Should I Get a Japanese Degree?

Hey everyone! I need some advice.

I’d like to go to a school to continue learning Japanese. Online learning is getting too difficult to maintain, and I loved the live immersion I got from going to a Japanese language school in Fukuoka. But going to Japan isn’t feasible right now, so I’d need a school in the US. I live in Indiana right now and would like to move out of state. Should I go to a language school or university? I already have an MA in something else; if I did a university, could I get a bachelor’s degree or other certificate?

My goal so far with Japanese is to get certified with ATA (American Translator’s Assoc) and either work freelance or with a company, if that helps.

Any advice on institutional Japanese learning would be much appreciated! Thanks in advance!

1 Like

If you are more concerned about getting good rather than getting credentials, I would definitely not go to a university. From what I’ve seen, university courses take slow paced to a whole new level.

EDIT: Hopefully it doesn’t come across as me discounting credentials when I say that. Esp. in Japan credentials are a lot more important it seems.


What @Vanilla said :+1:

Think of it like this, Genki I is supposedly a first year textbook so that’s two or three semesters for something you could cover on your own in a few months, if that.


I’ll just list what I did:

First, obviously, I got to level 60 in WaniKani.
While I was still doing WK, I also did the following:

  • Read Genki I + II
  • Read Tobira
  • Read tons and tons and tons of native content

I personally think a degree doesn’t mean much, especially when it’s something as involved as learning a language. What matters is the effort you put in. Granted, you might be more willing to put in that effort if you’re taking a course on the language, and there might be more people available to give you feedback or practice with you.

Now, you can know everything there is to know about Japanese and still suck at translation; these are completely different skills. So after getting to a decently high level at the language, you can start working on actually translating stuff to train that skill too. Get someone more experienced to check your work and give you constructive feedback as well, or else you’re basically doing it blind with no guarantee that you’re improving at all.

Good luck!

PS: I don’t work as a translator, but I’ve been translating on a regular basis for the last four months, give or take.


Get a degree in something else and focus on learning Japanese on your own time. The tech industry is an easy in but a degree in Japanese isn’t going to get you too far. After you get a degree in anything else you can levee it to get an ALT job and then use the skills you got from your other degree to differentiate yourself from the crowd. A degree in Japanese sounds great but in reality, doesn’t amount to much.


I have a Diploma in Japanese. :slightly_smiling_face:

It was a three-year part-time degree, and we were basically at N3 level by the end of it, though some of my classmates were taking the N2 exam.


Maybe take a look at the certification requirements? That should help you decide on how you should study.

That aside… you’re probably going to want to get really good at Japanese first. After that, the next step (for translating) will be knowing how to match nuances across languages. Of course, a good English-Japanese dictionary will probably be really helpful, especially one with example sentences, but those will only take you so far: when you have a refined understanding of nuance in English language, sometimes, you’ll look at all the translations in the dictionary and go, ‘OK, no, none of these really fit. We’re almost there, but that’s not quite it.’ That’s when your ability to translate really gets tested. You’ll probably find that you have more freedom translating between English and Japanese than, say, translating between English and French (because those two languages are much closer structurally and in terms of vocabulary), but I guess you should always ask yourself, ‘Is this really what the sentence means?’ If you’re like me, you might go one step further (but this is just a matter of preference): ‘Does this really capture what the author intended and replicate the feel of the original Japanese sentence?’

As far as ‘getting good at Japanese’ goes… I’ve never gone for a university Japanese course before (I’ll be trying one later this year in my engineering course if all goes according to plan), but as many people have said, they tend to be slow. Just to give you some perspective: in France, even a student at a specialised institute in Paris studying Japanese culture and civilisation is only recommended to take the JLPT N2 after three years, with the N1 being recommended for students with a ‘good level of Japanese’. In comparison, I think some of the fastest people on these forums reached N2 (at least in reading) within about a year. Sure, perhaps those people are faster than average, but the point is that university language courses tend to take their time and may slow you down if you’re capable of learning faster than that. I think a language school is probably a better choice insofar as they’ll probably be more language-intensive (and hopefully spend less time on useless technicalities), but again, it could slow you down if you’re a diligent, motivated self-learner. Personally, I’d recommend self-learning, or at least checking out popular beginners’ textbooks and then picking a school that uses the ones you like. Otherwise though…

This would be roughly my game plan if I were you. Caveat: I’m a Chinese speaker, so I don’t use any kanji learning apps, including WK, and I don’t find picking up new kanji too hard, though I’ve had to invent/absorb a few new ideas to memorise ones with lots of strokes (that are probably basically useless anyway, like 釁る and 灋, which is the old version of 法). I replaced Genki I & II with Assimil’s Japanese with Ease, which might be out of print in English now (or only available second-hand): skimpier explanations for grammar, but good enough for me, and probably more kanji and advanced words than Genki by the end. As for native content… yes, reading is good, but if that doesn’t motivate you too much, you can replace it with other native content that you’re willing to study: for me, I watched tons and tons of anime and looked for the transcriptions on Anicobin (it’s a reaction blog with screenshots), and then looked up the words I didn’t know/found intriguing. It’s also a good way to learn grammar. Japanese songs can also be studied like that. The benefit of using something that you like is that the words will stick as sound bites or short phrases in your head.

