Should I Study Spanish or Japanese?

I have to study a foreign language for at least a semester in college and I’m trying to decide between Spanish and Japanese. I turn to you, dear reader, for advice and insight.

My goals, in ranked order of importance:

  1. Fulfill foreign language requirement in college
  2. Study abroad and be able to speak local language
  3. Become fluent in another language for this sake alone
  4. Use my language skills in business / work

Current language skills:

Throughout middle and high school, I studied Spanish. I did OK in Spanish classes — I wasn’t terribly motivated to be proficient, but 7 or 8 years of academic study has given me a reasonable base of vocabulary and some basic grammar. I’d say I’m a 5 out of 10 on the Spanish proficiency scale.

Why I wouldn’t just study Spanish:

Last fall, I visited Japan for two weeks. I loved Japan. Whereas Spanish can hardly qualify as a foreign language in California — it is very much part of our culture, especially in the service industry — Japan and Japanese language struck me as exotic, tremendously different, and a real challenge to digest. A challenge with a payoff, though, for with the language you gain access to a wonderful culture and country.  For these reasons, I had been planning on studying on Japanese in college.

Why I’m having second thoughts about Japanese:

A few weeks ago I visited Mexico and discovered how much Spanish I actually knew and that with a couple years of concerted focus I could probably become fluent. I’ve also been thinking about how Spanish continues to penetrate all aspects of the U.S. — well beyond mere blue collar labor. Finally, while I love Japan, I also recognize how much time and energy it will take to become fluent in the language starting at ground zero. It would be an intensive effort that would come with tradeoffs.

So that’s where I’m at. I’d like to commit to whatever language I begin studying in college. I need to decide soon.

Thoughts from language-buffs, speakers of either Japanese or Spanish, or anyone else would be appreciated.

52 Responses to Should I Study Spanish or Japanese?

  1. Anonymous says:

    If you want a useful business language, learn chinese.

  2. Sean S. says:

    Keep in mind, you’re not necessarily eliminating the possibility of learning one language, by choosing to take the other in college. I’ve heard good things about the Rosetta Stone Language programs. http://www.rosettastone.com

    So much of learning can be done outside of school, if you’re motivated to do so, so I wouldn’t sweat this decision so much. Maybe take the language that you feel will be more difficult, because at least in school you’ll have a teacher to help you through your questions.

  3. Zoli Erdos says:

    If you want to speak the language of the next economic super-power, you might as well learn Chinese – I mean Mandarin.

    But if it’s a one-semester effort only, don’t bother with either that or Japanese, just polish up your Spanish :-)

  4. Shawn Tooley says:

    I would agree with the last post. With your background in Spanish–some work on your own and you could master it. Japanese would be really difficult–but a worthwhile journey (Just my opinion!). By the way–can’t wait to pick up your book!

  5. a0z0ra says:

    Definitely Mandarin. It would take you places.

  6. I agree with Zoli that if your plan is to take a foreign language for only one semester, you should just keep studying Spanish. One semester wouldn’t make Japanese worth it.

    If you’re really interested in learning Japanese, however, and you want to learn it–I would go for it. Maybe even second-major or minor in it.

    I wasn’t thrilled with Spanish either in high school, but when I started taking Homeric Greek in college for a change, I loved it so much that I threw my heart into it. I ended up learning much more than I did in any of my other classes. It wasn’t a waste of time (even though no one can speak it) because learning the language was so challenging.

    As a bonus, my ancient Greek has made learning other languages much easier. It saved me almost 7 weeks when I started learning German, and I’m the only native English-speaker in my class who understands the hard grammar concepts right away.

    If you’re prepared to go for it, take Japanese. It will be an incredible experience, and will make other Asian languages easier in the future. Besides, you mentioned that Spanish wasn’t catching your fancy, so you should try something else to see how it goes.

    • james says:

      Really your post is really very good and I appreciate it. It’s hard to sort the good from the bad sometimes.You definitely put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    I’m not interested in Chinese. It’s a fascinating country but I didn’t like it enough to want to spend extended periods of time there.

