need to add in the nattering from housewives in cafes, students on trains...

I have some lovely J friends and all that jazz. You're lokking to argue and that's it. If you think one can't understand culture without language, you're going against what research has stated otherwise. But feel free to believe you are correct and scholars are not.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

The architecture — mmm, it’s not so great. The natural scenery — yeah, that’s not so great either. The people — ah jeez, well, you get the idea. But hey, at least the food’s good. That’s something.

10000% agree with you, ken :)

and if you only want to find japanese girlfriend (s), for most of them....you don't really need english or others. they know exactly what "body language" means hehe :)

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

If you think one can't understand culture without language, you're going against what research has stated otherwise. But feel free to believe you are correct and scholars are not.

To make sure I'm understanding you correctly, by saying you don't need to know a language to understand a culture, are you implying that language has no influence on culture? If language does influence culture, then how can you understand it without understanding how the language influences it? Furthermore, how can you truly understand a language without understanding the culture? The two are intimately intertwined.

I'd be interested to see this research you are referring to, because practically everything I have ever read states the exact opposite. Language has a huge influence on culture.

Here's just one example from the WSJ. Hardly an academic journal I know, but good enough for JT. The sub-heading, just in case you don't bother to click it is "New cognitive research suggests that language profoundly influences the way people see the world" In other words, if you want to understand the Japanese, you really need to learn the language. If you learnt the language, but you still don't understand them, then you haven't learnt enough.


You see, it's not enough to know the vocabulary of a language, you need to understand the cultural baggage that is connected to it to really "get it". To Japanese people the word "Judas" is just another name; only when they learn the meaning attached to it by Christian culture do they understand why in English it means "traitor". And so it is in Japanese, and every other language.

Knowing about a culture, and knowing a culture are two different things. I know about the culture of South Korea from reading a few history books and travel guides on the country, I even learnt a bit more by travelling there a few times with nothing more than rudimendtary Korean skills, but I do not presume to truly know the cultural idiosyncracies of the country because I do not understand the linguistic nuances that play an important part of everyday communication, and thereby make up a huge part of the living, breathing culture of the people and country.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Whooo... another gaijin who thinks it's perfectly ok to move to another country and live there and expect to be treated as a responsible adult alongside everybody else... without bothering to learn how to speak, read and write.

What is it with native English speakers in Japan? Why do I encounter this attitude so much?? Ah sure ain't gone learn any goddam Japanese, dats juust too dam haaard.

Yes, always take the easy way forward. If you can avoid something, do it. What a shitty shitty attitude. Unsurprisingly, the very same people tend to fume at the ears at the thought of people living in THEIR country without, you guessed it, learning to speak, read and write English properly.

As for Japanese only being useful in Japan... er, no. Useful only in a Japanese context maybe, but once you speak business Japanese well, it is a skill you can use worldwide. I know.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Hmm interesting...

Just because the Japanese have had English training in Jnr. & Snr. High doesn't mean they will be confident enough to speak English. I've been here a little over a year & around 95% of my experiences shopping, going to restaurants/cares etc. trying to converse in basic English have failed. I ask " Can you speak English?" (even in Japanese) and most likely I get a shake of the head. Maybe they're just too shy? Or maybe they seriously don't know what to say? So okay I try a little Japanese. I'm seriously terrible at it in all facets, but in order to live at least a little bit more comfortably it's important to try.

Therefore, it brings to the point that if you're gonna live here you need to learn the language. That goes for any other country! It's not just to speak with people like I mentioned above, but also to be able to understand things you read or announcements, performances you occasionally see in public and the list goes on....

I do admit that some organizations are not foreigner friendly for example I just received a letter about renewing my health insurance & it was written entirely in Japanese. I'm thinking...My name is obviously foreign so I would think there would be an English version just in case.... MY POINT BEING... If you're going to live here learn the language, also don't expect to get a response in English all the time!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Even if you're not going to stay in Japan for a long time, it will still make your life a lot easier if you learn Japanese. The whole novelty of being a native English speaker tends to evaporate after you've been here for a few years, unless you go somewhere else.

If you're going to live in any country for any length of time, it's always a good idea to try and learn the language as much as possible. It's just common courtesy I think. You may never become fluent, but you should still make the effort.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

In all honesty, I just find the language interesting. I hate english, it makes no sense, breaks all it's own "rules" and I use the word "rules" very loosely. Japanese sounds and is much more structured and makes more overall sense. And not to be picky with your article here but even though people in Japan take english classes does't mean they are fluent or can hold a conversation in english. Most high schools in the US require students to take a language and most are not going to be able to speak well in that language. I myself took spanish for a total of 9 years (2nd grade to sophomore of HS) of my schooling and I can't hold a conversation with a native spanish speaker to save my life. And like I said before English is a sucky language that makes no sense, even native speakers can't speak it properly. Just saying.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Thank you so much for your timely article. Timely for me anyway. Amazing that you should post it right as I am considering moving to Japan and learning Japanese. My interest in learning Japanese comes from the number of jobs in my field that ask for bilingual people. Your comments on opportunity cost were especially enlightening. (I was an economics major back in the day.) I am not a young guy any more and so if I only have twenty to twentyfive years left, do I REALLY want to spend a significant percentage of them leaning Japanese? Probably not so much. I really like your sense of humor and I will continue to read your posts. Thanks again.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

So... don't do it because it is hard and takes time/effort? That's what I took from your article, ridiculous.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So... don't do it because it is hard and takes time/effort? That's what I took from your article, ridiculous.

nah, he's not saying 'don't do it beacuse it takes time and effort', but 'consider if this huge amount of time and effort is worth it.'

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This article has a point. I've been studying japanese for a year and a half now, and I'm kind of going through a crisis. I mean, don't get me wrong, I like the challenge, but I really don't know why I'm learning it. It seems pointless for me, you know? I don't like anime/manga, I don't plan to be an expat in Japan, I'm not a friend/girlfriend of any japanese... But at the same time, now that I spent so much effort learning it, it seems a waste of time to stop now...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I just want to learn Japanese to watch my anime without subtitles, and also if there's ever a mind reader and he only speaks English I can speak in Japanese and he won't be able to understand what I'm saying...I can do that with Portuguese and Spanish too, but that's not nearly as fun.

but I really don't know why I'm learning it. It seems pointless for me, you know? I don't like anime/manga, I don't plan to be an expat in Japan, I'm not a friend/girlfriend of any japanese... But at the same time, now that I spent so much effort learning it, it seems a waste of time to stop now...

Then really why do anything at all then? Why breathe? Why learn the guitar? Why even get a boyfriend? Why smile to the camera? In the end, were all going to die anyway, it would all have been a waste of time!

