Learning a language is an exciting endeavor. It brings many different benefits as you improve your proficiency.
Depending on your ability and motivation, some languages may be easier to learn, but some may also be more challenging.
Japanese is widely considered to be one of the most difficult languages to learn, especially for Filipinos. Without a Chinese language background, Filipinos often find that mastering around 2,000 kanji or Chinese characters in order to read and write well in Japanese is an overwhelming task.
So then, is studying Japanese worth the time, cost, and effort? I would say that it is a resounding yes.
Of course, there will be challenges along the way. Nonetheless, it will be a fun, engaging, and fulfilling journey.
Here are some of the reasons why Japanese is a worthy investment:
1. Unlock study and career opportunities
This is probably the most important and rewarding among all the benefits of learning Japanese. What better way to reap the benefits of your language skills than to increase your own market value and earn from it?
Studying in Japan
Japan has an excellent educational system, and it houses some of the most renowned universities in the world. You can pursue the field you are most interested in—from engineering to the arts—in top-notch Japanese academic programs.
Programs conducted in Japanese often require you to have at least a Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N2 level of proficiency. You do not have to major in international studies or foreign languages to be able to study in Japan.
To fund your studies, there are several scholarships to choose from. Among them is the prestigious Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) scholarship from the Japanese government which covers tuition fees and living costs.
Every year, about 100 Filipino MEXT scholars are sent to Japan for teacher training, Japanese studies, undergraduate studies, research (masters and doctoral), and specialized training.
Perhaps the most common careers for Japanese bilinguals in the Philippines are teaching, translating, and interpreting.
Reputable Japanese language schools require teachers to hold at least a JLPT N3 certificate, after which they must undergo teacher training to meet the school’s standards. Teachers may even get the chance to receive training in Japan for several months at a partner institute.
Bilingual careers can also be found in corporate jobs, such as in customer relations and in IT services. The minimum level of proficiency is usually JLPT N3. On top of basic monthly pay, bilinguals can receive a language premium based on their level of Japanese skills. N1 passers, for instance, can receive language premiums as high as Php50,000.
Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies offer the greatest number of bilingual job openings in the Philippine job market. In fact, Accenture has been aggressively recruiting Japanese bilinguals, offering signing bonuses of up to Php100,000 and providing free Japanese lessons (zero to N3 level) to interested applicants with a view to hiring them upon program completion.
To find a decent job in Japan, you need to have at least a JLPT N2 certificate, but Japanese companies prefer to hire N1 passers. This is a much higher requirement than most Japanese bilingual jobs here in the Philippines.
Those with N4 proficiency can still find many opportunities to work in Japan under a Specified Skilled Worker visa. Additionally, the Philippines-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (PJEPA) program is available for nurses and caregivers who are willing to undergo intensive preparatory JLPT N5-N4 training. Once they pass N4, they are deployed to Japan for work.
2. Develop a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture and values
Through the study of the Japanese language, you can learn more about Japanese culture. For example, the existence of different levels of politeness in the language indicates how the Japanese people uphold and exemplify the values of humility and respect.
The use of keigo or honorific language in formal and business situations reflects the importance of hierarchy in Japanese society.
You will also find that Japanese expressions tend to be vague or indirect, as Japanese people prefer not to engage in direct confrontation or appear too straightforward and aggressive.
As you delve deeper into learning the language, you will better understand Japanese mannerisms and way of life, as well as how these connect to their rich history, traditions, and even food. You will always have those moments of, “Oh, so that is why they act the way they do!”
3. Consume Japanese media like a pro
Many learners of the Japanese language are drawn to Japanese popular culture such as anime, manga, cosplay, videogames, and music. While many of these media are made available worldwide through localization, there are still limitations.
For instance, popular anime series are not available immediately on popular Western platforms such as Netflix. Fans may have to wait several months (or even years) before they can watch their favorite shows dubbed or subbed in their native language.
Another example is lesser-known Japanese roleplaying games that never received localization treatment, so playing them in pure Japanese text and audio is the only option. Nintendo’s Mother 3 is a prime example of a well-loved game that was never localized in the West despite popular demand–only a fan translation on the internet is available.
That said, you will most certainly find that watching shows without subtitles, reading manga without translations, and singing along to J-pop songs with Japanese lyrics are much more enjoyable and convenient!
4. Make new connections and expand your social network
Regardless of where and how you developed your interest in Japan and studied its language, you will meet new people who share the same interests and passion.
If you study in a language school, you can find a community of experienced teachers and fellow learners who are all eager to improve their Japanese.
As a bilingual employee, you can connect with Japanese-speaking colleagues and clients, some of them could be native Japanese professionals, to widen your professional network. And of course, you can build friendships with Japanese people as you continue your study journey.
From my personal experience, up until I started learning Japanese, my connections were mostly people within the business and accounting fields. That changed with my Japanese language studies, and it feels as if my world has opened up and my perspectives have widened.
My classmates and teachers in language school have become some of my closest friends, and they all come from different careers and backgrounds. I was able to meet kind Japanese people who are now my trustworthy friends. One of them even sends me gifts whenever I come to Japan!
5. Create better vacation and living experiences in Japan
As Japan embraces globalization, its main cities have become much more accommodating to foreign travelers. You can visit Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Sapporo without any hint of Japanese language background. It does not matter if you cannot read kanji; English translations are everywhere.
But that is not the case for areas outside these great cities, especially for far-flung provinces. Unless you have a Japanese guide, it is challenging to visit and tour these areas.
Still, it is worth visiting these places since Japan has so much more to offer than its famous modern and technologically advanced cities. Oftentimes, the best cultural experiences are found in the prefectures far away from the capital.
From reading train and bus schedules, making hotel and restaurant reservations, choosing food items from Japanese menus, asking locals for directions—there are so many ways how you can make your travels around Japan more comfortable and hassle-free.
Of course, you might find other reasons why studying the Japanese language is beneficial for you. But you’ll never know unless you experience it yourself!