Is studying Japanese worth it?

In the years that I’ve studied Japanese, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve thought this to myself.

Sometimes, the question took different forms.

Can I really learn Japanese?

Will I ever really learn Japanese?

It doesn’t help that if you look these things up on Google, you find websites, comments, etc. that basically tell you, No, it’s not worth it. Spend your time learning four Latin languages rather than just Japanese. Spend your time learning computer programming. Spend your time doing something practical.

Personally, I disagree. However, the basis for my disagreement is far from practical.

Why I Think Studying Japanese Was Worth It

Last week, my girlfriend and I bought one-way tickets to Thailand. We’re planning to go, and that is the entire extent of our plan. We don’t know where we’re going to live. We don’t know how long we’re going to stay. We’re just going to go to Thailand and, I don’t know, see what happens, yeah?

There is one thing that I’m planning to do in Thailand, though: I plan to learn the Thai language.

As of now, I have officially been studying Thai for about two days. And I can honestly say that it is one incredibly intimidating language to learn.

Some reasons Thai is super difficult:

  • For one thing, Thai pronunciation is a nightmare. There are five tones–high, mid, low, rising, and falling.
  • Romanization of Thai letters has many pitfalls.
  • Learning to read in Thai takes quite a solid time commitment.
  • After listening to the lowest-level lesson on ThaiPod101.com about five times over, I still can’t pronounce (or remember) a single word.

However, because I have already learned Japanese, learning Thai is not at all intimidating for me.

Studying Japanese, I was able to:

  • Learn well over 2,000 Kanji characters in under 100 days (after failing and starting over about 47 times).
  • Learn well over 10,000 vocabulary words using Anki, the love of my life.
  • Learn and comfortably use what is purported to be an incredibly difficult grammar set.
  • Reach a level of comprehension where I understand almost all of the Japanese I hear on TV, with friends, at work, etc. (there are exceptions for this–unfamiliar, specialized topics; some dialects; dated Japanese). Shoutout to JapanesePod101.com!

If I could do that, then surely I could learn Thai, right?

More than anything, this is why learning Japanese was “worth it” for me:

I managed to do something that I never dreamed I would be able to do.

It has given me confidence. And maybe confidence is not a measurable benefit, but it does make me a happier person in general.

It has helped me realize that doing what you love is always more important that doing what you’re supposed to do. Well, 99% of the time, yeah?

In the (roughly) 3-4 years that I’ve studied Japanese (I quit and restarted in that time span a few times, too), I could have reached a comparable level of fluency in at least three or four European languages.

But I don’t love European languages. I love Japanese. So that’s what I studied. Because it’s pretty rare to regret giving time to the people and things that we truly love.

Thinking About Why You’re Studying Japanese

If you find yourself asking that question, “Is studying Japanese worth it?” then maybe you should take a step back and ask yourself two other questions, instead:

Why am I wondering if it’s worth it?

For me, every time I wondered that, it was just because I was afraid. I was afraid that I couldn’t do it. I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough.

If fear is the reason you’re asking yourself this question, then don’t quit studying. You can do it. You are good enough.

Why do I want to learn Japanese?

If you want to learn Japanese for practical reasons, then you should quit now. Yes, there are many practical applications of Japanese. There are jobs, promotions, etc.

But based on the required time-commitment, I don’t think that studying Japanese is worth it from a practical perspective.

If you want to learn Japanese because you love the language, because you love the culture, Tokyo, anime, manga–whatever–then you should not quit. Because doing things you love will make you happy.

Ultimately, though, it’s your decision.

Keep swimming!

Much Love, Niko

p.s. Get you some free learning goodness here:

External Sources

Totally-Worth-It Team

Maybe-It’s-Not-Worth-It Team


Yo! I'm Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I'm also a Japanese translator, writer, and all-around language nerd.

I created this site to help as many people master Japanese (any language, really) as possible.

Uh, what else? Well... I live in Tokyo, Bangkok, Sapporo, Saigon, San Diego, Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Portland, Oregon! So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I'm probably down for that. Or a coffee. Learning Japanese is tricky-tikki-tavi. But we're in this together. ファイト!

Good luck with your studies!


p.s. If you like my articles, you may very well love my daily lessons.