If you learned something that you found enjoyable at the time, don't regret it. Who knows maybe someone like you may stumble upon you and they will need help and you can help guide them or write an article like this of your experiences. I don't know maybe I'm just foolishly optimistic, I personally enjoy teaching people the things I learn it's so fun when they are able to learn it too. But then again we are all different, and I'm probably just a young sap.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I still want to learn Japanese I'm 15 learning guitar, trying to learn 2 different languages and in highschool! To make it better i already know 2 languages, so I guess you could say I'm in my prime for learning, its going well so far! :) it's very, very hard though because school takes up a half a day and then I got football practice. :(

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The article is probably based on someone who has been living in the urban areas of Japan. Yes it is true in urban areas many Japanese will speak English to you if you try to communicate with them in Japanese. As someone who has spent many years in rural Japan I can tell you it is almost the complete opposite. Many Japanese will speak to you in Japanese. Many can't speak English so won't reply to you in English. So there is an argument out there that the best way to learn Japanese is to live in a rural area. You can get good at speaking Japanese after 3 years provided you have spent a lot of time with Japanese people. Some foreigners speak excellent Japanese, many don't. Reason why? The foreigners that speak excellent Japanese have probably studied 10 times harder than you and spent a lot more time speaking in Japanese with Japanese people. There are no shortcuts. I speak excellent Japanese but it took me a lot of hard work to get there. I've met other foreigners with excellent Japanese and it took them hard work too. The thing I noticed is I see a lot of foreigners with Japanese wives who don't speak Japanese well despite the long years in Japan and having partners whose native language is Japanese. It goes to show you can have all the tools at your hand to master Japanese but if your not truly prepared to make the efforts required you won't master it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Kind of a dumb article in my opinion. The gist of this was pretty much don't learn Japanese because it's too hard, you won't use it, you'll still be seen as a foreigner, and because Japan isn't some fantasy land. Okay, fine but the reality is that if you intend to live in Japan, work in Japan, you MUST learn the language. No matter how easy it is to live there with no ability to speak Japanese. The only way to make your daily life easier in a foreign country is by learning the language. In order to converse with the locals, your coworkers, customer service staff, you need to learn the language, in order to ask questions you need to learn the language etc. This whole business of "Japanese don't want you to speak their language" is bullcrap. Plain and simple. That attitude does nothing but try and rationalize laziness and lack of effort and it's pathetic to be honest. Yes, Japanese people when they see foreigners will automatically assume that they cannot speak the language, nothing wrong with that because MOST CAN'T. However, when you show proficiency in the language people are going to speak to you in Japanese whether you like it or not. The whole novelty foreigner status gets old quickly after people realize that you can speak fluent Japanese. The only downside to this is that once Japanese people realize that you can speak fluent Japanese, they will often hold you to the same stupid rules that they hold other people (honne, tatemae, etc).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I've been to Japan and thought the architecture was great (at least the architecture of old buildings, of which there were many) and the natural scenery beautiful. Different taste, I suppose. As for the people, they were pretty nice while I was there (nowhere else in the world has someone offered me, a complete stranger, shelter from the pouring rain inside his/her own house) but I admit 3 weeks isn't enough to form a valid opinion about a country's population.

For me, the problem with this article is that you assume learning Japanese has to serve a purpose, but that's not necessarily true. I don't want to learn Japanese to go to Japan. Sure, it would be nice to speak the local language in any country, but I want to learn Japanese because it's a language I love. I just love the way Japanese sounds. I don't need a practical reason for wanting to learn Japanese, but given the amount of Japanese books/manga I read, the amount of anime/Japanese movies/Japanese TV series I watch, the amount of Japanese music I listen to and the amount of Japanese games I play I'm pretty certain it would come in handy.

Will it take a long time? No doubt about it. Will it be hard? I already know enough Japanese to know it's no picnic. However, had I started learning Japanese over 10 years ago when I first became interested in it I would be a fluent speaker/reader/writer by now. I kept postponing it because I was too busy and it would take too long, but the truth is the years passed and if I had spent 1h every day studying Japanese I too would have spent at least 4000 hours doing it. I don't regret wasting my time learning a language that probably has little practical application. I regret not wasting it. Plus, Japanese pronunciation is very similar to my native language's pronunciation (Japanese pronunciation is actually a simpler subset) so at least that part of learning the language is easy for me.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And the more fun you want to have, the more you have to work.

Isn't that the case anywhere you live? I don't think it is something that only happens in Japan... As for learning Japanese, it's the same with any language you try to learn. It takes hard work and constant practice. You need to try and listen to it everyday and try to learn things on your own, not only in class. People drop out a lot and sometimes you need to think "am i really going to use this language in the future?" before you get into any kind of course or classes. But anyway, I don't think we should discourage people to try and learn a new skill, even if they do drop out in the end. All they were trying to do was to improve themselves and to learn more about something unknown to them, and I think that's pretty great.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I feel that I have been trolled by this post and by many of the comments. But, for any poor sole that is confused by this post or possibly starting to agree or believe in this balderdash, please, please, please look else where before giving up on a wonderful hobby or life changing pursuit. There are actually more people outside of Japan that speak Japanese fluently than there are in Japan. Ever been to Brazil? Yes, Japanese is not used as much as Chinese, Spanish, French or English, however it is still in the top 10 languages by usage. Learning any second language is valuable regardless of where in the world it is used. Also, Japan is an extremely influential and powerful nation with many opportunities for those with an interest to coming to this wonderful country. I have lived and worked in Japan as an Engineer and as an ALT teacher. As a teacher, I was surrounded by other English teachers and to be honest it was the most stifling time I had had in Japan. Their outlook was very narrow and there experience was limited as they mixed with themselves or the "few" japanese people who actually wanted to be around English speaking people. Sure, Japan has a huge population and it is not hard to find someone who wants to learn english (simply because of the numbers), but there are many many others learning Chinese (becoming more and more popular in schools) and German. The Japanese people who wanted to be around the English speakers would tag along with anything and everything the "English" speakers wanted to do and that included many nights at the local expat bar and heading over to each others homes for drinks and parties. Was it fun? Sure, but in a limited way. This is no different to Japanese clubs back in Australia where many aussies go because they think they love and "know" japan (they like anime and jpop culture) so they try and mix with Japanese people and in tern follow them around everywhere. Once I had broken away from that group, I started to head out on my own. I saw more of Japan, the country (88% forested, ha who knew) and so many gorgeous little country towns. I decided to start talking to people. Just approaching local people. I tried to use the language and people everywhere, young and old were generous to my outreach. I ended up staying with people, given meals, invited into homes, and made many long term relationships. There was zero english. I still have a long way to go with my study as do many people learning any other language, but if you are truly interested, you will stick with it. If you go out and try, really try, to make authentic relationships you will improve and enjoy. Forget about the expat bars. Thats NOT an experience that you will benefit from. To be honest, you will probably just be around ethnocentric, complaining american teachers. Oh, by the way. It seems that every job I have had in japan (other than teaching) wants you to learn japanese, provides all foreign workers with Japanese lessons and tutors and communication at work toward you is moved to japanese as quickly as possible. Keep with it.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As a bilingual American who loves Japan, I want to angry with this post, but it raises some good points, especially about opportunity cost for individuals who might not stay here that long. People should read and consider before engaging in a huge program to learn Japanese.

I plan to live in Spain for 3-5 years in my old age, and I'll be happy to learn "enough but not too much" Spanish.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The author brings up a lot of good points. However, I think that if you are planning to live in Japan for a long time, you really ought to study the language. You can just study a few hours a week and combined with the fact that you are living here, over the years you will not regret putting in this effort. To become great at Japanese is a whole different story and requires a lot of serious, hard work. If you are planning to live here only 1 or 2 years then you would be seriously wasting your time if you tried to get "good" at Japanese (unless you are Korean or can already read Chinese, etc.). When I come across people who have been here 5 years+ and can hardly say more than a few words, my honest reaction is "what the heck?" I think it's shameful honestly. I feel like you have no respect and are kind of a fool. I mean, you can't talk to the vast majority of the people in this country. Although Japanese people probably wouldn't say it, they probably think you're a fool too.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I thing this article is just stupid. There is nothing wrong with wanting to learn the native language of a country you're visiting. As someone who lives in an english speaking country, it aggravates me when people make my life more difficult by not speaking english when they move here. It's out of respect that if I'm visiting a japanese speaking country that I will at least attempt to communicate with them in japanese.