    I plan to study a language for more than just a semester.

    Thanks guys.

  8. First don’t bother to learn languages that are spoken in only one country (Swedish, Japanese, etc.)
    Second, after Chinese and English I believe Spanish is spoken by more people (more than Hindi).
    Third, having worked in Japan for 10 years, you can never assimilate into that culture no matter how good your Japanese may become.
    Fourth, visit China and then decide if you want to learn Japanese.
    Recommendation–polish up your Spanish for a couple of semesters and learn Chinese as a basic part of your business curriculum

  9. Jason Burton says:

    I would agree with the previous posters in that you seem to have a good base in Spanish, so taking Japanese in school might be the better choice. It seems to me that Spanish would be easier to just “pick up” on your own anyway as it is similar to English. Japanese, however is very different so a structured program may be beneficial.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I took Japanese.

    Spanish is much more useful than Japansese.

    I recommend Spanish.

    I bet there is a higer percentage of Japanese speakers who know English than Spanish speakers who know English.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Japanese takes more effort than Spanish too. I took three years of Japanese, and I can’t even ask where the bathroom is. My teacher was bad, but the point remains: the same amount of effort will take you farther in Spanish than in Japanese.

    Sayonara.

  12. Doug says:

    I’ve been taking Spanish forever (still don’t know much), but it can come in really handy. It isn’t as nice to say “I can speak Spanish” as it is to say “I can speak Japanese”, but when it comes to practical living in our country, I think Spanish is the way to go.

    Plus, Spanish will only become more and more common as time goes on.

  13. Denise says:

    Remember that learning Japanese involves learning another alphabet as well. That’s a hurdle you don’t have with Spanish.

    Plus, it depends upon what school you are going to exactly, but I know when I was in the UC system (Univ of California) you could also satisfy the foreign language requirement by taking computer programming classes. Is that something that interests you?

  14. Sleepless in Seattle says:

    If your Spanish is serviceable, then the marginal utility of Japanese 101 versus Spanish 201 is equal. However, if your Spanish is almost good enough to use, then the extra semester of Spanish has the bigger potential payoff.

    In physicist Richard Feynman’s improbably-named memoir, he recounts a similar dilemma from his days at Cornell. On the first day, he saw a hot chick going into Portuguese 101 and he momentarily considered switching out of Spanish before cooler thoughts overcame him. Ironically it was Portuguese that he needed to pick up when work took him on an extended stay in Brazil.

    If your main goal is to satify a foreign language requirement, attend both classes on the first day. Make a decision based on which professor is more engaging. This is a good policy whatever the subject. Prod your advisor to tell you which professors in other departments are the star lecturers and which are deadwood.

    A dirty little secret about course schedules at liberal arts colleges: to balance out enrollments, it is common for administrators to schedule the lousy professors at the most popular time slots. If you have to choose between Chem 101 sections at 8am and 11am, get out of bed early.

  15. Frank Bascio says:

    If for whatever reason you don’t have an interest in China, might I recommend Taiwan. The food is amazing, the weather tolerable and the people could not be nicer.

    Frank

  16. Ryan Johnson says:

    3 Reasons for Spanish

    *leads easily to other Romance languages, especially Portuguese
    *Allows useful trips to over 20 countries
    *much easier

    3 Reasons for Japanese

    *If you want to spend time in Japan, Americans that do love it, and my friends report that Japanese girls love Americans that can speak Japanese.
    *More impressive
    *While China is booming, Japan is about to go on an upswing, and it is much easier to do business there than China.

    Two good choices. In the end I think that the difficultly of Japanese makes Spanish the choice. Not only will it be hard to adjust to the characters of Japanese, but to get to a business level requires an even higher level of difficulty that would require perhaps an unrealistic time investment.

    I learned Spanish in Mexico and Chile and then started learning Portuguese and am spending a year in Brazil. Between those three places and all the Spanish opportunities in the US, I feel it equals the opportunities of a place like Japan.

    Love the blog, this is my first comment but I’m a longtime reader. Keep it up and enjoy the start of school. Ryan.

