People keep asking me if it is difficult to learn Japanese. My short answer would be yes. It is difficult because there are many characters, grammatical structures etc. you have to memorize. On the other hand I would not say that Japanese is particularly a difficult language to study as for example compared to other languages. I think the key point here is practice and time. If you spend enough time on learning the most difficult language in the world you will be able to speak it. The situation is pretty much the same with Japanese.
Japan was always one of the leading economies
The main reason why Japanese considered to be a difficult language is it’s writing system. The first time you have a glance on a Japanese text you probably don’t understand a word. As time passes and you keep learning you will be surprised how much you can understand. After a couple of years of studying Japanese texts made of kanjis will be as natural as English texts. I know, this is something, that is somewhat difficult to imagine. The interesting thing, which might be obvious for some of you, is that Japanese texts are based on logic as well. If you grasp this logic, then you are able to develop yourself.
As I have previously mentioned, time solves everything. There is an official list of approximately 2000 Japanese characters. You need to know these characters if you want to pass the most advanced Japanese language examination (JLPT N1). Moreover these are the characters that are said to be used in everyday life. Unfortunately this doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t meet new characters. Suppose you learn ten new characters every single day for a year. By doing that you will master more than you need. And let’s admit, learning ten characters a day and reviewing some others is not a huge effort.
Learning Japanese is not only about learning the characters. You have to understand many grammatical structures and rules. These rules are very strict, and if you misuse the structures you would sound very odd and sometimes rude, which is better to avoid, especially if you are in Japan. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has five levels, numbered from 5 to 1. Where N5 means the beginner level and N1 means the most advanced level. The characters, grammar and vocabulary of each level represents a specific frequency. Namely, if you passed for example the N5 level, it means that you know the most frequent Japanese characters and expressions. On the other hand N1 level includes essentially everything. As such I would recommend you to learn Japanese by following the levels.
If you are planning to go to Japan and you would like to talk to local people, then the answer, since English is not widely spoken in the country, would be yes! As for the more detailed answer I think there are at least two aspects that should be considered when discussing this issue. There is a financial and there is a personal aspect.
Let’s start with the financial point of view. Japan was always one of the leading economies (currently the third-largest by nominal GDP as of 2016). When you are in the country you might realize that surprisingly there are more job offers than applicants, which makes it fairly easy to find a job in Japan. Plus the annual average salary in Japan is approximately 45.000$ which is again something that worth to be considered.
On the other hand, Japanese is a fascinating language, it has several thousand years of history, you can also hear many dialects when talking to locals from different regions. Personally I love kanjis, for me they make this language unique and enchanting.Read more: Short history of the hiragana and the katakana alphabet, birth of the Japanese culture
Obviously when you are applying for a job that requires you to speak Japanese, passing a JLPT N1 or N2 level is a must. On the other hand there is one more interesting thing.
Japanese immigration laws keep changing. Recently (effective from May 7, 2012) they have introduced new system in Japan, that would make it easier to enter the country and apply for various visas for those who have passed JLPT. For example somebody who has successfully taken JLPT N1 can get 15 extra points when his or her application is judged at the immigration bureau.
In addition doctors who have acquired their degree outside of Japan and willing to practice in Japan are required to take a national examination. And here comes JLPT N1, which is a prerequisite of this examination.
The Japanese government has decided to take these measures in order to attract more foreigners with upper education into the country, which is, let’s admit, it is not a bad idea.
An applicant who passed the immigration bureau’s evaluation system and has been acknowledged as a highly-qualified personal can receive several benefits. In general, a foreigner can conduct only one activity when in Japan. This might not be true for highly-qualified personals, who can for example conduct research and business activities in the same time.
Application for permanent residency can also be done in a shorter term if somebody has been acknowledged as a highly-qualified personal. In general a foreigner needs to be in Japan for at least 10 years to apply for permanent residency, but this can be shortened to 5 years by qualifying yourself. For more information check out the website of the Immigration Bureau of Japan, which is in obviously in Japanese. If there is something that is not clear, don’t forget to send me a message and I will reply you as soon as possible!
The internet. In the 21st century when approximately 40% of the world population (it is more than 3 billion in 2016) have access to the internet, it comes naturally that you can use it to learn Japanese. There were more than 4 million students studying Japanese in 2014, which makes a huge market for those who are providing teaching materials on the internet. There are websites and web-services which are for free and there are paid ones as well. imulat.com belongs to the first category. You can find several articles, tests and videos on the site which can help you to start learning Japanese. You can also register a free account and track your learning progress. I have tried to divide the material according to JLPT levels, so you can prepare for the one that you are the most confident at. Furthermore I can highly recommend the NHK website which provides free Japanese language materials and videos.