The mindset of the author of this article is very egotistical. It's as though they feel they're entitled to be awe'd at by people who speak english and japanese simply because they themselves speak english and japanese. If you're going to learn any language, you should do it for the right reasons; like being able to have more relaxed conversation, closer relationships, better opportunities, a sense of independence, or for academic purposes.

As for the question of difficulty, Hiragana and Katagana aren't difficult at all. I actually learned to read and write Hiragana in just 3 days just by repeatedly writing them in sets of 5. As for kanji, yes it is difficult, but let it register in your head that Kanji is not only used by Japanese, but also Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. You're essentially killing 4 birds with 1 stone. No one expects you to learn every kanji character; and just like english you can often determine the meaning of something you don't know from context.

There's also the matter of the assholish demonization of Japan in this article. Oh? You actually had to work to eat? Am I supposed to be surprised or sympathetic about this? This is true no matter what country you live it, it's a fact of life. Don't get pissy and badmouth another country because you had dreams of partying 24/7 without a care in the world and got a reality check.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This article didn't include the #1 reason for not learning Japanese:

It's way easier to ignore the inane chatter of schoolgirls and obaasans if you don't understand what they're chattering about, lol.

"As a bilingual American who loves Japan, I want to angry with this post,"

Hee hee!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My personal opinion, if you live in a country, and plan on living there indefinitely, learn the language. Doesn't mean you have to be perfect, but you should try each day and make an effort to communicate in the language of that country. In the end, it will cause less problems for you, and it won't cause the natives of that country problems.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I actually enjoy learning Japanese in the same way other people enjoy taking a pottery class or listening to music. It's fun and useful. Because please do not believe for one second that learning Japanese will hurt you. It doesn't take long in Japan to figure out that having knowledge is always better than remaining ignorant. At the very least, you'll have to learn simple kanji, katakana, hiragana and basic spoken phrases.

I feel like a lot of people forget that just because it's easy for YOU to not speak Japanese in Japan, you're being inconsiderate to everyone around you.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Don't know why the majority of people think it's bad to learn a second or third or... language. It opens your mind to other cultures and it makes communication fun even if it is frustration, considering your not a native speaker of that other culture.

Learning Japanese is like learning another language... it takes time and effort! Yes, it's better to keep using it so you retain it but it's NOT a total waste of time. The hardest parts are not to just quit, saying it's a waste of time, which it's not and to keep the perseverance of learning both the written and spoken language. It's harder to learn as an adult. Imaging trying to learn most words from the dictionary but in another language? That's how people learned in a formal educational setting when learning English. Now let's learn another language. Woah! There's no such thing or it's different as an adult which is EXACTLY true as kids and adults learn things differently!

Why should people learn English? Let's just insult the English speaking world, which isn't much considering that there's lots more languages on Earth though English is one of the most primarily language currently used today.

How's it different than others learning English? The tones of the variant comments are very narrow minded if not somewhat prejudiced.

"...the use of Kanji effectually makes it nearly impossible to be able to read." Seriously?! Kanji is Chinese characters. If you learn kanji, you learn Chinese. Sure, it's pronounced differently and may be interpreted differently in Japanese, but you'll learn how to read, write and speak Chinese! Ever think of that? Of course NOT, based on the comment!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This article didn't include the #1 reason for not learning Japanese:

It's way easier to ignore the inane chatter of schoolgirls and obaasans if you don't understand what they're chattering about, lol.

Do I really need to add in the nattering from housewives in cafes, students on trains...

In that case you shouldn't learn ANY foreign language at all and better still, forget you own language. The nonsense that is coming out of peoples mouth in trains, cafes, shops is cringeworthy all over the world.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Haha Ken, your post is very amusing although you are missing a very important point (at least from a male perspective). Japanese women are so beautiful! Is that not why western men wish to learn Japanese? Learning a new language is but a small task considering the possible rewards.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I disagree with pretty much everything in this article. Discouraging people from learning more than basic survival phrases is, to me, propagation of ignorance to the extreme. I assume this article is targeting people who live in Japan, so when I look back on my 3 years and imagine that I'd taken this advice, I would have only squeezed a fraction of the enjoyment that I have so far. Let me break down the points: 'It's going to take time'. Learning a new language tends to! Yes, Japanese is very difficult, but if you concentrate on its easy points, the simple pronunciation, the limited vocabulary (I dare you to count the number of words for 'delicious' in common use), and relatively simple grammar, and spend a bit of time on the writing system, most people will be OK. Anyway, since when is something taking a long time a good reason not to do it? It takes a long time because English and Japanese are very different. Therefore it takes a long time for the Japanese to learn English. Isn't it nice to meet them halfway at least? 'Safe return doubtful'. Yes a lot of people 'give up'. Or do you mean they go home after spending a year or so working here? I don't think it's really the same thing. Either way, learning as much of the language as you can while you're here increases your enjoyment/appreciation tenfold. 'Opportunity cost'. Moot point. Everything has an opportunity cost. Spend 3 years learning Japanese, or spend 3 years learning guitar. I'd take Japanese I think.. 'The payback'. I don't really understand the point here. So people spend time learning Japanese and then find it's not worth it? Each to his own, but I probably wouldn't be able to relate to someone like that. 'You really don't need Japanese'. OK so this might've been written by an Eikaiwa teacher who's only friends with high-level English speakers. Oh and signs at stations are in English! Yay, I don't need Japanese at all! And if they don't understand me I'll just point and speak a bit louder! Let me honestly say that 90% of Japanese people I meet are relieved that I can converse with them in (admittedly not perfect!) Japanese. And that my understanding of people is enhanced by speaking to them in their mother tongue. 'Japanese can make you less popular'. What on earth...? I don't remember someone being more popular than me because they COULDN'T speak Japanese. Some of the parties I go to, if I bring someone who doesn't speak Japanese, then I practically have to babysit them. At my work, if I couldn't speak Japanese, I'm guessing no one would bother talking to me. And I'm an English teacher!! 'Japan isn't all that'. This one is the most aggravating.. So things cost money in Japan? And I have to work to enjoy them?? Nope, looks like Japan isn't for me after all!! I probably sound like such a Japan-geek. The irony is, I would've agreed with most of this in my first 6 months here. But now looking back, it's the kind of mindset that I could've done without.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have read this all very interesting article and all the comments. I've been thinking about this for so long! First I started to learn Japanese when I was 23 just like that without any reason. I wanted to see how kanjis work and all that. I got hooked up and spent loads of money on books during the 3 years I was trying to study it on my own. I never seemed to have time for drills as I have children and a busy home life. I was desperate to go to Japan but then realized that it's pretty unrealistic so I quit learning Japanese FOR GOOD. I can understand and agree with every sentence in this article. This is a fact, this is true. All the points are totally correct and valid.

