Why are you *really* learning Japanese?

I didn’t have any reason to outside of at the time I wasn’t doing anything in my life and wanted to commit to something with some sort of end goal. Now, it’s out of necessity, because half my family only speaks Japanese and I live here.

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I’m a Japanese Brazilian. My grandparents came from Japan. Learning Japanese is a way for me to connect with my heritage, learn about my ancestors’ cultural legacy and connecting with my parents and extended family. I’ve never been really close to my father, but now that I am 40 and he is 70 I am finally able to get closer to him, talk to him more about Japanese and everything else. He is a native Japanese speaker BTW and I can always ask him for help when I need. Learning new kanji every day is a good excuse for me to go and share with him all the fun and excitement I’ve had.

I also love Japanese video games. I intend to play some obscure Japanese video games that have never been translated in the future when I am ready.

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Yeah, the students here rarely get a chance to speak in English much in class. When I’ve observed English classes performed by Japanese teachers, it’s like 90% Japanese and only 10% English :frowning:

For me, I’m a little like you in that I mostly want to improve my receptive skills… but for me it’s so I can understand my family at home (Japanese wife and step-sons) and what happens in public. For my long-term goals, I’m interested in being able to speak more fluently… but at home I want my family (wife, stepsons, and my toddler) to hear English as much as possible, so I’m not really motivated to speak it at home much. In public, however, I would like to interact better.

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This is a cool thread :slight_smile:

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My real reason is probably residual guilt. My (Japanese) wife and I have been married for over ten years. Her English is pretty much perfect and meanwhile I am only able to speak in very short sentences or small phases. Its not that I haven’t put the effort in over the years, but I get burnt out after a month or so usually. I do feel I owe it to her to be able to hold a day to day conversation in Japanese. There are auxiliary reasons of course, but it boils down to I’d like to be able to sit down for coffee with my father-in-law and carry on conversation.

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I wanted to find something interesting to do to kill time at work, and succeeded tremendously.

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Once you get to around level 40, I recommend using iTalki to practice speaking. You can choose your teacher and choose how you want the lesson to go. Been at it for a week and it’s helped a lot already with my speaking skills.

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When I was a kid, I used to say how great it would be to visit Japan. The culture was always fascinating, the history is amazing, and there’s so much I’d love to see. I kept telling myself, “If I want to go to Japan, I should learn Japanese”.

Some things happened, and my dreams had to be on hold for a while. Things spiraled and I lost sight of my dream. I was happy with what I knew, but that was just the end of it for me. A friend of mine bumped into me online not long ago and asked if I could speak Japanese yet. I had to shamefully say no. He didn’t ask questions, but I knew he had to wonder why years had passed with no progress.

But then I too had to wonder, why had years passed with no progress? Why wasn’t I succeeding? And the simple answer was that I wasn’t trying. You can’t succeed what you don’t attempt.

That said, I am going to pass the N1. I’m going to go to Japan. I no longer say, “I want to learn Japanese” I say “I’m learning Japanese”. I no longer say, “I want to go to Japan”, now it’s, “I’m going to go to Japan”.

But now I’m left wondering, will I go there to visit or look for work to stay? I’m a native English speaker, so I know jobs exist as an English teacher. I don’t currently have long term goals career-wise. I’m single with no real ties to anything. I’m happy where I am, but I feel like there’s more for me. So for now, I’m learning Japanese to go to Japan. Once I get that far, I’ll decide where it takes me from there.

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I’m sure I answered some variant of the question in depth a while back, so I’ll write the short version. Initially, my reasons were similar to the majority - between the anime boom in the early 2000s and learning about Japanese culture via world history at school (stereotypical stuff that mostly applied to the older eras, to be fair), it sounded like a cool new world I wanted to be a part of.

Fast forward a bit to when I made it to Japan, and I try nearly all the traditional Japanese things that most Japanese people don’t have experience with (nihonbuyo, kyudo, sado, kotsuzumi, bonsai, manual rice planting and harvesting, etc.).

I do all these things and don’t formally study (studied for 3 years at university) and admittedly think it’s unnecessary because I have more knowledge and experience than the average ALT, and I could get by on what I knew already, so why study?

Fast forward to the present. I met my (Japanese) husband, we have a baby together, and things start getting real that I’m now a mother living in Japan and have a fast growing baby girl who’s going to need help with her homework when she gets to that point.

