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.

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