Regardless of what number you actually think it will take you personally to get to fluency, it’s going to be at the very least a few years. I’ve said in the past that on average it will be about 4 years. 4 years, with at least a few hours every day, totals to around 3,000-4,000 hours. Let’s assume you can pull it off, and win. First, congratulations. You won. You put in the time investment, made the sacrifices, and put mastering Japanese as a top priority. You are fluent. Now… is it worth it?
I could talk about how fun it is to be fluent. Or the great feeling about being able to read, watch, write, and listen to everything you want and love. Or connecting with a foreign culture for life. Or how it changes who you are.
This is all nice. But with 4,000 hours, you can accomplish a lot of other things. Most people I’ve talked with who study Japanese start in their late teens through their 20s. This is a chunk of valuable time that you will never get back. Is your time investment during these years going to pay off in the long run?
You might like anime, manga, movies, and other Japanese culture now, but are you gong to like it forever? Is this skill going to continue to have value for decades to come?
Yes. Fluency is one of the single greatest time investments there is. Becoming fluent in Japanese is going to pay off for the next 60+ years of your life (depending on when you start and how old you live to). Guaranteed (contact me in 60 years if you see it differently).
You won’t and can’t become fluent unless you love Japanese culture and what it produces. It’s just not going to happen. Unless you are enjoying all the material you are studying, you will never have enough motivation to stick with it. This love has to remain with you for years. If you have this required love, it is fairly safe to say that this “Japanese thing” is such a big part of your life that you aren’t going to just wake up one day and decide “I’ve had enough of Japanese.”
Fluency is going to affect all aspects of your life in ways you don’t realize yet.
For example, people don’t go into Japanese solely because of a career prospect. You may have thought about what it would be like to be a translator somewhere along the way, but that is more of an ancillary thought. But those that become fluent eventually use it in some aspect of their career. Even if you don’t now, one day you might. It leaves you an open option to pursue a completely different career path if you ever get tired with your current one.
I started with similar “have fun with Japanese culture” reasons just like most of you. However, it took my life in a completely different direction which I had never considered up until the start point, and continues to propel me forward down pathways I never knew existed.
What else would you be doing?
If you feel hesitant about giving up those 4,000 hours, I ask you:
What else would you be doing?
Most of those hours would be going to other hobbies, games, internet, and watching TV. So you shouldn’t feel so bad about time being funneled away from these. Even better though, is that when you are on a mission to fluency, you find time where you didn’t think you had it. The saying that the busier you are, the more you get done, is true.
I reached fluency when I was at the busiest points of my life. You control time better when you have less of it, so those 4,000 hours feel like they came from nowhere.
I’m still just a little over a decade after starting Japanese. So I might feel differently after 20 years, 30 years, or 50 years. But I doubt it. It’s been paid off so many times by now, and I plan on continue using it indefinitely through the future. So as far as time investments go in your life, I’d say you’d be insane not to take it!
Do you think learning Japanese to fluency is worth the investment of time it takes?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.