Bullying is a big problem in Japanese schools, especially towards foreign and mixed children. If my daughter’s Japanese pronunciation is weird, it would be my fault but the kids don’t make that connection. They just see: your Japanese isn’t perfect because you’re not actually Japanese.

Plus I can’t just rely on Google Translate forever when I get a notice in Japanese. A lot of the times, school notices (or teacher’s notes in the renrakucho) are handwritten so translation devices can’t pick that up anyway.

That actually turned out longer than intended, but reaching advanced understanding of Japanese (essentially native-level) is a necessity now. I just kick myself because if I hadn’t been so full of myself when I first came Japan, I would’ve reached that level by now. This is why you should never compare yourself to others, kiddies!

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When I was a kid, lots of the things I loved came from Japan. Anime, my favorite video games, music… It was cool, maybe because it felt so foreign and exciting. It was really shallow, looking back on it, to be so obsessed with everything Japanese purely for those reasons. When I went to college I met a girl who was doing an Asian Studies major and decided to poke around through her notes, picking up bits and pieces of Japanese for fun. It was cute to call each other あなた and act like we knew what the hell we were talking about, but the hardcore interest lasted as long as our relationship, and I stopped shy of 50 kanji and a couple useful expressions.

I didn’t sit down to formally study Japanese until two years ago, when I realized that I hated my job and wanted to do something different. I sat down, looked back over my life at the things I loved most, and realized that in some way they all connected back to Japanese in some manner. Whether painful or pleasant, those memories were all tangled up in it somehow or other. So I decided I would learn Japanese, and eventually transition from data analysis to teaching English abroad. In those two years I’ve studied enough to try the JLPT N3 this winter with reasonable confidence that I’ll pass, and I’m getting my TEFL certification so that I can teach English overseas. I’ve got a ways to go before I get to my goals, but when you’re passionate about something it never feels like work.

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I’ve been in a slump for the past 4-5 months, unable to really motivate myself to continue precisely because I couldn’t answer this question.

I embarked on this journey at a time when I was consuming asinine amounts of anime… in 2020. I was experiencing unhealthy amounts of stress and anxiety due to college, and thus I bit the escapism craze in its fullest. It was at this time that I pondered “If I consume so much content, why don’t I try to learn the language?”. I was aware that it was going to be tough, though that didn’t hinder me, it even encouraged me. Zucc learns Chinese, why can’t I Japanese?

I managed to maintain a relatively steady pace (albeit with a break to fix my lack of grammar, which made things painful), until my uncle really challenged me on why I do this. His stance on the matter was basically “why not German”, which really made a lot more sense - Germany/Austria is only a few hours away by plane. I could even drive there if needed. The work-life balance isn’t bad as Japan. I generally like the germanic cultures. Overall those are better options for emigration. My uncle reminded me of the notion of a “cost of opportunity” and implied I should rethink this.

This is the point where I considered quitting, over the period of several months. Things weren’t looking good:

  • my initial motivation of learning for anime completely vanished, as I got to a better place mentally, and even could not stand most of the escapist tales and cliche’s found in anime. What I used to binge for an entire day is nigh-on-unwatchable now. There’s barely anything out there that sparks my interest…
  • some counseling revealed that I have self-destructive tendencies, and the way it manifests is that I set expectations way too high - In this case I was drawn to Japanese over German because it was 3-4x as hard. Rationally, this wasn’t the best life decision / the most efficient use of my time.
  • I won’t get much from learning this language. My location doesn’t have much presence in terms of Japanese culture as California. I don’t want to emigrate to Japan. The plane trip is long so maybe I’ll visit it a couple of times, but likely nothing more than that.
  • I don’t even need this language. Some people here are learning because their spouse is Japanese. I don’t know anyone that’s Japanese and I likely never will considering my situation.

