Is Japanese a useless language to learn? What can you use it for? And should you go for it?

This Is Something I Wondered About For Some Time, And Here Are My Conclusions

Many of us wanted, or even dreamed, or learning Japanese. Some of us even started doing so, and are in the middle of learning it.

But sometimes, we may be wondering, “Is learning Japanese a useless skill?”. This question could arise because you are thinking of what you would do with the language once you have learned it. It could be because someone else told you so, and that made you think about it.

There are some valid reasons for one to think Japanese is useless. It’s spoken in one country, one that they say is in decline, a country you may and may not be willing to visit & live in.

To be fair, we can’t say that learning Japanese is not entirely useless, it’s a bit harsh to call it that. It’s just that there are pros & cons for learning it, and you & only you could decide if it’s worth for you, as there’s no definitive answer to this question. So, in this post, I will discuss this issue from different aspects, hopefully in a way that help you decide on whether you should learn Japanese or not. Some of the tips here may even help you answer that question when it comes to learning other languages, or other skills.

While I am clearly an advocate for learning languages, this post isn’t about convincing you to learn Japanese, but to discuss the different aspects of that. I will try to be objective while still keeping in mind that not everything in life should be done for direct benefits or abide by the rules made by others. I will go my way of presenting argument & counterargument, so

that you would know what’s better for you. It may cause you to become more motivated learn it, and it may let you realize it’s not for you. If you have been reading my posts in my two blogs, you will know what to expect. o(≧▽≦)o

I am aware some of you may be reading this post out of curiosity, so I hope you will have fun in the way I am presenting my arguments.

Do You Have Better Goals In Life?

One way to determine whether you’re wasting your time learning Japanese is to compare it to your other goals rather than asking whether it’s useful.

If you are the kind of people with no goal in life (yet), and you probably don’t do anything constructive most of the time, for whatever reason. Learning Japanese allows you have something to pursue, and it could either open new doors for you, or to help you with other goals later in life (I will talk about this later).

If you already have other goals planned out, and these goals are way more important than Japanese, then as long as Japanese isn’t hindering your progress with these goals, you have no issue here. There’s nothing wrong with having Japanese learning as additional goal. You could learn it at a slower rate, and still manage to become good at it over time by keeping at it.

If you plan to give Japanese a higher priority than some important goals that could greatly benefit you in life, then you may want to think carefully about that. I am not saying it’s entirely wrong to do so, as this could be your passion & call in life, but this is not always the best things to do.

There’s one particular case where learning Japanese is a positive thing, no matter what you’re learning it for. It’s in case you’re using the time you previously used for doing less useful things like playing games or watching TV. No matter how anyone would think it’s not useful, it’s totally more useful in your case.

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Usage Come Later

Learning Japanese is a niche skill, so its use isn’t as direct as general skills. When it comes to that, you basically have two options, one is to let use come later, which is what you may do if you just feel like learning the language now, or in case you don’t think that Anime or whatever is a good enough reason to learn it. Another way is to make a use for it by planning your life for that use to happen, which can be one of the best thing to do if you know what you’re doing.

If you plan on visiting Japan, living there, are dead set on watching Anime or reading untranslated visual novel, then you already have a use for Japanese. It’s probably why you decided on learning it in the first place, and Japanese is sure not useless for you. If you think that’s not enough, don’t worry, even if you have no use planned for Japanese now, there’s a chance more use will come later, and in ways you can’t imagine. A lot of things in life are that way, and not many people realize that. It’s like you were given the key to a door, and you now have the option to explore what’s beyond that door. There could be a wholly another world there, or maybe just a tiny room with many books in them, or maybe another door waiting for you to open. You only know after you obtain the key.

You may find some real interest exploring Japanese culture, even if you don’t care about Japanese culture that much now. Maybe you will end up enjoying Japanese websites, movies or even the company of Japanese people themselves, either in your country, or in Japan itself.

There’s a chance that, maybe, Japanese will help you learn another language, in that case, Japanese itself may not have benefited you by itself, but made it easier to get somewhere else. That could happen either because you the language itself is similar to Japanese (like Chinese), or because learning Japanese has made you more familiar with memorizing vocabularies and knowing the nuances between the different grammar rules.

If you became really good at Japanese (N2 level or higher), then having Japanese in your CV can impress some recruiters. Even if the job doesn’t require it, some recruiters will value you having the skill. It shows that you’re the person who’s willing to learn. Granted, some interviewers won’t care about the languages you speak at all. Chances that some of them won’t have the time to look at your full CV, because it’s common for them to spend less than a minute to scan each CV they come across, but it’s a chance that won’t hurt you to have.