  17. Jude says:

    I like learning languages. I took Russian, Latin, Navajo, Ute, Spanish, and German. Out of all of those, the only one I speak besides English is Spanish.

    From my perspective, you should study Japanese. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to improve your Spanish over the rest of your lifetime because Mexico is next door and Spanish is all around you in California.

    I think it’s productive to study a language that doesn’t have as many cognates as Spanish. It’s more than learning the words and the structure of the language–it’s learning the thought process that goes with, say, classifying everything as feminine or masculine–how would that affect one’s thinking? If you’re intrigued by Japanese, then go for it. There are no rules that you have to go through life only learning one language.

  18. Sleepless in Seattle says:

    One more thing:

    If you go with Spanish, don’t be discourged if you fail to place into the level you expect. As a general rule, one year of HS Spanish = one semester of college Spanish, but for institutional reasons, the department needs to fill its lower-level “service” courses (i.e., 100- and 200-level courses). You can always supplement with excursions to the local cantina.

  19. José Lora says:

    I know the feeling of being interested in several things at the same time (in this case languages) and having a finite amount of time to pursue them. As a native Spaniard who took Japanese during graduate school, I can tell you that Japanese and Spanish have more in common than you think. They look quite different, but their grammars and pronunciation are actually remarkably parallel. My advice: take Spanish now. Because you are from California, Spanish is not a black box for you; you have certain base. Get good at it: there are many Americans who can speak “un poquito”, but in reality that usually amounts to “nothing”. You will have plenty of opportunity to practice later, for work, and just for fun. Get good at it, and you’ll find that when you think in a foreign language you will think slightly differently; in a way, you will be a slightly different person. I think you have a better shot at that with Spanish than with Japanese. And if you are still intrigued in the future, your Spanish will help you learn Japanese.
    On a different note, your book is terrific.

  20. Shoji says:

    I vote for Spanish:

    Do all you can to become fluent; there are many opportunities in CA to practice and use the language (the single most important way to gain fluency). Speaking Spanish will only become more important in the USA (and doing business in the USA). It will also provide a great foundation for picking up other romance languages.

    Spanish affords many different cultural and historical experiences. Central and South America have diverse offerings as well as Spain. The dialects you’ll hear will be a challenge!

    As a self-described “book slut”, I wonder if reading Garcia Marquez in his language isn’t reason enough!

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the same opportunities exist for learning Japanese.

  21. Alex(themak) says:

    I’m going to attend a two week intensive course on East Asian languages with nagty[effectively a Summer Camp at a University] this summer (Japanese and East Thai) and thought to explain my rationale behind starting Japanese.
    Firstly, it is a more interesting and challenging language which will require the learning of Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. Also it is important to realise that Japanese is a fairly unique language in that it is not classified.
    Besides, why study something that’s going to be so directly useful, that you’re going to pick it up without the need of university; studying Japanese is something which opens up completely different doors to you- your Spanish will remain acceptable and if you wanted to you could probably make a go at studying in Spain after only taking Japanese, but if you leave only Spanish then all you are doing is shutting doors. I know quite a few people who have studied in Japan and they all absolutely loved it and found it an exceptionally fulfilling activity.

    Also, it’s important to add that if you do study abroad after this language course then this will eventually yield fluency on it’s own.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Tally, as of this writing:
    Japanese (3)
    Spanish (8)
    J & S (2)

    In high school, I’m the person people come to for advice on languages to take. I’ll suggest to you Japanese. It’s a fascinating language to study, assuming you have a good teacher. If you do not, then it will be hell. Going back to a previous post, take both languages, and drop out of one if the teacher is bad.

    breaking down your goals…

    –Fulfill foreign language requirement in college–
    Either will do that. If you’re going with the minimum requirement, spanish is the best choice. A semester or two of Japanese will be a waste. Spanish, it will not.

