How Much Money to Spend on Learning Japanese
If you’ve decided to study Japanese, your study budget is going to come into the picture at some point. It poses a difficult question, because you probably don’t really know the answer to how much you should or need to spend to learn Japanese. It’s a bit of a thorny issue as well, because it brings a lot of different opinions on how people spend money to learn things.
I’ve seen four main types of Japanese learner budgets. This could probably be broken down even further, and people may shift between different budgets, but I thought it would be useful to look at them objectively. Then I’ll show you which type of learner I fell under.
1. The Free Learner
Monthly budget: $0
The amount of free learner material has expanded greatly over the years. Free is very appealing for obvious reasons. It also lets you try all different types of resources and methods to find what works for you, without worrying about wasting any money.
I think one of the biggest “free” resources that has been available since I first started learning is Tae Kim’s Guide to Grammar, and it often is still recommended today.
There is a lot of free stuff to explore though. Thousands of free videos from people on YouTube, learning blogs, learning social media accounts, community lessons, library-borrowed material and more.
2. Low Cost Learner
While free material increasingly grows and there is a wealth of stuff out there, the moment you introduce some money, your world of choices expands dramatically.
$1 to $10 apps, learner websites, cheaper monthly subscriptions, textbooks, online video courses, native resources and more.
3. High Cost Learner
Monthly budget: $30-$250
With a bigger increase in budget, a high cost learner expects a lot more structure, guidance and quality from their Japanese learning resources.
Full courses that guide you up to the advanced levels, private tutoring lessons, freedom to indulge on native media, and more subscriptions, apps and programs.
4. “All My Money Belongs to Japanese” Learner
Monthly budget: $250-$1,000+
This person has a desire for fluency, as fast and efficiently as possible, at all costs. Usually this falls into three categories:
- Frequent private tutoring lessons (ex. 3-4x/week)
- Attending a language school in their home country or in Japan
- Taking Japanese courses at university (regardless of whether it is their major or not)
They might spend $10,000 in tuition for one summer, or even more for a 1 year+ language school in Japan.
I was a high cost learner, with occasional tiny peeks above that. I bought frequent textbooks and had a never ending supply of new weekly native media. Early on for a few months I had a private tutor 3x a week at $30/session. I had also taken one semester of Japanese in university.
At one point I was tempted to go the “Japanese language school in Japan” route. I was already living in Japan and hadn’t yet found my self-study stride. But I couldn’t work out the money to pay $10,000 for a year. I was busy paying off student loans and was at a job that didn’t allow for that type of expense.
Speaking of earning money while deciding how much to spend, I don’t consider the above 4 budget types necessarily related to how much money a person makes. There are people who are well off that use free resources, and there are people who aren’t making much money, but will save up for a long time or take out educational loans to spend on an expensive Japanese course.
When I was in Japan at the peak of my educational spending, my salary as an English teacher was around $25k a year. I made the decision to spend a big chunk of my monthly discretionary money on studying Japanese.
What type are you?
What has your experience been like with your decided budget?
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 started as somewhere between one and two on here. Basically after years of saying one day I might learn Japanese I finally tried it out and bought RTK for the kana. After slowly going through it thinking it was just okay I finished it. It took me three tries or so to be interested enough. After that I started enjoying it much more. I took the next step and bought RTK for kanji. I plowed through it in about two months and my like of learning Japanese turned into a love.
After RTK I read a ton of forums. At first planning on the free route and doing CORE6k, tae kims, etc. Right before I really got going though I found Jalup and became convinced it was superior for me. I guess my Jalup purchase moved me up somewhere between 2-3.
Now after doing beginner, intermediate, and now working through advanced I am glad I spent the money. I am ramping up my immersion and will likely stay around 2-3 for some time since I will continue to buy japanese content (manga, shows, etc).
How much better is something like Japanese school compared to SRS?
I think it depends entirely on the person. Some people do really well at a Japanese school (and without it might not have done as well). Others not so much. So it can produce mixed results :)
I completed JALUP Beginner and took a beginner course at a language school in Japan – (progression based, had to start there). I can definitely confirm that all the elements of language were covered in the Beginner 1k and I had a clear understanding of how stuff worked. I didn’t have the minutia of all the grammar down, so the course was useful in helping gain that knowledge. I expect that the same could have reasonably been accomplished alongside a good textbook.
Language school does give you the advantage of personal feedback and continued speaking and listening practice. Is it worth the cost? I guess that is up to the individual, but even bad language schools can be expensive and the good ones even more so.
I wouldn’t enter into it with the idea that going to language school in Japan will put you to fully fluent through the coursework alone. Most schools aim to have a student go from nothing to passing J2 or J1, in the space of about two years. I’m guessing by the JALUP scale that would be somewhere around high 40’s / low 50’s – so still a lot of work to do.
So, yeah, it’s a mixed bag. I’ve found that hand in hand they work well together, but I don’t think that coming to Japan to learn Japanese from a language school is going to be worth it for most people unless they are here for other purposes first.
I think free is the way to go, because well it’s free! I do think think having structure can help a lot though, so I feel if you do pay you want to get something that provides structure. That can help you from just randomly roaming the internet looking at random Japanese stuff when you should be focusing more. Also anything that improves motivation is generally worth it. Lack of motivation, and getting distracted, the two biggest threats to trying to learn or do anything!
I went from a low cost/high cost learner (depended on the month) to a Japanese-Owns-My-Money learner. After 2 years I decided to take a break from work and go to language school in Japan for a year. 0 regrets so far a few weeks in, and I just got permission to work part time on my Visa which will make the whole year much much cheaper.
Being able to study Japan full time for a year and be completely immersed…. It’s worth it!! So much time for anki now lol
For now, I’m a Free Learner because I’m still studying and living with my parents (which is common for Asians) I can’t really push myself to ask for money from my parents. Though I want to work, they wouldn’t allow me since they want me to prioritize my studies first. Maybe when I finish my studies and started working I can change into a “Low-Cost Learner” or “High-Cost Learner”. I’m also using the Tae Kim’s Guide to Grammar which is actually a great guide for beginners like me! I saw it while browsing on Reddit and found a forum about Japanese Learners.