Also, just IMO, when you get to the more advanced levels (think upper intermediate/nearing N1), if you’re having a hard time breaking through the plateau and finding material that will teach you more new words fast, then try these textbooks on top of native content:

I’ve got the 中・上級 book. I haven’t looked beyond the first chapter yet, but suffice to say that every single sentence of the first chapter passage has about three words/phrases in it that I don’t know. That’s productive study time. Even newspaper articles don’t usually challenge me that much.

Either way, all the best, and I hope you find a language school you like. :slight_smile:


Great advice as always Jona, I can’t really add anything. :sweat_smile:

@Gingersnap3, follow his advice; It’s been really good in my experience. :wink:

Thought you may be interested:

Definitely out of print, but still available if you’re willing to front ~£90 — at least in the UK.

Also, I would definitely concur with your plan to avoid Genki. In my experience, Genki is very classroom based and not great for introducing new concepts. Then again, many people swear by it, so perhaps I’m in the minority opinion here. :person_shrugging:

This is completely unrelated to the OP’s question, I was just wondering, does France’s university system work like the subject courses system in the UK, and hence this would be an extracurricular thing separate to your main degree?

Just wondering, sorry to divert discussion from the OP’s question. :sweat_smile:

Really depends on the uni. Some larger, better schools go through books at an appropriate pace and some are, like you said, at a snails pace.

As for OP’s question - Hell no, unless you want to dual major then go for it if that’s what you want.

1 Like

I took a year of Japanese classes. The main benefits of classroom instruction are twofold. Nuance and comradery.

Your teachers can instruct you on elements that a textbook won’t be able to touch. In fact, most people tend to be culturally unaware of the use, impact, and desire course of the language. Like for example, what is the difference between 私が好きです and 私は好きです. Both of those seem to have the same meaning of I love you but only one means you love a specific person and the other will leave your significant other feeling like you are cheating.

1 Like

I know nothing about American education system. But in my country Japanese degree is next to nothing if you can’t pass the JLPT test. Even worse many Japanese major graduated can’t even pass N3… (It goes the same for other langauge major as well. I think something is horribly wrong with my country’s education system)

So I would say it’s better to study in something else. Unless that Japanese degree you are looking for could offer you something beyond just pass JLPT test. Perhaps, poetry, literatures, schoolarship, or an opportunity to be an exchange student in Japan.

I think that benefits is almost obsolete with online resources. However, real life classes is still has it own merits. It could keep you motivated by contacting with real life people and fixed schedule. So I if OP need that kind of push. I think go for it then.

I just realized we have not read the OP question correctly. It wasn’t online or something else. It was a language school or university, and they have a desire to use that to get them out of their state.

With that in mind. No Japan-related Ph.D. program will accept less than an N3 into their sphere. Oxford University was the most honest about it stating that much upfront. Most schools will just say a couple of years of Japanese coursework.

With that in mind. I would say an MA in Japanese would solve your problem. But remember you are using a Japanese degree as a leverage point to be chosen as a translator. As most pointed it the degree will not necessarily make you better than wanikani and the resources around it. It is just that the degree will give you an air of respectability to those in Japan and the US with regards to companies.

My word of advice is to get your degree from a University that is known. Prestige is a big thing in Japan. Ivy leagues are easy for recognition in that regard. The degree is not the goal it is the means by which to prebuild your reputation.


I am taking courses in Japanese language at my university at the same time as my main degree, and it is helping a lot. However, university in Norway is basically free of charge. I have also been using WaniKani and BunPro for a long time, which have helped me as much as Japanese classes, and now I am often talking Japanese on Asao School. The Japanese classes has been a very good part of it, but I would be lost without my recourses. My advice would be to try it if you can do it for a reasonable price. I would never do Japanese classes if the cost was ridiculous like it is many places in USA.

1 Like

If you do decide to go to a university, I highly recommend University of Wisconsin - Madison. It has the fastest-paced undergrad program in the midwest (and maybe in the country), and you can get a bachelor’s degree in Japanese in three years if you take summer courses.

  • Semesters 1 and 2: Genki 1 first semster, Genki 2 second semester
  • Semesters 3 and 4 (over the summer): Intermediate Japanese textbook
  • Semesters 5 and 6: Native Japanese materials
  • Semesters 7 and 8: Native Japanese materials

The program is phenomenal, and if you need a Japanese BA, it’s absolutely the way to go. They offer additional classes in things like business Japanese, technical Japanese, etc. And the program can be even shorter than three years if you test into a higher level. I graduated with very strong Japanese skills, and could have easily passed N3 if I hadn’t slacked off on kanji so much. A couple of my classmates even passed N2, though those were the really super dedicated students.

Plus, Madison is a great place to live. People are really friendly, and there’re a lot of fun things to do on campus (tons of university and city events, clubs, etc). The lakes are beautiful, there tons of delicious restaurants and food carts, and everything is conveniently located. I live in Minneapolis now, and while I love it here, I really miss Madison.


