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Why learn Japanese?

Thu Jan 05 2012
It's a simple question, really. The answer? For some it will be just as simple, whereas other folks may find trouble coming up with an answer. I didn't initially intend for this article to be very long, but alas it became so. So sit back, crack your knuckles (or whatever it is that you do when reading) and get comfortable. Because I'm going to give you my...

Top ten reasons for learning Japanese (or any foreign language).

Before I begin, please bear in mind that this list outlines my top 10 reasons. However, it's likely that yours will be different. Perhaps they will be the same ones, albeit in a different order. That's okay, as this isn't meant to be an 'end-all-be-all'. So, without further ado...

#10. You live once for each language you learn.

Essentially, the concept here is that every language you learn is akin to living another life. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. Not only will you speak differently for each, but there's a high chance that any activities you do in each will be drastically different. Take, for instance, in English I enjoy playing video games. In contrast, in Japanese I enjoy reading - which is something I don't enjoy as much in English (go figure). Some other concrete examples: These examples are just overviews of some of the themes I'll expound more on in a bit.

#9. It broadens your horizons.

This is a biggie. Much of what you learn in a foreign language is from resources not available in other languages. Aside from that, and potentially more importantly, you may find that certain activities which are not enjoyable in your native language become enjoyable in another language. As a personal example, I enjoy listening to the popular Japanese music, where as popular music in English makes me want to... do things not so nice to myself. Bottom line: it can make you enjoy things you never even considered in the past. To solidify my point, consider the fact that I enjoy reading in Japanese, but not in English. One other point to briefly touch on is the fact it will make you try things you would not have tried otherwise. As far as my taste in food is concerned, I'm a whole lot more liberal with what I will try now that I have a more open mind.

#8. It's cool to be bilingual.

Knowing Japanese will make you cool, but not as cool as this guy. Chicks dig it. (Well, maybe. It somewhat depends on the crowd, I guess.) Seriously though, being able to put 'bilingual' on a resume can seem mundane to anyone who isn't bilingual. However, for those who actually are bilingual, it can be a real boost of energy and excitement - especially if you haven't always been bilingual. There's also the 5 minutes of fame part - where people gather around you and ask, "How do you say <insert phrase here> in Japanese?". Some might consider this an annoyance, but I rather enjoy it. There is another part of this to consider as well, but it sort of leads in to my next point, which is:            

#7. Meet new people and make new friends.

There are a  few reasons for this, though not limited to the following examples. Sometimes people who only speak English will befriend you because they value your knowledge of the subject, and wish to learn from you. Some of them even find you inspirational, and begin a quest themselves to learn a second language. On the other hand, there are folks in your target language who will do the same, instead to learn English. It's a widely known fact that while Japanese schools teach English, most Japanese people are far from fluent (or in some cases even functional) in English. These types may hang around you because it's helping their English. Many times, you may even find yourself helping them overcome a language barrier when attempting to communicate with someone. That being said, most Japanese are actually ashamed of their English skills. As a result, they may even try to avoid contact with 外人 (foreigners) for fear they won't be able to carry on a conversation well. Speaking Japanese will put them at ease, and may prove to be invaluable in some cases.

#6. New opportunities open up.

More specifically, opportunities open up that never would have existed without knowledge of said language. This can be for anything, weather it's a job interview or being able to buy something at a discount. Maybe it's avoiding having your rental car towed because you didn't realize you can't park your car in that spot after 8 pm. Or maybe, just maybe even finding that significant other. A more concrete example might be that dream software development job that has recently opened up, but at a Japanese company. If you didn't know Japanese, you probably would have never known about that position (or the company) and continued  as normal. Taking that example one step further, maybe that company is even offering to relocate you to Japan. Moving to the country you've been dreaming about since you were a kid - for free (or close to it)? Hax.

#5. Traveling becomes easier.