After 3 years or so when I realized I've learnt my 3rd foreign language almost to the fluent level I felt I was bored and needed something in my life. For example: an extremely difficult foreign language. The candidates were Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and two Indian languages. I felt like I've achieved everything in material life and there was nothing to it. I felt I didn't want new clothes, new things, new trips - nothing. When I really thought what I wanted was the joy of using Japanese. But this time my priorities were different (I was very careful in setting my priorities):

I don't intend to become fluent in Japanese necessarily; I will speak and write it even if it's wrong and people laugh at it; I will use it everyday and it doesn't matter if I'm ever going or not going to Japan; I know that what I like about Japan can be only experienced in Japanese novels, samurai movies and museums; I know that even if I was fluent in Japanese, I would hardly ever "open up" with someone as I don't do that in my own language and I am not very outgoing either; The reason why I want to learn Japanese is I like Japanese writers, movies and books. I can include music and songs too. For that I don't need to live in Japan because if my priority are books, I can buy them from amazon.jp or read online. I think one should only learn the language if they intend to use it. One should learn the language not because of others but because of themselves. So, not because of Japanese or for Japanese but for oneself. Even if the whole Japan will speak English with you and Japanese - between each other, will it be fun to think they might be laughing behind your back in Japanese. And this applies to every language. After coming back to learn Japanese after the 3 years break I've noticed I could remember many words and many kanjis. And what I've learnt was so much more than when I started of from 0. We should divide the process into small steps and be grateful when we achieve them. 5 minutes a day is better than 8 hours on Sundays. If we get into a habit to do Japanese a little and daily, there will be no stress and no overwork. The same with body building. You just need 20 min of exercise per day and a perfect diet - secret to perfect body. The art is to stick to it for a long time.

That's only my conclusions and how I motivate myself. We should enjoy the process, if we don't, we should review our motivations. If there aren't any, we should create them. If learning Japanese doesn't seem worth it, look for a reason that will make it worth it. The reason shouldn't die when we meet a bad Japan related experience. Imagine you were a Japanese in your past life. So you are a Japanese, you knew the language. No one can take it from you. So you can remember it quietly :) You refers to myself or one.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wish I hadn't wasted all my time NOT learning Japanese. Now I'm paying for it. My Japanese mother was our only contact - both verbal and written - to our relatives in Japan. Now that her health is failing, I'm relying on translators and my crappy, broken Japanese to keep in touch with them. We had a human Japanese textbook whenever we needed one, and neither me or my siblings took advantage of that. But, ours is an isolated incident. Just venting.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oh My, your article has made my eyes open! I've learnJapanese at least for 4 years in college. But i have no confident to speak with Japanese at all (I really have trouble with this). Thanks a lot! I hope i got this confident in other languages too.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Much better to answer questions of English in French. Worked wonders in Osaka when cornered for free English conversations by wanton strangers. Didn't matter what I said as long as it wasn't English and then Japanese became the bridge haha

Who knew grade 8 Canadian French had a use?

Course by now I've forgotten French too. Sigh.. But it was fun while it lasted

1 ( +1 / -0 )

How discouraging. And I was just planning on learning Japanese... Good thing I'm Asian so maybe I can "blend in."

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I lived and worked in Japan for three years and I do agree with a few points in this article that you can definitely get by with only knowing a few words and phrases and that Japanese people do like using you to practice their English. What I don't agree though is that being more fluent wouldn't have mattered. I saw my more fluent friends order pizzas with ease, get things ordered and delivered to their homes and having conversations with people on the street. Their experience in Japan was much richer than mine. I lived in an ex-pat bubble only speaking to fellow gaijin and at home my apartment was a mini America watching TV shows in English and listening to American music. I missed out on so much and it still bothers me to this day. I now take Japanese lessons with no intention of living in Japan and while a lot of people think that might be crazy I find it fun and enjoyable. I love watching J-Dramas and I'm getting to the point where I don't need the subtitles. I pick up a lot more culturally than I ever have and wished I would had been this fluent when I was in Japan. I know full well though that when I go back to Japan for a trip in a year or so I will use what I have learned and although I might not have anywhere near native level conversation I think my trip will be better off. Yes there are some Japanese that will only speak English to me and yes I won't have profound deep conversations but I will get around a lot better and have a much more enjoyable trip and probably speak to some Japanese that would rather speak in their native tongue to me than struggle with remembering their English they probably learned years ago in High School that they probably never spoke anyway. Japanese when they learn English in schools don't really speak a lot but write a lot of it so unless they went to a language school they probably won't talk to you in English. That is what I personally encountered anyway. So with that said... I'm going to keep on keeping on learning and studying Japanese and having fun with it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hey Japanese is the best languages ever it very easy to learn it maybe just easy for me and the rest of the Asian people but are you gotta do is take your time

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well, I believe the opposite. Instead of going through all those text and workbooks, you should just listen and get an understanding of it before learning how to read, write and speak you should also take your time.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I really enjoyed this posting and many of the comments. There's obviously a lot of serious thinkers in this group.

I have studied Japanese on and off for years. In the early 1990s I attended the EASLI program at Indiana University in the Summer. They put me in the 5th year level, so there was 1 person better than me and 65 worse. That said that level is not enough to really understand Japanese well.

The reason that I want to study Japanese is that I may have to leave China and I want to do something related to what I already know. From the very beginning I was always better in Chinese. People said I was fluent by the time I was 19 and I could pass for native over the phone in Mandarin by the time I was in my 20s. (I was born in 1958.) Now I can pass for native on the phone in Taiwanese-Hokkien and Cantonese also. But despite all of this I have found it difficult to make a living in China. I have spent most of my time working in the energy industry and the last 10 years, I have worked in the power industry. I suppose I could have chosen another line of work, but I ended up staying in this industry because I was good in the technology and I am not an engineer, so while I may be good at what I do now, I might have real difficulty starting for scratch in a new field with my weak understanding of engineering fundamentals.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Read this a while ago but remembered it today because it's been relevant to my recent work experiences, haha.

I personally could never live here in Japan long-term without learning the language, because I'm stubborn and also as a chick particularly I've found that it's a lot harder making actual friendships/romantic relationships without a pretty high level of Japanese. For my private life, I'm very glad that I kept at it, though the article is definitely correct in saying that there's always a higher goal to reach for and occasionally that is effing frustrating. Even with JLPT N1 you will still make stupid mistakes on a daily basis.

But for work, I'm definitely beginning to wish that I could just fake not knowing Japanese. I've worked at a few places with other foreign employees, and the difference in treatment is pretty striking for those that don't speak Japanese. They can show up late, leave early, piss off customers, etc., and the bosses never get on them because it's too much trouble or because they file this stuff under "cultural differences", or usually a bit of both. If you can speak, though, they'll hold you hard and fast to the rules, even if your culture is the same as the other guy's and even if you've actually been living in the country for a shorter amount of time than he/she has.

I don't want special treatment, myself, but the unfairness gets annoying.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

3 to 7 years to learning japanese? It took me the same time to learn English to a high level (my mother tongue is Spanish) and as an English teacher, I can tell you that it's really hard to find someone whose knowledge of the language is over the lower intermediate level.

Is Japanese your second language? That usually happens with second languages, you know, because we're adults and our brains are not as flexible as they used to be and that makes it harder. Unless of course, you're learning a language that belongs to the same family as your native language, say: you know French and you're trying to learn Spanish or Italian, but even so, it's really hard to get rid of the foreign accent or not to make grammatical mistakes every now and then, so it's normal, even the fact that there's always a higher goal to reach: I can completely relate to that in my English learning process.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

maaan, I just want to be able to understand it that way I can watch the animes without subtitles xD is it hard to just do that? I don't need to know how to write or speak it

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I love this article.