I may be using the word maybe quite a lot here, because it’s very hard to know what’s will come out later. The point I am trying to make is:- you never know. It’s one more skill to have. It’s better than learning a “useful” language, but not continue learning it because you’re not into it. (≧▽≦)/

Generally speaking, how much you benefit from such skills is hard to quantify. Yes, sometimes it’s obvious that certain skills will benefit you directly:- get a degree then use it to get a job, buy that smartphone and enjoy the great camera it’s equipped with. Quantifying the benefit is harder in some other cases. In some cases, it can happen in a roundabout way. Like:- Learn to develop software, then use that to create software that gives you an edge or allows you to work faster.

Many people’s life stays the same because they never take any chances, even small ones, and tread certain paths only, rather than exploring life or parts of it. They treat all the skills they have no direct benefit from as useless. Don’t be this kind of person. Even if you ended up not learning Japanese at all, you could use what I am advocating here with other endeavors that may appear useless now, but benefit you later. I am writing this fully aware that some will find it nonsensical, but it’s something I believe in. If you have experienced learning a skill then benefiting from it later, then you don’t need me to convince me of that. If you haven’t, give it a chance in your spare time, you will thank me later, as the benefit always happen, although in ways we can’t always imagine.

Bear in mind that I am not telling you to drop everything in your life and only learn niche skills. I already suggested that you make learning Japanese a side goal, one you focus on while everything on your life is on-track. You could make Japanese a main part of your life later on in case you got something going on, or in case you decided that’s what you really want.

Here’s a question:- If you have no real use for Japanese, then why do you want to learn it? If you find it fun, then that’s a valid reason, one I talked about down below. It’s where having an immediate use matters much less, but can still happen.

Learning Japanese For Anime As The Main Use

Wanting to learn Japanese for Anime is a valid use, albeit it can be a controversial one. The issue isn’t that it’s a waste. It’s that Anime isn’t enough motivation for the majority of people. If you want to learn Japanese for that reason, then go for it. If your motivation isn’t enough, you will quit on your own, but in that case, you will know that Japanese isn’t for you, at least for now, and that’s a gain in and of itself. If you got really far into it, then you have made something out of this form of entertainment, and everything I said about finding a use applies to you.

I don’t have numbers to support that, but I think the number of people that learn Japanese and master it because of Anime is low. There are many who want to learn the language because of it, but not many that actually end up doing it. You have to go for it to know how much you actually want to do it.

If you watched anime for years, specially as an adult, I guess your motivation for learning Japanese for it could be higher than most people. You’re the kind of people I would encourage to seriously consider learning the language if you have the time, even if it was for Anime only.

In general, having such a huge media production as Japan is a big help in learning any language. So I don’t blame anyone for thinking that way. Many people want to learn Korean for a similar reason. I personally think learning languages that way is fun. I won’t be surprised if people showed an interest in Chinese for that reason in the future, when China end up having huge media reach.

Keep in mind that while you will learn a lot just to be able to watch Anime without subtitles. There’s more of the Japanese language you can never learn just from Anime. Like different dialects of the various prefectures, for one.

Are You A Language Learner?

Some people just like to learn languages, regardless whether they want to use them or not. They may find some way to use it later, and may plan their life with that in mind. For them, that’s their passion, their hobby, and so they don’t always need a reason to learn a certain language. I so love learning French, and I enjoy learning it quite a lot, even though I don’t know if I will ever use it much in my life, for example.

You could be a language learner yourself. You don’t know if you are a language learner until you try, and your desire to learn Japanese may be a chance to test that.

If you already tried learning a language, or tried that but didn’t get past a certain point because of the lack of time or some other reason. Did you enjoy the process? If the answer to that is yes, then languages learning is a candidate hobby. If the language you tried to learn was a language you didn’t like, then don’t count that against languages learning.

It’s Okay To Do It For Fun

This is a completely different way to approach Japanese learning than what we discussed so far. One that’s very similar to what language learners do. It’s pretty much fun to see the hieroglyphic Japanese characters slowly start to make sense for you, and to be able to read them a bit by bit. If you like Japanese enough for that. We live in a society where everything has to have a purpose, it kinda makes it harder to do something for fun for some. Not everything needs to be approved by anyone to be a valid cause. A hobby doesn’t a need to reason for one to do, it’s part of what makes it fun.

In a previous post, I discussed whether you could learn Japanese only by watching Anime before, which you may be interested in:- Reality Check:- Can you learn Japanese from Watching Anime?

Waste Of Time?