Having these fake reasons figured out, I managed to discover the true reasons of why I’m learning it:

  • I seem to simply like learning languages. I remember fondly how I conversed with my best friend in high school almost exclusively in English, for no other reason than just for the fun of it. We both enjoyed practicing it. It was challenging and rewarding for both of us. I also remember how, when I was much younger, would play a lot of video games and had to struggle a bit due to not knowing the language, and gained vocab through this. I liked having to untie in my head sentences with words or constructs I did not know. Now that I am fluent in English, I yearn to go through that process again, and feel that pleasure once more.
  • In the same vein as the point above, Japanese is just so different from European languages. With Italian for instance, I could pick it up simply through “osmosis”, since it shares the same roots as my own language. Grammar is similar, words are similar, etc etc. Largest Romanian diaspora is in Italy and Spain for a reason. With Japanese I have to start from square 1 and reason from there, which is neat! I get to see languages in a more abstract manner. For the programmer folk, I get the same feeling of satisfaction from learning this language as the first time I learnt functional programming and Haskell - frustrating at first, undoubtedly, but rewarding. Even if I haven’t since then written a single line of Haskell professionally.
  • I generally like Japanese culture. I find it interesting, and learning the language allows me to experience it first-hand, instead of having it interpreted in English. Knowing the language also allows me to get a glimpse into the zeitgeist of the Japanese collective unconscious. I get to know a culture that’s radically different from American culture in certain areas, and with this contrast, I better understand my place in this world.
  • I just like the kanji. I admire the compactness of them, and think they’re beautiful. I even bought a brush recently to do some scribbling. Mind you, I went from “why didn’t the Romans invade Japan to civilize them (spread the latin alphabet), why did they have to pick Chinese characters, why are they stubborn and don’t want to romanize like Vietnam, why, WHY” to actually admiring the writing system. It’s a workable mess, sure, but so is software XD.
  • There’s a lot of exported media in japanese, way more than in french, german or chinese (tried picking up each of these, but gave up due to lack of content to immerse into)
  • I already embarked on this journey (1.5y), and it would be a pity to give up now, right when I’m just starting to become capable of consuming content.

With this framing, I feel at peace. I can finally do my reviews out of sheer pleasure, not out of guilt or having it feel like work. Even though I don’t enjoy anime like I used to, I can still enjoy it by watching it with Japanese subtitles. Kind of like how you can still enjoy some almost-stale leftover rice and meat if you stir-fry them. And I won’t pay for a teacher, I yearn to learn the language by myself and experience the fun of figuring it out.

I initially embarked on this journey with the expectation that I’ll finish WK in just above a year, and somehow prove something by doing this. Now I’m comfortable with cruising along at a lower pace for the rest of my life.

Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.

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I honestly don’t think I’d have the motivation to learn Japanese if I didn’t live here. The only reason I’m learning is because I want to fully experience living in Japan and not stick to the convenient English bubble that exists here. I want to be fully independent and confident to do things on my own without the help of my partner or friends. So basically I’m learning it to survive which is a pretty big motivator.

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Thank you! And great analogy :slight_smile: With studying itself I do have a lot of set goals. Finish each WK level within a certain time period, doing 1 grammar lesson per day, doing my Anki coredeck every day… but I don’t have a clear target on what I want to achieve. I would love to read some untranslated visual novels later on, but I know it will take me a couple of years before I can read those kind of fluently.
For me learning Japanese is simply fun and fascinating.

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I’m learning because it’s good for me and because I enjoy it.
They say that learning a new language improves memory and cognitive ability.
I like having something unique about me (relative to the people around me).
I like having a long-term goal.
I like Japanese culture and I want to understand Japanese people. Make learning it enjoyable.
It’s a nice thing to mention in an interview that I’ve been studying Japanese for years.
I want to be able to take and pass the JLPT eventually.
Eventually, I want to go to Japan and fully understand the people there.

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Well, it’s a myriad of things really! I found a love of language learning my freshman year of college with French and after I got a good handle on French, I thought to myself that learning Japanese would be fun to better engage with anime and things like that and it would help broaden my understanding of linguistics (a hobby of mine). Bad idea! Incredibly hard to juggle learning two languages at once, but when I started feeling disheartened with French around my late sophomore year, I really poured my heart and soul into Japanese and made some big progress. Eventually I had to put Japanese aside to focus on my French because it was taking too much energy for what was ultimately a low level priority, (everything I wanted to engage with I technically could lol). As my college career continued on I picked up a real love for history and particularly the history of east Asia, taking a few courses on the history of Japan and China to round out an Asian studies minor. After graduation and starting my grad program in French, I thought it was a real shame that I had let all my effort in learning Japanese essentially go to waste. So, now that my level of fluency in French is much higher and requires a lot less active study, I decided to come back to Japanese.

