Some people study Japanese for hours a day. Others might only spend a few minutes of daily practice. Either way that is a good amount of time to use for something. Time that could be used vegging out in front of the TV or playing iPhone games. And everyone knows those are essential life-changing activities.
Study Japanese could also be the source of a lot of stress and anxiety. Test-taking can make some people very nervous. And not getting the score you wanted can make you so frustrated you want to throw your books out the window.
So, one of the biggest and most closely kept secret about learning Japanese might come as a bit of a surprise to you. You may very well go crazy wondering why nobody told you it before. The big secret is that you don’t need to study Japanese.
You don’t need it to get a job (as long as you natively speak English) in Japan. You don’t need it to live in Japan. And you don’t even need it to travel in Japan. If you speak English natively or semi-natively you’ll never need to speak Japanese.
Let me explain.
Life as an English Teacher in Japan
If you come to Japan as an English teacher (like I did), life is generally pretty sweet. Nobody expects you to know any Japanese at all, so they do their best to surround you with English stuff.
Depending on which path you take, someone will probably meet you at the airport and take you to where you will be living, which has already been arranged and they will generally babysit you during any interaction with Japanese people including going to get a cell phone and hooking up your gas.
And to be honest, you don’t need Japanese to go shopping either. You just see stuff that you want to buy and check out. Nobody is going to ask you any questions really. They might ask if you need chopsticks, but that is about it.
Now with the Internet, you don’t even have to leave your favorite TV shows behind. You can grab what you want to watch through various means and be done with it. You can pretty much wall yourself off from Japanese and live a good life. Take in the sights in your free time and call it a day.
And if you live in Japan, you know there are people that have lived here for well over 10 years and don’t speak any Japanese at all. They don’t need to because they teach English at a university, private school, or high school and don’t need Japanese to live.
Why Study if you don’t Need it?
It’s a tremendous amount of hard work to study a language. You may very well spend hours of time studying and you will probably spend at least a couple thousand yen for classes, materials and other resources. I personally spend around 5000 yen a month on materials and I think some would consider that being a little cheap.
You’ll also inevitably go through a lot of failures. You will probably be misunderstood a lot and you will probably misunderstand a lot of people as well. You’ll embarrass yourself, as I have several times.
But, why do we go on dates? I mean unless you are extremely lucky, you’ll go through more failures dating than wins (at least in my experience). And you have to get dressed up and spend money on dates and do some hard work here and there to keep relationships going. So why do we do it?
Well, when I first came to Japan I saw Japanese as a friend. Something that helped me get around and check into hotels or ask where the bathroom was. It was a pretty good friend because it was always with me. I didn’t have to call it up and ask it to come with me.
Of course, I didn’t need it. I could have just fumbled around until I found what I needed or had a friend do it for me, but I didn’t want to abuse my new friends, so I tried to learn as much as I could and managed to get pretty conversational and pass N4 within about a year and 3 months while still having a life.
But, then my Japanese stagnated mostly because I just needed a friend. Somebody to be there every once in awhile to help me out while in Japan. And this is where I think anyone casually studying a language should be because it is good to have a friend and it doesn’t take that much time and effort.
It wasn’t really until I made the decision to stay in Japan long-term that I made up my mind to be fluent. I wanted to be able to handle things as the head of the household on my own instead of relying on my wife to walk me through everything.
Through this process of trying to be as fluent as possible, I’ve discovered a lot more benefits to being fluent and passing the N1 than just having the qualifications for a job. Being able to express yourself well in another language helps you to almost literally see the world in a different way.
It also helps you to communicate in your native language a lot better because you notice things about it that you didn’t see before. Things like different levels of directness or politeness or how to explain things in simpler terms.
So, in some ways I guess you could say I fell in love with learning Japanese. Like any healthy relationship, Japanese and I started out as friends and then it moved into something more serious. And just like a serious relationship, it has helped me to understand myself, my way of thinking, and how the world, in general, comes together.
So, no you don’t need to learn Japanese. As the saying goes, all you need to do in life is die and pay taxes (and you can cheat on both of those). But, taking the extra time and effort it takes to become fluent will really enrich your life, keep your brain working longer, and help you make new friends.
If you don’t need it, why do YOU study?
Why do you study Japanese? Do you want to work in Japan? Do you want to watch jDramas? Learn about the culture? Let me know in the comments.