    –Study abroad and be able to speak local language–
    Japan and Mexico are interesting places. However, you already know a lot of Spanish. In preparing to go abroad to Spain/Mexico, picking up the language will be that much easier. Picking up japanese is not without a firm foundation (1-3 years, high school level)

    –Become fluent in another language for this sake alone–
    Then, I would suggest Japanese. The funnest part, for me, is to step in to the mindset behind languages. Japanese is fascinating, especially if you’re a history buff.

    –Use my language skills in business / work–
    Spanish.

  23. Jason says:

    I may be biased seeing how I’m Mexican-American myself, but…

    Take Spanish.

    Certain languages are much easier to absorb than others. Seeing how you have one down pat in certain respects, it’ll be easier to build upon it.

    Besides, if you do intend to stay in California (or even Colorado where this is a huge Mexican population) why would you not want to improve your Spanish?

    Without the constant help of a bilingual friend Japanese would be very, very hard; hardly worth the effort for only two or three semesters. Learning is wonderful, but having some practical skills after is even better.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Pro Spanish:
    – It’s much, much easier – you’ll be able to be more proficient in the same time
    – More useful – opens up the whole of South America, whereas Japanese is spoken only in Japan
    – You already know some, so with further study you could become really good – there’s a huge difference between knowing some spanish, and being good enough to have a real conversation, read books, live there etc
    – Widely spoken in the US, you’ll have more opportunity to practice and use it than Japanese

    Pro Japanese:
    – Completely different from English, will be a new experience
    – Pretty much a necessity if you want to spend some time in Japan

  25. TK says:

    As someone that once had a working proficiency in both languages, I would lean towards telling you to study Japanese.
    As Gringos, we much more easily pick up and learn most flavors of Spanish. We can be exposed to it every day. You can have El Pais delivered to your house day and keep your reading proficiency up.

    Japanese is more difficult and getting some foundation in a classic educational way can help. I never learned to read Japanese and can only read a couple words. I have lost most of my Japanese proficiency because the only time I use it is at a sushi bar.

  26. maria says:

    If it’s only going to take a couple years to get really good at Spanish, maybe you might as well give Japanese a go for a year and see how much you want to commit to it. If it doesn’t pan out you still have 3 years of college left to take Spanish and get good at it.

    Actually, Ben, I think you can’t really make a decision until you sit in on some Japanese and Spanish classes at Claremont. I did a similar thing with German vs. Japanese. Japanese classes at Yale seemed better taught than the German classes, so I went with it.

    Also, San Francisco/California has lots of Japanese people. Of all the places in the US, I’d think it has the most opportunities for Japanese practice.

  27. maria says:

    Another thing though – you would have to spend at least 3 years here to get truly good at Japanese, IMO. 1 year and you’d be conversational. To have business-level J, at least 3 years on top of your 4 years of language study. Either that, or get a Japanese girlfriend living in the US.

  28. Ben-

    My advice is to take all of this advice from everyone with a grain of salt. For example, if this were 1988 people would be telling you to learn Russian, that they are a superpower, that learning it will be *so* important in the years to come. It’s tough to predict what will be *so* important, so when I hear people say that Mandarin is hands down the language to learn I’m at least a bit hesitant.

    The easier choice is trying to continue learning Spanish. You have a base from which to go from, you’re in Cali (where you NEED Spanish), and plus I speak Spanish :-). If you’re going to live in the United States for the rest of your life (or most of it) then I strongly suggest Spanish.

  29. Dario says:

    Ben,

    I’m cheating here in not reading all 25 of the posts that precede mine because I don’t have the time. But I’ll toss my two cents into the ring anyway:

    It’s not worth diverging into a new language that is so much more challenging (to a native English speaker) than another romance language, for only a semester. In my own experience, I took French all through high school and had no particular talent in it or inclination towards it. Then, in college last year, I was faced with the option of taking two years of another language or one semester of French. I chose French, and I actually really loved it and got fairly interested in French lit (I strongly considered pursuing it as a major). You may find that a change of atmosphere also changes your enjoyment of Spanish… and if it doesn’t, then you’ve completed your language requirement and are free to pursue Japanese at your leisure.

