As you’ve managed to stumble on this post, I’m going to make the assumption you have at least a tiny bit of interest in learning the Japanese language.
But you’re hesitating.
Maybe you’re not completely convinced of the benefits.
Maybe you’ve heard discouraging tales from learners who’ve attempted Japanese, drowned in kanji (everyone’s favorite writing system), and given up after deeming it too difficult.
Maybe you’re not sure if it’s worth the effort.
Well, friend, I’m here to give you that extra push you need.
Let’s start with the reason that many, including myself, begin learning Japanese.
1. Access to Japan’s pop culture
This is a judgement free zone, fellow wea—I mean, anime aficionados. Wanting to understand anime, manga, dramas, video games, and other forms of Japanese pop culture is a perfectly good reason to start learning (she said defensively).
On a side note, pop culture serves not only as a reason to be interested in learning Japanese, but also as a motivation later on.
When you don’t feel like studying but frequently consume Japanese media, you’ll have reason to keep on going.
Through studying the language, you not only begin to rely less on subtitles, but you also begin noticing nuances that you would’ve never noticed before. Some examples are:
- The level of politeness a character is using, which clues you in as to what the relationship is between people (senior and junior, equals, etc.)
- Japanese jokes are, as you would expect, often inaccessible to those who don’t speak Japanese. Although this is not true for all Japanese humor, sometimes cultural knowledge is required to understand why something is funny or knowledge of the language is needed for puns.
2. A cultural understanding
Language can’t be studied in isolation from culture.
What I mean by this is that when you study the Japanese, you gain an insight into the culture as a byproduct.
One common example is honorifics. In everyday conversation, Japanese people must keep in mind their age and status in relation to others. Based on this, they attach honorifics such as -san, -chan, and -kun to each other’s names as a sign of respect.
As to why cultural understanding is important in the first place, it allows you to gain a different perspective on life. To me, it is endlessly interesting to observe Japanese customs and compare them to those of the U.S.
What makes our cultures unique? What can we learn from each other? How might something be viewed differently by a person of Japanese upbringing as opposed to someone raised in the U.S.?
The Japanese people boast a complex culture that simultaneously embraces modern trends and celebrates tradition. Whether you’re intrigued by tea ceremonies, in love with anime, or fascinated by Japanese folklore, you’ll undoubtedly find something that interests you.
3. New and deeper friendships
Think about it. The population of Japan is approximately 127 million. By choosing not to study Japanese, you’re missing out on so many opportunities to make new friends and learn from them.
But Shreya, you sigh, I have neither the time nor the money to go to Ja—Shh, friend.
And sometimes, meeting friends through Japanese doesn’t necessarily mean meeting native speakers.
Just a few weeks ago when I was volunteering at a nursing home, I met a man who used to live in Japan and teach English. He didn’t speak too much Japanese, but we had a shared interest to make conversation about.
You connect with people on a much deeper level when you can communicate with them in their first language.
My Japanese definitely isn’t fluent yet (yet!). But in my experience, people are excited to share their language and culture with those who want to learn. I think there’s something about watching a person trying hard to connect with you that’s endearing, and it causes people to want to help.
And of course, most everyone is more comfortable in their first language than they are in their second. You’ll get to know people better and notice sides of them that are more evident when they speak their mother tongue (as opposed to when they speak English).
It’s worth it
Learning Japanese is a rewarding and fascinating endeavor. It’s challenging, but nowhere near impossible.
Once you start, I’m sure you’ll find yourself unable to stop. So go try it!
On the way, you’ll discover a new culture and expand your view of the world.