I’m in law school right now, I’m not an expert in the anglo-saxon way of doing but in our universities for each year you have a set of subjects, for my case I have 3 majors subject (let’s talk about the first year it will be easier) Constitutional law, Introduction to law and History of law, for those three subjects you have classes in amphitheater and classes in a normal classroom in groups of around 30 people and in those classes you have tests all year round and a grade at the end of the year, then you have finals and you pass with a 10/20 average on those two grades.
In the majors you have to take a language but for my case the only things we could take were English or Spanish, German, Italian, and the level of study for those (even for English) is really low (it was the level of things I could do when I was 12) and it isn’t considered extra curricular or anything.
For minors subjects you only have classes in amphitheater, no classroom group things and your only grade would be the finals one.
If you wanted to properly study a language in France, to have a Japanese course for example, that could get you to a decent level the only way would be to go in a Language university and choosing Japanese and with that you would be 3-4-5 years in a Japanese University (you’re still in France), learning the language, maybe have some history lessons centered around Japan, read books, study books and author etc… Basically in France the only way of studying Japanese in a classroom setting would be to go in a Japanese University and “lock” yourself and your diploma around Japanese, because if you want to work as a translator (and be recognized as one) you need to pass a translator school exam and you pretty much need that university degree to apply. Kind of off the point but you also have LEA (applied foreign language) which is a bit harder, faster than a university, it could get you to N2 by the end of the 3 years from what I heard and its more centered around economics and social aspects of life but in Japanese and English so it might be more practical.
Don’t know if I really answered your question or just went totally off subject.


Depends on the type of higher education institute you’re at. I’m in the prépa + grande école track, so my experience is likely going to be very different from @MrSuntastic’s. I don’t know much about the université system though.

Wait, there are actual Japanese Universities (i.e. started in Japan) focused on Japan in France? Or are you talking about places like Inalco?

Yeah, from what I understand, there’s only LLCER and LEA if you want to study Japanese at a université in France. LLCER would be what people do at Inalco, I guess? (@yatw938484996: Inalco is the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilisation.) Otherwise, at universités, I hardly hear about people studying languages, probably for the reasons you mentioned earlier (i.e. nothing much is covered).

In a grande école, on the other hand, provisions for language study are usually built into the course, with each student being expected to take 1-2 foreign languages at least and many schools setting a C1-equivalent qualification for English as a degree requirement. There’s also usually a dedicated language department that may be shared with partner schools. I don’t know how high you can go with such a course for Japanese though: the most prestigious/well-connected grandes écoles definitely have a Japanese department (whereas the others don’t, perhaps because it’s not as popular), but I don’t think anyone expects students to reach a level above N2. École Polytechnique is supposed to be where the brightest go, and they only aim for N3-N2 by the end of their degree. The school I’m intending to go to also only seems to go up to B2, which is N2-low N1 at best, and more realistically around N3-N2. After all, even the students from Inalco (which is one of the best institutes for doing a Japanese degree, I believe) are only expected to reach N2 after three years, and they’re studying the language and culture full-time!

(On that note, perhaps that means that I’m gonna have a little trouble finding classes that really help me to progress while I’m at my new school, because I’m pretty sure I’m already around N2. I’m just lacking conversation and writing practice… Oh well, hopefully the teachers will be happy to see a student who’s enthusiastic about the language and offer suggestions for my N1 preparation – I want to get the N1 before I graduate, in two years’ time at the very latest.)


I’m not all that familiar with that track, but I thought that there were many ‘subtracks’ within the prépa, no? So, for example, if you were following an engineering track, I would imagine that a language course, such as Japanese, would be completely removed from your main degree. Although, I could be pushing my Anglo-centred assumptions upon the French educational paths. Is it more holistic at a prépa class / grand école? And hence the language parts would contribute towards your degree?

Sorry if this is a little convoluted, I’m just trying to get a feel for how it works. :sweat_smile:

Also, just a more general question: would you recommend the CPGE? I don’t know anyone else who has done it, so it would be interesting to hear your opinions.

(Btw, if you want, you can reply on the POLLs thread so we don’t usurp this thread’s subject. :sweat_smile: This isn’t to say you must reply of course :wink:).

That was a mistake on my part I was referring to the LLCER but I didn’t know the exact name of the licence I usually just call it Licence-(Whatever language you are taking in your LLCER) and Université de (your LLCER language) I didn’t know about Inalco but after looking it up that’s what I was talking about yes.

1 Like

Agreed- I did evening classes for a while and it really boosted my listening&speaking abilities compared with just reading by myself!

Also, one day another student brought in homemade Japanese cheesecake. Mmmmmm so jiggly :yum:


Perhaps a minor? there are many people fluent without college classses. I was going to get one but as a a transfer I did not have time.

I love learning Japanese but academia ruins it for me, such a bore for me, be wary of this. The way I see it Japanese in a classroom is way diffrent and unrealisitc to real world Japanese.