One of the first questions I asked myself when I started learning Japanese was “Is Japanese worth learning?” I was a insecure college student, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
Now, ten years later, I’m married to a Japanese woman, live in Japan, and have worked for Japanese companies. This probably makes me biased, but I’d still like to share my thoughts–as realistic as possible–on the pros and cons of learning Japanese.
What Do You Mean By “Worth”?
I hate to get philosophical, but whether Japanese is worth learning depends on what you mean by “worth it.”
For example, these are two very different questions:
- Is learning Japanese going to connect to a good career? What these people want to know is whether Japanese is good enough to make a living off of. Or whether they should give up to study computer programming or accounting or medicine instead. In other words, they want to know “Can I study Japanese and still get a job?”
- I love Japan and Japanese culture. Should I learn Japanese? These people want to know whether reaching Japanese fluency is fulfilling. Whether your experience of Japan and Japanese culture becomes deeper and richer through the process of study.
Let’s look at each of these questions in turn.
Can I Study Japanese and Still Find Employment?
The answer is “Yes, but it will be very hard and you’ll probably be better off studying something else.” Remember, I say this as someone who studied Japanese and got one of the dream jobs in Japan–the position of “Coordinator for International Relations” at a Japanese city office.
The truth is that most companies hiring in Japan want you to have some sort of technical skill, and Japanese is an extra bonus on the side. So Japanese can be useful, but you should also be good at something else–programming is probably your best bet here.
Translation jobs–and I say this as someone who does translation work–is very competitive, doesn’t pay extremely well, and can be boring at times. Interpretation work is even more stressful (I’ve heard stories of people passing out from the stress).
If you want to live and work in Japan, it’s helpful to learn Japanese but you’ll probably need other skills as well.
Is Japanese Fulfilling?
This is also a hard question to answer, but as someone who loved anime and manga growing up and who lives in Japan now, I do find it fulfilling and I think learning Japanese was one of the best decisions in my life.
So, long answer short, the most reasonable answer to the question “Is Japanese is worth learning?” is to say, “Sure, but don’t expect it to lead to a high-paying career.”
It’s good to consider keeping your professional work and your hobbies separate. If you really love Japan and want to live there, consider picking up a secondary skill set that is valuable to Japanese people who want to hire you.