It literally gives me butterflies to even consider being competent in speaking Japanese. The reason being (I believe) that taking my life, however long/short it may be, to another country would be more than an experience. It would be astounding. And not some land chosen by fate; a land I truly desire to inhabit. Part of me thinks that many men my age (24) have similar thoughts desires and therefor I should compare and decide.

But I don't think that's right. I need to make large decisions like this with gusto and confidence. To write a story for myself that doesn't end in the U.S.A.

Anyway, thank you for writing this and please - if you even consider writing more about your take on the subject - do so knowing that at least one guy'll read it. :P

Jered Satterwhite
0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm currently living in Japan with my girlfriend. I began studying Japanese a few years ago to satisfy my growing interest in the language and culture. I'm able to hold a casual conversation now and I can understand the spoken language well, not because I'm living in Japan (that seems to be people's excuse for not studying enough!) and not because I have a Japanese girlfriend (although she does help me =p) but because I've been using Japanese books to read and learn from on a daily basis. The best site I've found so far sells Japanese picture books, but they each come with what's called a "Nihongo Recipe" which essentially is an in-depth translation, filling in all the "whys" and "hows" of the language. The site is called memories-bunko.jp Def worth a look for all you Japanese enthusiasts! Also, Japanese picture books may sound easy, but the language is certainly upper-intermediate in many of them. For anyone that's studying Japanese using textbooks, please remember that people don't really speak like that in Japan. Its far more casual, even in stores! (Which they don't tell you in class) I showed my girlfriend "An Integrated Approach to Intermediate" which I brought with me when I first arrived here, and she was saying how odd and unnatural the language and scenarios were. Since then, its been native material for my study and I don't regret it. Best decision was to dump my textbooks on the shelf and read children's books. I'm at the stage now where I just take notes on some vocab I don't know and enjoy the story! =) Peace! -Samm

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have never been in Japan and I don't know if I would ever go, but i have started to pickup some words and phrases by watching anime. It's the same way as learning English. I was born in Sweden so my native tongue is Swedish. I started learning English English in 3rd grade but it was not until we started getting cable tv that i started comprehending the language better. Now 35 years later I live in United States since 1998 being pretty fluent in English both speaking and writing. I believe the same can be done learning Japanese. It takes time and effort but it can be done. I think my goal is not so much speaking the language but it would be good if i learned it, but to comprehend what is spoken and what is written. I think a lot of content is lost in translation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow! What a great article!

Thank you Sir!

Now I came down out of the tree and I am moving away from learning Japanese Language, just the basics will be enough ;)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You know, this is the largest pile of garbage I've ever read.

I'm profoundly irritated by the fact that this article still arrives on a Google search for "how long does it take to learn Japanese?"

There is literally only ONE reason why anyone should forego learning Japanese: they don't want to. Anyone who wants to learn Japanese should strive to do so, PERIOD. Even if you fail miserably at learning the language, you have still expanded your knowledge, exercised new areas of your brain, and made yourself increasingly aware of just how diverse and spectacular the world is.

This poor article is nothing more than an excuse to 1) show off "LOOK WHAT I CAN DO GUYS AND IT'S REALLY HARD" and 2) discourage other human beings from fulling their desires because, if they do, you might not be so special anymore.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Mr Seeroi, you are forgetting about the people that maybe just want to learn a new language for fun.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've got to admit, having just passed the JLPT N2 and been living here for 2 years, I basically agree with this article.

Sure, I've made some friends and made many situations easier with my Japanese skills, but I could have done that with a lot less language skill than I have. I've gotten some opportunities at work, but because of the convoluted Japanese work dynamics and the problem of keigo, it's not generally advisable for me to use it in the office, since many native speakers even have trouble with the appropriate level of formality. My Japanese is better than many of my coworker's' English, but it's just less likely to offend people if I let them stumble along. (I'm making headway at keigo, but I think I'm years away from feeling confident enough to try it on my boss.)

Besides, nobody is going to expect you to learn or speak Japanese. Ever. Some language study institute once declared Japanese the hardest language to learn, and the Japanese have never, ever forgotten it. Your ability to speak will be a perpetual novelty to every single person you meet, which will be fun for the first couple months and vaguely insulting ever after.

Don't get me wrong - I'm ultimately glad I learned Japanese, because I loved the process, I'm passably bilingual now, I like being able to consume Japanese media, and I've made a few relationships with people for whom I'm not a novelty or a walking English lesson. Also, it's helping me learn Chinese, which is a hell of a lot more useful. But Japan is basically the only country I've heard of that offers you almost no incentives to learn the language and in some cases actively discourages it.

Learn Japanese if you want to, but understand that there is essentially no situation in which you will HAVE to.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I agree to some extent that if you are learning Japanese for anything other than a hobby - then it's not worth it. I happen to have a fascination with logographic writing systems (in particular, chinese characters) and japanese culture and wanted to speak another language; Japanese was the obvious choice. Also, as a bonus, around 75% of the kanji you learn means the same in Mandarin Chinese, and the reamining 25% often still have similarities. The simplifications are massively over-exagerated, only some are simplified, and when they are, it's usually very slight. So if you want to learn Mandarin too (as I do) then this will give you a big head start as far as the writing system goes.

P.S. It takes years to master the guitar. With all that time 'wasted', you could've learnt a new language... ;p

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I agree to some extent that if you are learning Japanese for anything other than a hobby - then it's not worth it.

What if you're learning it because it's the language of the land you live in, and you want to be able to live like an adult taking care of yourself instead of needing other people do everything for you? Is it still not worth it?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't think that there are any reasons why you shouldn't learn Japanese. Some people give up learning Japanese, because they this that this language is too hard to learn. But it actually isn't. You can learn Japanese with different websites like Duolingo or Memrise. And you can start for example from this : http://linguaholic.com/topic/4215-japanese-sentence-structure/ Super!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hi guys. If one has 4 hours of lessons a day, plus studying in the afternoon, 5 days a week, for 18-24 months, while living in Japan, is it possible to became fluent in 18-24months? Thanks in advance for your feedback!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That's 1560 - 2080 hours of study.

According to this page that's enough to become between intermediate high and superior: http://www.languagetesting.com/how-long-does-it-take

It's definitely enough to be pretty proficient.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

This is totally false, and completely ill informed I'm afraid. Japanese is INCREDIBLY useful outside Japan. You think you should learn Chinese to get jobs globally? Think again - there are tens of millions of Native speakers of both Chinese and English - how are you going to compete with that? Japanese though? Only a few people in Japan speak English to any level of competence, which leaves a massive job market open for you, even in the US (companies there deal with Japanese companies every day). Just read this, there is no doubt that learning Japanese is a massive, unique investment in your life and future career: http://www.liveworkplayjapan.com/is-japanese-useful-outside-japan/

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This is one of the saddest and uninformed things I have ever read.

I could go point by point and pick apart every argument you try to make, but I'll just focus on the "Safe Return Doubtful" reference. Your argument is essentially "don't even waste your time trying because you'll probably fail." If people really thought this way, few people would run marathons, at-risk children wouldn't dream of going to college, entrepreneurs wouldn't even take the risk of starting their own businesses and we never would have put a man on the moon.

For me, learning fluent Japanese (in 2 years, thanks to a great teacher) has opened up countless opportunities, helped me make life-changing friendships, and has given me some of the most enriching experiences of my life.