Being a waste of time is one of the most used attacks against learning Japanese. When we look at it from a specific angle, this can be true. Japanese is a language that’s almost only used in one country:- Japan, a country with a stagnating economy, and has many socioeconomic & demographic problems. Why would one want to learn such a language?

As I kept saying, Anime & Manga is a common reason why many people wanted to learn Japanese. The burst on their popularity in recent year helped making more & more people want to learn it. Korean drama had the same effect to their fans, and made them think of learning Korean. I know people who want to learn Turkish because of Turkey drama too.

The fact Japanese is seen as difficult make some people think that one needs to really need it in order to learn it. Or they shouldn’t bother doing such a hard thing. After all, life is all about doing things the easy way, right? I honestly don’t think so, but that’s the way many people think.

From what I see, many people regard learning any language other than English as a waste of time. People are less likely to criticize your Japanese learning endeavor if you live in a country that’s near Japan, where it’s more likely you’re going to work with Japanese people. That’s the same if you were living in Europe & decided to learn French of Germany, or if you live in the US & started learned Spanish, which is not only spoken by many American, but is the most widely used language in South America. While there’s some merit to this kind of thinking, you could be in Japan in few hours if you went to the airport & hopped into an airplane. ~~☆’.・.・:★’.・.・:☆ (≧▽≦)/

Despite all of its issues, Japan is still a powerful country, and economy aside, it’s not like their culture will disappear if their economy or population was shrunk by 10% or 20%. So depending on why you’re learning Japanese, some of its issues may not be of your concerns.

In defense of learning Japanese, and learning languages in general, people do all sort of things that waste a lot of time, like putting hundreds of hours into a single game. Nothing against games here, I so love them myself, but one shouldn’t make them suck most of the time in their life. Another thing people do is spending a lot of time watching TV, or on Netfix. Again, nothing is wrong in that, but that’s not exactly useful. We could go on & on the things people do that are not really useful. At least with Japanese, you’re learning something that could be useful in many ways.

Many of what I said about use above comes into play here, as well.

General Benefits Of Learning A Language

Let me give you a short list of benefits you will get from learning languages, and that includes Japanese as well~

  • If you really dream of working around the world, or even just traveling, then learning languages is one way to get to achieve that.
  • Learning languages open carrier path for you, and allows you to get jobs you wouldn’t be getting otherwise This will work much better if you planned for these, since language alone may not get you the job you want, all the other criteria for being hired still applies here, in a lot of cases, no one will hire you just because you speak a language.
  • Learning languages positively affects the brain. Some studies showed that learning languages makes your brain better. One of those showed that Learning a Second Language Protects Against Alzheimer’s.
  • The sense of achievement you would feel from learning such a hard language like Japanese is so high. Granted, Japanese is more time-consuming than hard, but it still feels good being able to learn it.
  • Languages helps you explore other cultures, watch foreign stuff, browse sites you wouldn’t be able to previously (granted, machine translation exists, but it sucks so far). It makes it much easier to understand the point-of-view of other counties & their politics as well.

Is There A Job Market For Japanese Speakers

This is a big question, and I totally don’t claim to know everything about it, but I will state what I know. I advise you to also ask those who used Japanese in their carrier, as it will give you even more information.

Working In Japan Itself

It’s worth noting that knowing N2 Japanese or more is an important first step to get your foot in Japan (N1 Japanese is even better). You will still be evaluated for your actual skills, whether it is programming, speaking, engineering… Etc.. But you don’t stand a chance without being able to speak the language well enough.

It’s very uncommon to hear some horror stories of working in Japanese companies. So a common advice I hear is to work in an international company that has a branch in Japan. You could get hired there from your own country, then ask to get transferred to Japan later on.

Working As Translator, And The Power Of Niche Language

Because Japanese is a niche skill, being a Japanese translator gets paid high translation rates per word. It’s higher than French, German & other, and no less than 10% higher than the other popular languages in demand (in the worse case), and can get 25% higher, if not more.

Here are some of the pages I got these rates from, I picked multiple sources on that to prove my point:-

And Finally

For the most part, I totally advocate learning Japanese as a side goal. It’s a very nice goal to have. If you want to make Japanese your focus in life, things could work very well for you if you planned them well. Japanese may not be for everyone, but for those who really want it, it’s a great skill to have.

While there are many signs that indicates that Japan is slowly declining, we shouldn’t treat Japan as if it’s going to disappear in few months or something. This is a bit of exaggerations, it’s kinda the same way people kept saying that Japan was going to rule the world, which was the tone media took back in the 80s. (≧▽≦)/

I hope my post has shed some light on whether Japanese is useless or not, and see you again in another post. You can check out my post about learning Japanese from watching Anime only, which you may also find interesting.

See also:-

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