Learn Japanese Without Caring what Other People Think
You’re learning Japanese? Really? Oh… are you sure that’s a good idea? Wouldn’t you rather learn or do (insert anything more reasonable than learning Japanese). Have you heard this yet? If you haven’t, I promise you that you will. Multiple times… from an absolute stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, or even a close family member.
Someone is going to question what in the world you are doing. While you are in the midst of one of the hardest challenges of your life, this is the last thing you want to hear.
To other people, Japanese isn’t considered the most valuable choice of time. This is due to perspectives about Japan, the culture, the perceived economic/personal value of the language, false ideas about its impossible difficulty, and then comparing it with what else you should/could be doing with your time. This causes people to stay stupid things about what you chose to do.
So what? It matters because the motivation to continue to propel yourself down the road of studying Japanese is shaky at best. You will be tested every single step of the way, repeatedly and relentlessly. You have to pull that motivation to continue both from within and outside of you. You will question yourself constantly whether you are making the right choice, and whether you actually have the ability to do it.
What you don’t need on top of all of this is other people doing the questioning for you as well, to your face, over and over again.
If you care what other people think about your reason to study Japanese, you’ve lost
Your reason to study Japanese should be anything you can possibly set your mind to. Whatever anyone thinks about that reason is irrelevant, and any second spent thinking about what someone else says is a second wasted. Unless your reason to study Japanese is to hurt someone else, or hurt yourself, your reason can and should be anything. That reason becomes the best reason ever.
Your reason can be shallow. It can be silly. It can be stupid. It can be for pure fun. Studying Japanese solely for manga and anime? Cool. Studying because you think Japanese girls are cute? Great. Does your world revolve around boys-love manga? Awesome. Do you have a figurine collection that would put Densha Otoko’s collection to shame? Be proud. Do you have an obsession with temples, with a goal to visit all 75,000+ of them in Japan? Travel with a smile. Does collecting samurai armor bring you ecstasy? Enjoy it.
That’s you. Do your reason. Ignore all the other noise.
Anyone who tells you that your reason for studying isn’t useful, or sensible, or good enough, isn’t worth listening to. The same goes for other Japanese learners who will tell you why your reason isn’t noble enough compared to their reason. I’ve heard everything. You need a smarter, more economic, more traditionally acceptable reason. If you are going to study Japanese it should be for some reason that makes the average person say “wow what a gentleman! What a scholar!” Sure… maybe if it was 1899.
I want you to study for any reason. I want you to study 100% with whatever fuels you. That is awesome. That is the win.
Ever been told why you shouldn’t study Japanese or why your reason isn’t good enough?
In the comments section, share your story. What noise have you heard along the way?
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 . . . didn’t get any of that, actually. I started studying Japanese a little bit here and there for fun during college when the common interest in my group of friends was anime. Then after graduating I moved to Japan for six years. Obviously, no one in Japan is going to say “studying Japanese is a waste of time,” and since moving back Japanese has continued to be central to my career.
However, I did have a college roommate who mentioned that her parents were a bit discouraging of the idea of studying Japanese because they considered Japanese to be a language that hardly anyone spoke except a few people on a tiny island on the other side of the world, so they thought she wouldn’t ever have an opportunity to use it.
It seems there are still people who have that same misconception, so these are some things that can be said in reply:
-Depending on what numbers you are looking at, it is the language with around the 9th to 12th most native speakers in the world. (A lot of people don’t realize that it is this high.)
-It has the third largest GDP in the world. (Unless you count the EU all as one entity, in which case the 4th largest.)
-Japan has a large number of expatriates living in places like Brazil and the US.
-Demand compared to supply is much higher for Japanese-English bilingual speakers than for, say, Spanish-English, French-English, or Hindi-English, because while those other language pairs have a large number (large supply) of fluently bilingual speakers, there are a lot less people who are fluently bilingual in Japanese and English.
Specifically for people in the States:
-Japan is one of the United States’ biggest economic partners and there are tons of opportunities to use Japanese in one’s career. For example, in my state alone, which is not one that people usually first think of as having a Japanese population, there are over 200 companies that are members of the state’s Japan-America society.
Although these are all sensible/practical reasons that hopefully have some persuasive power for people who need or want to convince someone that Japanese isn’t useless, I completely agree that as long as it’s not something harmful, it is totally fine to want to study Japanese for the sake of a hobby, like video games for example. Plenty of people started out studying Japanese that way and became fluent because they were doing something they loved.
Thanks for sharing these replies. I’m sure they will help someone who needs to convince a stubborn person close to them.
I haven’t gotten that with Japanese yet, but I once betrayed my interest when in high school that I wanted to learn Hungarian because I had family who came from there. One of the people who I told asked, “Why would you want to learn that language? Only 5 million people speak it and only in Hungary. It won’t help you get a job or anything.”
I was like (to myself), “What?! Since when did wanting a job have anything to do with wanting to get closer to your cultural heritage?”
Yeah. People that only consider the monetary value of a language don’t really understand what foreign languages are actually about.
Haven’t been told this kind of things actually. It seems kinda common where I am to learn a foreign language with some (usually low) level of commitment, usually German or Spanish. But when I hear someone saying he’s studying Japanese I do feel like asking “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”, but I have the sense not to actually do it.
Before learning Japanese I learned Arabic. It took me 5 months of actual learning plus a year or so of immersion to be able to read native material with a negligible number of dictionary look-ups. Most of the people I started learning with never made it this far, and the ones who did took a year or two more to make it. At this point I felt like some sort of language learning genius, because Arabic is considered the same tier of difficulty as Japanese, that is, the highest (along with Chinese and Korean). So I decided to go for Japanese next. Now I’m two years into a pretty intense Japanese learning regime, and what can I say. It’s nothing like the previous language quest. I’m not anywhere near the level I expected to be, despite putting more time and effort into it and having the experience advantage, that is knowing what works and doesn’t work for me and all the many methods and tricks to master a language.
My point is, I can’t help but pity the fool who tries to master Japanese because Japanese is an order of magnitude harder than other languages, so your ambition should be an order of magnitude stronger or you will be overwhelmed.
With great work comes great rewards :)
I just recently was told that learning Japanese seems a bit like I’m out of it. Fleeing into surreal made-up other worlds or something and secluding myself.
Honestly I didn’t have a good retort, but I feel like it’s a bit ironic they basically said I’m narrowing down my world when really it’s more like I’m expanding into other cultures and broadening my view and the variety of people I can talk to. *shrug*
I guess my advice is just: Don’t let other people downtalk you. If it’s what you want to do, be strong and do it!
The strangest thing is if you tell someone you are learning French, Spanish, or Italian you get praise. What a great thing to do! But Japanese? You sure you’re okay?
It’s silly misconceptions combined with little knowledge about the powerhouse Japan is both on an economic and cultural scale.