Many folks assume that you can get away with going anywhere and speaking English. This might be true in many scenarios, but typically only for the tourist areas of said country. Tourist areas are certainly not everywhere, though. I consider staying in a tourist area to be pretty much like remaining in a safe little English bubble. Where's the fun when you're in a bubble? Knowing at least part of the language of the country you're traveling to will help immensely for several reasons:

#4. Content selection

Sukiyaki is one of my favorite dishes. Simply put - you can enjoy far more content when looking in more than one language. For instance, let's consider anime for a moment. Loads of it is available English-dubbed, and even more with just English subtitles (more on that subject in a moment). Most people cannot fathom how much more is actually available that's only in Japanese - never released to the rest of the world. The amount far exceeds all other translated content combined. And that's just Anime. There's also 漫画 (まんが/manga), movies, books, newspapers, videos, websites and much, much more. This can even be extended into the food category. For instance, I didn't know about the joys of eating すき焼き until I began studying Japanese. It's now one of my favorite dishes.      

#3. Translating/interpreting

For me, this is a biggie. I've always been fascinated by this topic, and it's one I intend to pursue once I've reached fluency. Being able to take content (writing, audio, etc.) and translate that into another language - in one direction or the other - is something I've always wanted to be able to do. This again points back to several items on this list, namely items 7, 6 and 4. (Okay, and 8 as well). #6 is the biggie in that having the basic skill to translate/interpret can help you land a job. One of my long term goals for this site is to have a Japanese version that runs alongside this one - articles translated and all.

#2. Watching anime and reading manga.

A manga store in Japan. Yep, I know this falls back to #4, but I'd like to go into more detail. I've never been a particularly fast reader, per se. However, I do retain what I read. (That's something, right? Right?) That being said, I can't effing stand subtitles. I'm tired of being bound to them when trying to watch anime that I love. Seems like a silly reason when you can just change it to English (in most cases), right? For me, it's not that simple. First off, English voice acting on anime drives me bananas. It sounds to me as if they are talking to 4-year-olds all the time. Nobody talks like that. The Japanese voices seem to fit better overall, and have more personality. Secondly, I'm not a fast reader, as I mentioned earlier. Lots of anime series have beautiful artwork, which is missed out on when having to read subtitles. At that point, why watch it at all? I consider that more like reading a book that watching a show, and I already mentioned that I don't like reading in English so much. So that turns something that should be fun into work. Bump that. In short, I think subtitles suck, and I no longer want to have to live with them. Learning Japanese is my way out. That's my answer, and I'm sticking with it!

#1. Because I can.

I glare at you... because I can. I love giving people this answer. It counteracts any hating, any negativity or doubt, and there is no comeback for it. Let me add to this that I don't feel that I have to justify learning Japanese to anyone. I'm doing it because I want to, and because I can. That being said, it does get annoying being asked all the time "Why Japanese? Why not Spanish or French?". Especially when asked by the type of person who thinks that "only Asians are smart enough to learn Japanese." What - because I wasn't born in a certain geographical location and don't possess certain physical features I can't learn Japanese? Absurd. I refuse to accept that kind of closed-mindedness. Why Japanese? Because I don't feel like learning the same languages that everyone else does in high school, then never uses later on in life. I actually have a practical use, and practical goals for learning Japanese. I'll probably never learn Spanish or French. To be honest, I love the challenge of Japanese. Not everyone can go around saying they can speak Japanese. It's not an easy second language to pick up. Not the hardest or impossible, but there is more of a challenge to it for sure. The bottom line here is that I'm learning this for me, not for someone else. I don't care what doubts others have about my learning it, or my reasons for doing so. If I cared about that, I'd probably stick with English only for the rest of my life. I would hope your answer for wanting to learn Japanese is something similar. It makes learning it a whole lot more enjoyable. Learn Japanese because you want to. Learn Japanese because you can.     *Note: These images are ones I had from the internet, so I don't know where they originally came from. If anyone does know, please point it out and I'll give due credit. (I do, however, know that the last one is from 「デスノト」. )