The Japanese college major: an area of so much confusion and questioning of its real benefits. Depending on your age, you may have pondered following this path. What could be better? You achieve systematic fluency in Japanese after four years and you can use the degree to get a job as a translator, interpreter, or some other job where Japanese is required. Dive right in, earn your grades, and become a master of Japanese.
Unfortunately, majoring in Japanese often results in the exact opposite of what you would expect.
Opposite Effect #1: You learn Japanese at a much slower/worse pace than if you weren’t a Japanese major
You rely on the image that being a Japanese major will get you fluent in 4 years of work. Why shouldn’t it? 4 years is a long time. According to my timeline, 4 years is enough to achieve fluency in most areas of Japanese. So you follow all the classes, do all the assigned homework, take quizzes and tests, do presentations, even study a semester abroad in Japan maybe. You just graduated with an A. You should be awesome . . . but you’re not. What happened?
You’ve relied too much on an old-fashioned educational system that is lacking in efficiency. 4 years of studying Japanese in college may only be the equivalent of a little over 1 year studying using Japanese Level Up and similar methods. I know this sounds harsh, but I’ve met too many Japanese majors who can’t hold up a conversation, can’t understand natural Japanese media, and are very illiterate.
Opposite Effect # 2: You make yourself less employable for a job that requires Japanese.
When you major in Japanese, you usually don’t major in anything else (unless you count double majors, which I don’t feel like getting into). A degree in Japanese should be the perfect tool in getting a job using Japanese. But it isn’t. The best way to get a job using Japanese is to be fluent in Japanese and have another skill/proficiency. Majoring in Japanese would at best maybe make you fluent. However, most jobs ads don’t list: “Required fluency in Japanese. Don’t worry, you don’t need any other skills.”
To Japanese Majors out there:
If you are or were a Japanese major, either you will agree with this article, or it will anger you. To fend off your wrath, let me add four rays of light which I can see in the Japanese major.
1. Some people really are classroom learners. They thrive best in this setting, and would never have the motivation or discipline to study alone.
2. Some people will combine the Japanese Level Up method and other similar methods with a Japanese major, enabling them to succeed in college with top grades and come out with awesome Japanese.
3. Employment-wise, there are still some ignorant employers out there that don’t understand anything at all about how studying Japanese actually works. They assume that if you weren’t a Japanese major in college, you can’t possibly be fluent, and won’t consider you for the job.
4. Sometimes you just have to go with what’s best for you. If you think being a Japanese major will give you the most fun out of your college experience, then go for it.
Distinguish “Becoming a Japanese Major” versus “Taking Japanese Classes”
Majoring in Japanese should not be confused with taking Japanese classes. These are two different beasts. Deciding on whether you should take a Japanese class relies on a different line of reasoning and contains its own pros and cons. If you are in this process, please consult the linked post.
And for your knowledge, I was an English major in college, which I’m sure plenty of people could argue is equally lackluster. But I believe this enables me to write in smooth and flowing English, and this is a skill that translators absolutely must have.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.