Learning to Speak Japanese

Most people who visit Japan hope to learn at least a little Japanese during their stay.

Unfortunately, it takes more than mere presence in Japan to gain any kind of proficiency in Nihongo. The availability of English-language media, the locals’ desire to practice English, and close friendships with other English-speaking gaijin teachers all conspire against your study of the language. Despite these difficulties, though, any effort to learn Japanese will be richly rewarded. Speaking even halting Japanese will delight your friends and give you a deeper understanding of the culture, not to mention making everyday chores like grocery shopping or asking directions infinitely easier.

Given its reputation as one of the world’s more difficult languages, studying Japanese might sound like a daunting task. There is no question that mastering the language takes years of devoted study. Fortunately, though, acquiring a working knowledge of spoken Japanese does not take as long as you might expect. Japanese grammar is relatively simple (though very different from English) and proper pronunciation should come quickly for most attentive native English speakers.

Probably the best way to learn Japanese is to enroll in one of the many language schools catering to Japan’s foreign population.

Enrolling in a school gives you the extra discipline and routine required to learn a foreign language, and can be a great way to network for housing and job leads.

Make sure you investigate the school before paying tuition, however. Many schools exist for the benefit of immigrants (mostly from East Asia) taking advantage of the cultural visa available to foreigners studying at least 15 hours per week. Holders of this visa are allowed to work up to 20 hours a week, and many “students” never attend class, but instead work illegally during that time. Also beware of schools that will demand too much of your time. Remember that teaching can be a draining experience and you might not have the energy to finish large homework assignments after a long day at work. Before enrolling in a school, make sure to sit in on some classes and talk with other students to get a feel for the school’s reputation and work load.

The following are some of the better-known Japanese language schools in Japan. (Note: In Japanese convention, “4th floor,” for example, is written 4F. Don’t confuse your Japanese mailman by spelling it out on your envelope.)

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