The final straw was your condescending, trite olive branch at the end of the article saying you're "100% behind" us. Just because you struggled with the language (or maybe just the motivation of studying it), I can't imagine why you would want to share such a discouraging message to potential language learners. I hope no child ever reads this.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This is exactly the article I needed. I even registered an account to say my thanks! (tried to share but the share button seemed to be some kind of trap...just saying). Thank you for the EXTREMELY HELPFUL other side of the coin. It seems like no person is willing to admit that Japan isnt exactly the dreamland western ding-dongs seem to think it is (me, white girl western ding-dong head of foreign relations). I sincerely look forward to article III! I hope you find it easy and maybe even liberating to write. However, I am still going to continue my journey. I might be one of those linguist dinguses. Or perhaps im not and Ill find myself having to throw away >10 rotting cakes. Who knows!?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It makes me so sad to read such an article. I mean,we all grow up hearing how hard japanese and other asian languages are and how it's 101% impossible to learn it and even if you try to do so,you'll probably fail,and that's exactly what you emphasized once more here. Of course japanese is extremely different from english and all the other romance languages,but DIFFERENT may not mean HARD,it's just a question of time,of knowing how these differences work and get used to them,and this,like I said,takes TIME. Just that. Time. Depending on how much you love learning that language,how much you are insterested,the amount of effort you put into it and it ofc can take years and even decades,depending on person to person. What you wrote here was such a disservice to all those people who want to study and expand their knowledge. The part where you said that people think Japan is heaven I totally agree,but it mostly comes from immature teenagers who just discovered how wonderful and interesting Japan can be,despite it's dark and sad side such as suicide and the misoginist way some japanese men see women including many others difficulties japanese society has to deal with,like ANY other country in the world,my dear.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

On the contrary, learning Japanese is easier than ever thanks to programs such as Google Translate and rikaikun. While I vehemently disagree with the clickbait title, I think this article has some merit in the sense that language learners (beyond the 100 level where it's fine just to experiment and explore) should indeed consider calculating their return investment, i.e. what they hope to achieve by learning the language. From my experience as a Japanese major, about 3-4 years of consistent study gives a solid foundation for moving toward fluency (through self-study and practice) and will definitely help with travel and making friends in Japan. (For those who have trouble communicating, raise your charisma and stop blaming others. Take a public speaking course or something.)

The biggest difficulties seem to be kanji and environment immersion. I think kanji is probably the least important, but for certain hobbiest or those who wish to write in Japanese, it is an essential obstacle that must be overcome. If you can learn to be passionate about it (or brainwash yourself into finding the beauty in it), that will help you through the long, repetitive grinding process which does start to pay off after the first few hundred kanji. As for the environment immersion, yeah I get it, you're a gaijin millennial and Japanese people aren't as apt to coddle your fragile ego as your American friends and family. Tough shit. Watch a samurai movie or something and grow a pair. And then find a hobby: listen to Japanese radio/podcasts/youtubers, read shounen/shoujo manga, watch Doraemon, etc. Or, you know, you could just make a friend by being kind, genuine, and a good listener and maybe people will be attracted to you for more than just your English speaking one-trick pony ability.

There's also this amazing contraption called the Internet where you can find free anime, manga, games, news, TV shows, dictionaries, forums, discussion boards, pen pals, and other useful information that will help you on your quest. If you do that, you won't have to throw pies out of windows or whatever this article suggests because you'll have enough resources to get the job done and keep your motivation up. And if it's time to move on--do so. Yes, language ability degrades over time, but it can always be picked back up. Not only that, but to reiterate what some others have said, learning a language (regardless of how it's actually used on the job or in personal life) fosters memory recall, focus, and strengthens one's neural network of information for other knowledge-based activities.

I will end with a quote from John Lennon, "Time you enjoyed wasting, was not wasted."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I would like to say thank you for writing this. Even the title got me heated. Throughout this article ill admit, you had some good points. But I noticed that you seemed to focus on one 'problem'. Its time consuming. The reason I say thank you to this is because, as an eager 14 year old with many passions, I am extremely interested in the Japanese language and culture. I plan to move there for a few years before going to South Korea. You have inspired me to quicken my learning proceed and learn the Japanese language in 8 months to a year. I was originally planning to give my self 3 and a half years, as that would allow me to perfect it just before I move there, but I've just now decided against that. In a maximum of one month I will be able to communicate with a native Japanese citizen in basic conversation. Next in two months I will be able to understand business related topics. In 3 months I will understand all recriational topics. In 4 months I will learn slang and commonly used phrases that are not taught in books. And so on. By the end I will be able to read a write with the basic knowledge of a 9th grade student. My conversational skill will be close to perfect. Keep in mind that this is all thanks to you. I want to prove you wrong. And as a side note, I may be young, but its quite possible that I have a buisier schedule than the average American. So I have no advantage. If you really want to learn a language, then stop procrastinating. That is your only problem. Just putting it off. Don't do that and it won't take you 3 to 7 years and it won't cost you your work outs and guitar learning.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think other than just relying on textbooks which is really a hard thing to do... Practicing conversation skills is really a must.

I'm a textbook learner. I went to japan with JLPT N4 certification but i am not good in conversation. My first months was overwhelming actually. XD but it didn't stop me from talking with the Japanese people. I attended language exchange every week and free Japanese classes. After 6 months i kinda a little bit get used to the language. I can just converse in a simple not very long topics. XD

But ofcourse it's a process.

I've met someone who doesn't even take JLPT but is very fluent xD but he's not good in reading though.

I think learning Japanese and mastering it is a great accomplishment.

I'm not a very disciplined person. I don't study every :p even I'm in Japan already.

But the desire to be fluent in Japanese makes me wake up in the morning and try harder.. Build discipline.

The only enemy you got is yourself.

It's really a pain in the ass to study but if you really like something.. You'll get it. No matter how hard it is..

Because hard is what makes it great.

Good luck to everyone in JAPANESE! XD

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The problem is how Japanese is taught in colleges and universities. The emphasis is on grammar and writing. There is not emphasis on speaking. I studied Japanese for four years as an undergrad. I chose Japanese because I had always been fascinated by the culture. I enjoyed it until the fourth year when I ended up with a really bad teacher. The amount of time actually speaking Japanese in these classes is very minimal, which is the major problem. The method of instruction for foreign languages in U.S. colleges and universities does not give students a functional use of the language being studied. The romance languages would be easier to pick up for native English speakers because English is part of the same family of languages. But, then would you really be learning a "foreign" language?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I was beaten by your article. Haha. But you're very late. I'm falling deeply in love with Japan. Oh, no...!!!!??? What am I gonna do? What am I thinking? Well, I have most of my selfishness right there, and right now I'm gonna lay it all down. I DON'T WANT JAPAN TO LEARN ENGLISH LANGUAGE. I'm afraid they would lose the so-so-homogenous culture they've been busily resurrecting for centuries! But sure, nobody knows how it's gonna be, right? Japan is Japan, and it is still my Dream Country all this time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I made an account just to reply to this stupid article. Its very much possible to become fluent in a language without dedicating the time you mentioned in this article. I learned to speak fluent Chinese Mandarin after just two years of studying it. Now Im several months into Japanese and can safely say that its alot easier than Mandarin (At least in the beginning). It might be impossible if you don't know how to study, but people making an effort in learning it can easily become conversational/comfortable using it after a year or so. You dont neccesarily have to go to the country in order to study it, alot of people do it just for the sake of studying other cultures and for broadening ones horizon. "Language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly" - Kato Lomb