    My general take on language study in college, is that while it is immensely valuable, it is one of the subjects that is most accessible outside of the realm of academia and college (I know people say that everything is accessible in the information age, but personally, I’m far less likely to teach myself chemistry in some post-school self-improvement endeavor than I am to get familiar with French again or try out another language).

    Good luck

  30. Yute says:

    I recommend Spanish.

    Being a Japanese myself, I would like to encourage you to study our wonderful language. But studying Japanese would be the object in itself, whereas you are looking for a language as a tool for your life. Spanish would be more useful.

    Another point. Japanese is spoken almost exclusively by the Japanese. Whilst this seems an obvious point, this means that any foreign learner of the language will find it almost impossible to master it to the native’s standard and you will be reminded of it constantly by the natives. It’s a closed langauge, unlike English, Spanish or Mandarin Chinese (to some extent) which are the languages spoken so widely by non-natives that a little effort on your part will go a long way.

    During our lifetime, I think we will witness the height of English as the lingua franca and importance of knowing any local langauge would hit the nadir. Choose the langauge that would open the doors and free you, rather than a langauge that would enslave you (though I have seen a lot of people falling willingly to the demanding mistress that is Japanese language!).

  31. Bob Phoenix says:

    Ben,

    First, you need to go to both classes the first day and check out the professors. Also see where you place with a Spanish placement exam.

    The ideal situation would be to study abroad in both countries. Either 2 semesters or a semester and a summer. Or maybe just work in one of them for a summer and study in the other for a semester. If you have to choose one, I would recommend that you study Japanese for several reasons.

    1) First and most importantly, it was your first choice. I’ve found that your first choice is almost always the right one. Remember that on those multiple choice exams. Listening to second thoughts often leads to wrong decisions.

    2) Knowing how driven you are, you will learn spanish fluently on your own because it will be around you so much in business and you already know some. There are a ton of resources at your disposal for you to learn spanish on your own besides college. Most of the upper level language courses in college are more about reading and history, which is great but does not line up with your goals as much because its doesn’t focus on speaking.

    3) Just because you won’t use Japanese outside of Japan, doesn’t mean that the exercise of learning such a difficult language is futile. It will strengthen your language skills for future learning, it will differentiate yourself from other college students, and it will be a challenge.

    Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom as you know. Try to learn both, but use the help of school to get started with Japanese…besides, i read in a previous post that spanish is more similar to japanese than you would think.

    If I were in your shoes, I would take the Spanish placement exam. You will probably place fairly well given your description. Take a Conversational Spanish for Business course if it’s offered. And throw myself into Japanese.

    I’m studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain this Fall. I’ll let you know how much I learn compared to the Spanish level 4 I reached in college. But out of all this advice, remember to check out the professors, and follow your first instinct.

    Bob

  32. Ben:

    Any reason you can’t study both? Yes, it’d be tough, but there were times when taking a class in say, chemistry, felt like studying another language for me, and it didn’t impact my ability to learn Spanish.

    Each of the two languages offers its own sets of challenges and rewards, but I say go for learning both of them if you can manage.

    Good luck!

  33. Jordan says:

    Ben,
    My gut says try Mandarin as this language can only become more popular. But, since you have experience in Spanish, and don’t have a desire to learn Mandarin, I would recommend mastering Spanish. As you said, it wouldn’t take too long to be fluent in it.

    I would reiterate what some other posters have said, learning a country specific language may not be as advantageous as learning a more global language (ie Spanish). Living in California and speaking Spanish fluently will not only be an asset it may soon be a requirement.

    Those are my thoughts.
    Jordan

  34. andrew says:

    beno- at cmc intor language classes meet 5 days a week early in the morning. I know this is true of the romance languages and of chinese. My friend whos fluent in italian but wanted to pad his gpa had class everyday first semester at 9 am and at 830 am second semester….f-ing sucks considering TNC is on thursday (he managed just fine haha in his own italian way). So thats just FYI.

