Is Fluency Worth the Massive Investment of Time?
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.
I think it’s absolutely worth it. As you discussed in the article, learning a language to fluency is a life-changing process. I can’t imagine at all what my life would be like if I hadn’t decided to start studying Japanese, but that’s completely fine! At this stage in the game, it’s an intrinsic part of what makes me me. Although I don’t know what opportunities Japanese will bring me in the future, the time I’ve invested in it up until now has yielded plenty of return.
And the unknown opportunities that await is part of the excitement that studying Japanese brings!
I think it´s worth it. I don´t want to criticize other people but I always see them spending their free time on Facebook or watching TV, which isn´t bad, but I think it´s better to have a hobby that gives you knowledge. So if I wouldn´t study japanese, I bet I would be looking people´s profiles on Facebook as well. Luckily, I´ve never thought that learning Japanese is a waste of time. I love learning this and I´m happy seeing that other people share the same passion
The coolest thing about Japanese is that once you put in the early time investment, you can turn your Facebook/Watching TV into Japanese Facebook/Watching Japanese TV making both of these feel very productive.
“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”- Earl Nightingale
Also, I know 100% I would be watching Netflix and browsing the internet if I didn’t use this time to study. Learning Japanese makes my life productive. And I love Japanese media, and for whatever reason I just love Japanese too.
And that “for whatever reason, I love Japanese” becomes clearer and more ingrained the further you go.
That quote kept me going whenever I got the “oh, learning/doing X is going to take you at least 5 years” quip. Also, every time I wanted to rip up my textbook as a beginner.
Excellent quote. Similar to the way I tend to reason with myself about these things: “Listen, in 5 years you can either be fluent in Japanese or not be fluent in Japanese. Those are the only two options.”
When you think of it that way, it’s not too hard a choice :D
Not a hard choice at all!
For me, it is definitely worth it. While I haven’t reached fluency yet (still several years away at my pace) the journey up until now, has already paid for itself.
That’s the great thing about the time investment, is that it starts to pay off way before you make the full several year investment.
While I do agree that it is important to have a love for the culture in order to have the motivation to become fluent, I don’t think that’s totally necessary to become fluent in a language. As an anecdotal example, I’m not huge fan of Latin-American or Spanish culture, but I still became fluent in Spanish, because I needed to use it every day. Great article though! Fluency in another language really is wonderful, and sometimes I forget that other people don’t understand Spanish. Does that ever happen to you Adam?
I’m curious as to why you needed to use it every day. Was it job or family related? What was your motivation for fluency?
And yes, there have been plenty of times where I expect everyone to understand my Japanese :P
Well, I learned it all through high school, and I figured, might as well add it as a double major in college, and because I wasn’t super passionate about it, my Spanish wasn’t great when I graduated imo (my grades were great though, funnily enough). But at my job after graduation, I was the only person who spoke Spanish, and they had me using it most of the day, at least 5 days a week for years.
Interesting path. So you kind of worked your way through a high school requirement, to seeing what you could do with it in college, to a job that made you take it in even further.
Meanwhile, I’m still learning English. “ancillary” is a new word for me (I added it to my extremely small English Anki deck.)
And yeah, fluency is totally worth the time. I wish it were easier for other people to see that.
“I want to be fluent in Japanese.”
“Okay, then start studying.”
“I don’t have any time.”
I didn’t “have” any time when I started studying either. But it was so rewarding that I found time.
We’re all still learning English :P
I think a lot of comes down to the perception of language studying. And it’s hard to appreciate the value until you actually give it a try.