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Unless you were studying Japanese on academic terms, you should not set unrealistic goals while you study by yourself. I mean, you want to be extremely high fluent at speaking and at writing Japanese, both are extremely high objectives. You should choose between set realistic goals at speaking and writing Japanese, or set high objectives at speaking or at writing, but not both. All about this is a typical mistake on autodidacts who learned their skills by their own.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Splendid, I can't wait to read part 3 in your series. It's would be great if the next article mentions about Japanese's characteristics, mindset or their culture. Before reading this article I got some rumors that Japan folks are famous with hospitality. Can't wait to read your next article. Thanks

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow, at least your bottom line was correct. It is insane to waste that much time for a language you will use for one year and that is assuming you live here, on average. That is one expensive hobby for almost no benefit. The idea that you should learn Japanese to "understand the culture" is intellectually insulting, as a linguist can easily understand the philosophies behind the language better even than the Japanese people themselves. Other than elite students at national universities have ever read Confucius or the Dhammapada much less have they read about Zen with any zeal beyond the ritual practice for show. I have yet to meet one who was capable of discussing Mishima or Kawabata with any depth. And they look at you with a blank stare if you mention the Kyoto School regarding "nothingness". When I ask why a foreigner should learn Japanese, they almost all say, "because you are in Japan" as if this is the only country you will ever work in professionally. They are well aware and embarrassed that you studied Japanese zero years and speak it better than most of them speak English after minimum of 6 years of "dread" studying English.

SO basically, they are saying the only reason to study Japanese is because they refuse to speak English, despite a minimum of 6 years of English study. Good luck with that. Sounds like a cute hobby rather than an actual need for anyone other than foreigners who will marry in Japan and live there immediately after college. Because, you clearly will never need it outside Japan and shouldn't need it inside Japan if the Japanese would truly prepare for the global economy. And even if you marry someone who is Japanese, they likely speak English better than you will ever speak Japanese, and on average will end in divorce within 5 years. But at least you will be able to speak to her mother.

it seems also, that the author (s) have little understanding of how truly bad the English in Japan really is, outside of Tokyo. Face it, in speaking and listening Japan scores the same or worse than Amazonian and African aboriginals, according to the most recent report of TOEFL scores; and those are people who take that test specifically because they want to go abroad for university study. It is an English crisis in Japan for the ability to compete for business allies.

Imagine how many people would come to Japan for hospital care or even general university study if only Doctors and nurses and professors actually spoke the international language they studied on average actually ten years as opposed to the general population. Any Japanese professor who actually does speak English and has taught in an English country can tell you Japanese students just sit there and say nothing by comparison to the enthusiastic gab they saw in American classes for example. And that is in normal subjects. The English classroom is virtually silent.

It was refreshing to at least see one editorial that told the truth, that learning Japanese is a waste, but left the reader with the impression that somehow they will have no problem finding enough English in Japan. They will not. But then again, maybe I and every other long term American resident of Japan are "just anecdotal". Not.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Laughably bad reasoning. If you are planning to live in Japan, learn Japanese. Unless you don't care about making deeper friendships or love with Japanese people who might not know much or any English, being limited in your employment opportunities and your career upside, understanding the culture, being limited to living only in major cities, etc. In which case, why are you here in the first place? In that case, I agree, don't start learning Japanese and don't move here either.

Even as an English teacher, having an adept grasp of Japanese will open more doors for your career and probably help your students learn English better if you can actually explain things in Japanese. You can always speak English only too if they want that, you know? And sure, you always can find gaijin chasers for a superficial fling, but you are greatly limiting your pool of people who might have been a partner for a lifetime if you can't communicate with 95% of people here effectively.

Nobody says you have to be fluent or anything, but if you're making the effort to meet Japanese people more than halfway (which you should, as you're the one who chose to live here), most Japanese people certainly do appreciate your effort. I'm far from fluent, but I can talk to any Japanese person about just about anything semi-competently and get my point across in most cases. I can read signs and labels and fill out forms. I can read books (slowly, with a dictionary at hand) about niche subjects and people of interest, books which will never be translated into English. I can understand the lyrics of my favorite bands and watch TV and movies without subtitles and get 90% of the dialogue. Having this skill makes a huge, huge difference in how much I enjoy Japan. I'm still lost a lot of the time, but getting better and better every month.

By the way, my job is in English -- I work for an American company in IT, and my wife speaks perfect English, so I really could legitimately get away with the bare minimum Japanese if I wanted to, but I live in Sendai where there aren't many foreigners and most Japanese people have little to no English experience. If I want to make friends and be involved in things here, Japanese is an absolute must. So I set aside hours every day to study and talk with Japanese people. Maybe it's different in Tokyo...

Maybe the reason people don't stay in Japan is primarily because their lack of Japanese leaves them isolated and lost, feeling like they don't fit in, running around with a limited pool of other English speakers and Japanese people who primarily care to learn English or explicitly want to hang out with foreigners who can't communicate with them? Maybe their career as an English teacher is something of a dead end? Seems like a chicken-and-egg situation there, and the way out of it is to learn Japanese. You don't think it opens so many worthwhile doors of opportunity and relationships, and can make a massive difference between living here for a year and living here for a lifetime?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Dang dude... I get and agree that Japanese is tough, especially for me, I suck at it. But I've been off and on learning since I was 15-16ish... of course not very well being I was in Colorado! No body ever spoke Japanese. BUT.. I've been here for awhile and I think there are beauties of culture, architecture and people that I think you're over looking man.

Seriously.. America is great, but screw that. I'm staying here, you can have your massive amounts of GMO foods and Chemtrails as well as just an overall crap culture of psychopathic civil war "antifa" nazi's trying to cause sheeet... I'm so sick of this race bating BS I'm glad I don't have to deal with that here.

I agree you can stay here with little to no Japanese speaking ability... It's just so much more convenient for me and my wife to live here and learn Japanese, it's very much worth it. I do not like HAVING to constantly go to school to stay here, I am working to get a business VISA here in Fukuoka though soon. But still! I work from the internet, so I don't have to work harder to enjoy the place.

Damn you're a downer bro, I get your point, but sheeet broski!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I spent six years living in Japan about 20 years ago - I spent a lot of time studying and learning the language, which I do not use now virtually at all, even though I am specialist on the Japanese economy. I can say the same about others I know well above Level One and even able to do legal work in Japanese.

My advice is learn Japanese up to about Level 3. This is the essential stuff you have to know. After that you can improve your proficiency like any other language - speaking it and reading it. Do NOT spend time studying for Level One and Level 2. You learn Japanese after a certain level by doing something else. Do not go to Japan or stay a lengthy period of time in Japan to learn Japanese. This is not a good reason. My advice is do not stay in Japan for more than two to three years at one time.

Becoming really good in any language is difficult - I am experiencing this in my new country - France. Japanese has some unique difficulties - which I think relate to nuance - not things like grammar and Kanji. However, I think in most cases, people worry too much about mastering languages - and its totally unnecessary. Just enjoy getting better and using what you know.

In sum - if I was to do it again, I would have spent much less time in Japan and just being happy with the level I already reached after about 1-2 years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Level 1 means JLPT N1? Yeah, watching anime and game play throughs, and talking to random people on twitcast definately won't improve you to N1, but its fun. However, making friends is impossible. On VRCHAT even the Koreans who speak Japanese don't want to speak to me : (.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Seeing as it takes English speakers all their school years to become proficient in English, (and the vast majority never do become proficient), I'd say that that comparison is a little off. Of course it takes time! I've never been answered in English when I use my limited Japanese unless I've asked the person if they speak English. I usually ask them to speak slowly.