    Plus beno you know my language take- master english and make your employees and clients do the same. Reject change beno!!! hahaha

    but on a slightly more serious note- while i absolutely love traveling, enjoy immersing myself in other cultures and will do so for the rerst of my life, every encounter ive had with others still say english it the language to know. Everyone strives to learn it. Now while in might iiinteresting and very enlightened of us “Ugly-americans” to put our arm around others and learn another language I think the point of that endevour should be purely cultural not practical. Maybe im way off and in 30 years will be sitting alone because im the only one still talking english but at least ill still have the planet earth dvds and will be able to entertain myself.

    • MARCO says:

      Hi everybody, i vote for Spanish, it is much more spoken worldwilde. Spain is also a beautiful country to visit. I recomend to all of you this school link to idiomas247.com, it was really interesting to attend it for me, and in few months i learnt a lot. Classes are individually taken, and you can decide when to take classes. Enjoy

  35. Dani says:

    I love that folks are quoting Feynman–that’s from one of my all time fave books! I agree that a bad teacher would be torture. We had Japanese at my high school and many kids took it because it was considered the “easy” language choice–not because Japanese is easy, but because no one was expected to master it, so the bar wasn’t set terribly high. I don’t know if this would be the case at CMC. At UW, the “easy out” language is Swahili (!!).

    I’m including a link to one of my favorite blogs, gaijinsmash.net, because it’s written by an American who is living in Japan and is completely hilarious. He has a number of posts about his attempts to become fluent in Japanese grammar, Kanji–the whole bit.

    I’ve heard Spanish can be transmogrified into Italian pretty easily.

    link to gaijinsmash.net

  36. Ben,

    I would study neither…
    I would put the time and effort into studying Chinese. China is the next “Big Economy” and those who know Chinese and have a network in China will be the next millionaire and billionaire people.

    Just my opinion. What do you think?

    Best,
    Scott

  37. Andrew says:

    Ben:

    You’ve got an interesting decision there!

    I agree with the several others that if your doing it to just get the requirement out of the way, go with Spanish… you’ll get more out of it that way since you already know so much.

    But you also should follow your passion – if you “weren’t incredibly motivated” by Spanish, don’t force yourself. Take Japanese if it interests you (but to learn Japanese, you’ll need more than a semester).

    I took four years of German in High School, tested into third year German in college, but was placed in a second year class. Because I was more advanced than the class taught, I was bored out of my mind and dropped German after two semesters. I regret it to this day – I wish I were fluent, but I’m so rusty I still consider myself a novice.

    So I think your decision is really whether you want to commit to a language for your college career or just for a semester. Make that decision, and the language takes care of itself.

    Fair Winds,
    Andrew

  38. heymarci says:

    You are a person who thrives on connecting with other people. With the base you already have in Spanish, why not take it to the next level and increase the number of people you can connect with in California, and so many parts of the world.

    This won’t preclude you from also working on Japanese. But to really get to the level of Japanese where you can forge deep connections with Japanese speakers in their language, you’ll need to go live there for a while and keep on using it.

  39. Matt says:

    Ben –

    I have to agree with most of the other posts… if you’re just in it for the semester, then pick Spanish. If you’re truly interested in delving into a new language, then go for Japanese.

    I was in exactly the same situation when I started school a decade ago… moderate proficiency in Spanish, but an inkling that I wanted something else. I ended up taking four years of Japanese and living in Japan for a summer – it was a fabulous experience and took my understanding of the Japanese culture to a new level. Alex is right, if you get into Japanese it will definitely open you up to other interesting aspects of the culture and the history.

  40. Dave says:

    Check out your local library. I know my local library (Orange County Florida) has Rosetta Stone for FREE online for all library card holders.

  41. Shefaly says:

    Learn German first – the grammar is a super-set of sorts. It makes learning French easy, which makes Spanish a dawdle.

    Why only a semester? You cannot possibly learn anything in one semester if you wish to learn a language to think in it.

    A life-plan to perfect a language differs from a semester like a traveller differs from a tourist (with what I call a done-done check list).

    Good Luck! Bon Chance! Viel Gluck (und Viel Spass!) Shubhkamnayen! Bahati Njema (in a language not on your list but every bit fun)!