In short, the usual stuff when it comes to anime and music and the like (with a particular penchant for vtubers haha), a fascination with the linguistic curiosities of Japanese (of which there are many), and an interest in Japanese history have all led me to recommence my studies. With a special mention to a friend I made by chance who is also a native Japanese speaker, her encouragement and assistance is a huge motivator for something that would otherwise be pretty solitary study!

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For me, it’s all about listening comprehension. :headphones: And that’s because I fell in love with Japanese voice acting and audio dramas. As I’ve achieved that goal, I’ve moved onto the more long-term goal tough of being able to read pure text, and I guess, I’m finally starting in on that right now in the Flesh&Blood book club. But, as you might suspect, these are receptive skills, which is fine for me as well. Japanese for me is the key for my love of Japanese media. ^^

Though, I’m actually planning on going to Japan in the coming years no, so training speech is defo on my to-do-list. I’m going to rejoin the local Japanese language café for that I think (people/strangers meet up at a local café to speak various languages, among them Japanese, different languages depending on which day. Which is a great way to just train using Japanese more spontaneously :slight_smile: even if it’s not all correct Japanese. But, the few times I’ve went it was fun and relaxed and a good way to just get over the nervousness of using Japanese. )

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My reasons are wabi-sabi, Japanese architecture (traditional and the modern blending of old and new; also the blending of inside and outside), ukiyo-e, and Japanese gardens.

As a teen, I enjoyed reading some translated manga, and watched some subbed anime; and, of course, I was into the whole ninja and samurai thing. But I never thought about learning Japanese at that time. But it did instill enough of an interest that as an optional course at college I picked a course named: Japanese art, architecture and visual culture.

I picked it mostly for the visual culture part (covering manga and anime), but that part of the course used such a dry book of collected essays from different people that I ended up just skimming over that part of the course. (Honestly, the people that wrote those essays apparently wanted to make manga/anime boring, it seemed like to me. :joy:)

But I fell in love with the art portion (that covered quite a bit of history too since it went through art through the ages), and the architecture (which included Japanese gardens).

And that is honestly the reason I decided to learn Japanese. I wanted to read about history, architecture and art in the original language, knowing that very little source material ever get translated.

Only as I truly got into the language did I for real fall in love with manga so that is now also a reason for learning. And the more I’ve learnt of Japanese and Japan in general, the more curious I’ve become about novels from Japanese authors, because culture shapes stories a lot. So now I want to read those too.

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I started off just wanting to be able to read Japanese way back when but never really did much about it. Then I lived there for two years as an ALT (2015-2017) - I went from having no Japanese to spending a lot of of my spare time studying. Not so much to read anymore but to actually communicate and have conversations with my colleagues/friends.

Since moving back to the UK its only become more important to me that I keep those communication skills up - I do conversation classes on iTalki every week - but I have got back into reading more recently (especially after taking the N3 and noticing my reading speed was not as good as I originally thought). Honestly my reasons differ depending on my mood and what my current language learning goals happen to be!

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I don’t know if my story would matter, but perhaps someone has a similar history.

First studying about the language was 10 years ago or so, just before visiting a science exhibition in Japan. I studied some Kana and grammar, but Kana was just a good as guesswork, and Katakana was so bad and broken. (Yeah, somehow I did well in science competitions as a child.)

Afterwards, I got into exchange programs as a university student. Perhaps I was a little better, but not so much. Even if I was quite a lone type, I learnt to survive (and travel alone) with an iPhone dictionary app.

The time with WaniKani was after that. I felt so failed with my studies, and wanted to improve my memory and study methods. (The truth is perhaps, each field has their own good study methods; and what matters most is, why not just focus on that field?) Also to say that I might be good at academic as an adolescent, but not so much as an adult.

Then now, the time has passed, and I want to complete my past. I don’t want to half-know Japanese, and not being useful with it. So, I resumed studying Japanese totally around almost 1 year ago, focusing most on being able to read anything, with speed and accuracy. (But I have always believed, that a language might be better to study all around, rather than denying some other aspects.)

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The myths and stories got me interested in Japan to begin with. Hearing conversations in Japanese, watching anime, and seeing how the writing is completely different piqued my interest. I tried learning and lost interest very quickly on several occasions. Then I found out that the culture is so different from the US that I threw myself headlong into it wanting to learn more.

I’ve started learning the histories of other countries as well, but Japan has most of my attention. I’ll probably never visit Japan (not at least in a working age…), but to be able to converse with someone on the other side of the world in another language I’d like to be able to do, cultural exchange, etc.

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