Seeing as we want to buy a house and spend 3 months of every year in Japan in our retirement, I think it's a bit rude to make no effort to speak with a level somewhat above basic. Japanese people don't expect perfect native fluency, just as English speakers don't expect it from migrants and tourists. Be reminded, a lot of Japanese people are not great at Japanese - don't feel bad.

I've always been met with total delight when it's discovered that I can speak a little and read somewhat; help is always forthcoming. I think it's totally worth it just for the sake of .knowledge, if nothing else.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Also, buying kid's literacy books will help you more than anything. And diving into translating helps you learn quickly, also.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well, I never lived in Japan and I guess I never will..

But, I have been studying Japanese as a hobby (4year in evening class, once a week). I think everybody should decide for themselves why they wanna learn the language and to what degree.

Although the article is correct up to some stage.. Japanese is hard.. not even talking about the kanji.. even the conversational stuff just because its so different from my language. Comparing to French, German, Dutch, English and Spanish... the ones I can speak and write already... (some very basic, other more proficiently) its day and night.

But that hasn't stopped me from trying... although the motivation is gone at times and I thought of giving up myself too. But I am confident to keep trying. My conversational Japanese is very basic still... (because of the way I learned it and other causes). Its true people talk English to me when I am there and see me as a tourist which is perfectly fine.. because I am. But usually they see the fact that I try as a bonus which makes me more confident to pursue it.

I am just so sad to see that some replies are really mind-boggling because I think when you live in a country I think at least you should try to speak/learn it. Foreigners that come to live in my country are considered to learn/speak the language. Of course not all do but I think they will never really integrate in the country and thus they will never really be a part of the society. Well maybe that is not their plan either... But that is a different discussion.

We would never be Japanese even if we would live there a 100 years but that is not the goal or even should be. But at least you need to try to blend in.

My goal is to be able to help myself when I am there and because I like the culture and history. . I started to learn it as a hobby because I travelled there and wanted to know more about the language and the culture.

I know that its get harder when you live there and other issues arise like some already mentioned before. But I think to some degree you will find that in other countries too. Try to live in France without speak French :-). At least show respect for the country you live in and try to learn it... It will surely help you understand better how people think and what they are about more.. to overcome the cultural differences a bit. It will show who you are as a person too...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Wow. I have been working for two solid years in Japanese this is incredibly discouraging. This article made it for just a little harder to learn this language.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Surely y’all are missing the point of learning a foreign language - anywhere - for me as a male, I get to sleep with more girls.

In Japan I try and give as much as possible to be courteous, witty and observe protocol. Additionally, I help the fair sex with appreciating ENGLISH and the wonderful nuance that English holds - Not American as most Americans; in my book, have lousy grammar, a grating accent and too neurotic about wanting to be liked, at the best of times.

Therefore, the greater the ‘road apples’ I can rap, the more enjoyable my social life is, and, I have a very enjoyable life in Kyoto.

It is a two-way door, if I am ‘Asobigokoro ga aru’ and attend to the ladies’ needs; and they are equally as playful as me I have found, then, my needs become satisfied along with improving much more than language skills. i.e. cultural protocols which in turn improve business and thence money in pocket - dah, dah dee, dah,….

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Registered just to say if English is your first language perhaps you should stick to it until you can write an article in proper English. The vocabulary used along with poor metaphors, random interjections and poor grammar makes me feel like I'm reading something a sixth grader wrote. This whole thing just comes off as someone very poorly informed and gives "I want to be edgy" vibes.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is a decent article, approval. I may include that I breezed through the 1kyuu Japanese language assessment and did all the kanji card things and attempt to keep up competency by consistent survey. In any case, fundamentally, I am simply not unreasonably keen on whatever would pull me up to familiarity.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This article is solid gold, thank you for crafting it for the english world to read. I wish the author was listed so I could follow more of your work.

You have to admit that the article has a point; that point is driven home with blunt honesty and wow do people get all bent out of shape over it.

Seven years of replies, with a good number of them being longer than this article shows it's worth and how deeply it has touched people.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I have only just started learning hiragana and to be honest I can’t think of anything more fascinating than being able to understand japanese. Obviously the English speaker will expect everyone to speak their language..that’s not how the world works...I’m Italian but I definitely stand with the french here...show some respect and get out of your arse!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This was unfunny and slightly offensive the first time around, and it's even worse now. Yes, join the ranks of idiotic gaijin stumbling around Japan as if it were some sort of theme park. Obvious facts: (1) You can get very good in a year if you stay away from English language situations and put in some effort (2) The writer must know some very...can't find a polite description, so I'll be brutally honest...lazy and/or dumb people for his sample group. (3) If you do learn Japanese (or any other language), you will enter an entirely different world due to your language ability. (4) If you can't learn something for the interest value, you're taking up space that would be better used by someone else.

Finally, to quote a previous poster: "Then really why do anything at all then? Why breathe? Why learn the guitar? Why smile to the camera? In the end, were all going to die anyway, it would all have been a waste of time!"

Like this column

1 ( +1 / -0 )


"Myself, I can honestly say I’ve spent at least 4,000 hours actively studying, and that’s not counting watching Japanese movies, singing karaoke, having conversations all day long in Japanese, and working in Japan." I'm probably not the first person to call this out but 4,000 hours is about a half-year's worth of effort. Hilarious.

I'm looking forward to becoming fluent in Japanese. I'm enjoying the effort as well because it's a nice way to pass the time. I don't live in Japan and might never. But I love visiting, and it's somewhere I visit once every 2 years or so. Japan is one of the most beautiful cultures on earth in my opinion, and it's also one of my favorite places.

I find this article frustrating because it's not actually helpful at all, just discouraging. Learning any language is enjoyable, and a totally worthwhile investment of time. I hope anyone who read this article and felt discouraged, reads this comment and feels re-inspired.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I see, I only thought about learning japanese because I'm half japanese.. Yes, learning phrases was simple and so easy but, until i realized that i wasnt LEARNING japanese but instead just MEMORIZING simple phrases... But i will be really honest, i really want to learn japanese especially because i feel like its something i need to do.. its hard to understand and explain but thats it..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Of the roughly 20 countries I’ve been to, Japan is probably the most set up to accommodate people who don’t speak the local language.

I completely disagree with this (& the rest of that paragraph). I went to Japan last year, and aside from hotels, and fast food chains in major tourist area's, the English was terrible (not that I have anything against that). I also never had anyone speaking back to me in English if I attempted speaking (very broken) Japanese to them first. Even when we were having difficulty understanding each other, they still used Japanese, and I look typically European so I clearly looked foreign too. The internet made me have very different expectations.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This post is such a bad survey. Or mainly because it assumes foreigners to be Europeans. Well as an Indian, who have 22 official languages in their constitution. There is never a end to learn a language. You can never be too good at it. Well, it's mostly, based on your circumstances more than your input.

As, you learn new things you just keep getting better. We have language changing every 100 km. But, it is more about how much fun you have learning that language. Well given how much Japanese love their identity. And the history with it.

It doesn't really surprise me that they would leave it halfway. But you have to remove all the baggage of embarassment it brings with it. As you can never settle at been good enough at something

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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