  42. Sasha says:

    All the practical reasons people have listed for learning Spanish are valid.

    I still vote for Japanese.

    My big reason is that it will be a more intense, interesting challenge for you. You only have 4 years at school, and I think you’ll get the most out of your limited time there if you push your intellectual boundaries as far as possible whenever you have the opportunity. Japanese will push you further out of your comfort zone. For that matter, studying in Japan will push you further out of your comfort zone than studying in Spain or Latin America would.

    Also, practically, if you ever want to learn Japanese, college is by far the best time to do it. Yes, it’s the best time to become fluent in Spanish too, but Japanese will be harder for you to learn, so it’s more necessary to have the time for intense study, top quality professors, and small class sizess that you’ll find at Claremont McKenna.

    Finally, the first two years of college are the best times to take as many random, interesting, “useless” classes as possible. Some of the classes that seem useless will actually turn out to help you a lot. If you’re lucky, some will change your world outlook or make you rethink your future plans. At the very least, the more varied and different your classes are, the more you’ll learn to think in new ways. You should embrace that.

  43. Aimee says:

    I found your blog through your comments on my friend Maria’s 100kby25 site…I’ve been reading it for a while, but this is my first comment. I always enjoy your posts, though!

    Although I majored in Asian Studies and am functionally fluent in Japanese, I’d encourage you to study Spanish in uni instead. Unless your passion for Japan is so overwhelming that you feel a desire to live here for a longer period of time, I wouldn’t recommend picking up Japanese as a second language. Maria’s thoughts on fluency in Japanese seem pretty accurate to me- to be able to consider yourself truly fluent, you’ll either have to spend several years living here or find a Japanese girlfriend who wants to speak Japanese with you or both. Out of all of the Japanese language learners I’ve met, I can only think of a few who attained a relatively high level of fluency while living in the States (and perhaps studying abroad for a year) and they all had native-Japanese speaking significant others or relatives.

    Another thing to consider is that if you aren’t up to a near-fluent level in Spanish or aren’t prepared to spend a substantial amount of time maintaining your language skills, throwing yourself wholeheartedly into Japanese language study can mean potentially losing a lot of your Spanish. I studied Spanish in middle and high school for several years and was reasonably proficient, but when I decided to focus on Japanese in college, I ended up displacing most of my Spanish since I never used it.

    If you do decide to study Japanese, or both Japanese and Spanish at the same time, definitely take Japanese classes through your college. It’s not a language that can be easily learned through self-study. A possible solution might be to take Japanese classes while studying Spanish on your own and/or joining a Spanish-language club. My college had a French lunch table for non-native speakers, and I bet something like that is available at Claremont as well.

    Take my advice with a grain of salt, though. I’m a little biased…I’m suffering from mild Japan burnout right now. :) And I’m planning to start studying Spanish (or Portugese) again soon.

  44. Elena says:

    Gideon and I were talking about what language I should take next, and we agreed that Japanese is too hard, and that too many Japanese people speak English well, to make it worth it. Spanish is much easier, plus it’s going to become even more important in the US in the future. It’s also better for travel because it’s spoken in Spain and almost all of Central & South America.

    Since you didn’t list challenge as a reason to study a language, I wouldn’t go with Japanese (or Mandarin, for that matter). My experience taking Mandarin vs. French is that Mandarin is probably three to four times as much work to gain the same level of fluency.

    But, to be fair about the relative usefulness of Japanese, I spent an entire semester taking an African language that is only spoken in about half of Nigeria. The class was awesome and I met lots of interesting people (both Nigerian-American and not). Whether it will ever come in handy remains to be seen, but it was a fun intellectual experience.

  45. To polish up you spanish is always a great option, once you have it all figure out you can start learning another language.

  46. I think you’ve to study what you like the most. Talking from my experience, I went to Barcelona to learn sapanish at Bcnlanguages and I enjoyed it. I think it’s a nice language and very useful when travelling.

    Regards,
    Jessie

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