Were My Two Years of Japanese Language School Worth It?

The steps to the Haguro temple, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan

What’s a language school?

There are plenty of ways to learn a new language as an adult, but like getting a six pack, the only way that actually yields results is through hard work and discipline.

The linguistic merits

The first thing every expat with broken Japanese told me when I got to Japan was, “I wish I’d spent more time early on in language school.” I’ve heard it from dozens of people; especially those who have settled down here.

Your fellow students

Japanese schools typically offer group lessons, and how fast you learn is going to depend on your fellow students. Be smart about where you go. Look up class sizes, and try to get information on the average age and most represented nationalities at your school.

Length of study

Then there’s how long you want to spend in school. Here, know what you’re aiming for before you go in. Typically Japanese language schools will offer three-month increments, with the full program from beginner to advanced lasting around two years. At my school, levels 1–3 were beginner, levels 4–6 were intermediate, and levels 7–8 were advanced.

Your overall environment

Moving to Japan to enroll in a language school doesn’t mean you’re going to make the most out of your learning environment. I’ve seen plenty of students come all the way to Japan just to spend all their time with expats in familiar bars and cafes, never having to really push their Japanese beyond grunts and broken sentences.

The financial challenges

If you are from a country that is as wealthy or wealthier than Japan, financially speaking, going to language school will almost never be worth it in the long run. Unless you become a celebrity here, chances are you’re going to spend a big part of your life learning a skill that will open doors to lower-paying jobs than those you could have gotten back home.

The cost of language school

Different language schools obviously have different costs, but most Tokyo schools are somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 JPY per three-month term. Mine was a little over 250,000.

Opportunity cost

The biggest issue however isn’t with tuition or living expenses. It’s with opportunity cost. A quick Econ 101 refresher: Opportunity cost is how much you lose by not choosing an alternative option. For language school, the opportunity cost is phenomenal.

The life experience

The great thing about life is that it’s not all about any one thing. It’s not all about accumulating knowledge, making money, finding love, or travelling the world.

Verdict

If you’re reading this wondering if Japanese language school is right for you, here’s my advice: Write out a set of realistically achievable goals that tie into what you hope to achieve in life. Break those goals into small chunks so that you never find yourself stuck miles away from a destination. Adapt your goals as you go along and get better at your own pace.

Travel | Humor | Language | Society. Writing out of passion. Tokyo-based polyglot with a degree in human rights. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @alexstwrites.

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