Terrie's Job Tips -- Learning Japanese – TP’s Experience; Part One: Setting Milestones

Being able to speak Japanese opens so many more opportunities for the foreign worker in Japan, that whenever I get an email asking about jobs here, I invariably advise the person that if they can afford it, they should take an intensive Japanese course first. Of course, the key phrase here is “if you can afford it”. One way to achieve this, and to get to know your future family is to take that time off living for 6-12 months with the in-laws. This will create a full-immersion language lab for you, and provide you with the motivation to learn fast and get out to set up your own home…! :-)

I recently received an interesting letter from TP, who is a consultant and a successful entrepreneur, and who is married to a Japanese medical doctor who has been practicing overseas. As you can imagine, relocating to Japan was a major decision by the couple and they had mutually high expectations about the need for local integration and careers. The problem was that TP had to learn Japanese first. He soon realized that he would have to create a program to learn Japanese, and to follow that program until he reached relative fluency. He outlined for me how he achieved this in a logical manner – and I feel that this could serve as a blueprint for others considering the same course of action.

I’ll let him tell his own story.

[TP] As truly functional Japanese-speaking ability requires a huge investment of time, especially for someone from a non-kanji country, I felt I had to be driven by clear goals and set myself specific milestones to get there. For me, the only acceptable level of Japanese ability would be one that let me act like a fully functional adult in daily life, as well as being able to interact sufficiently to pursue jobs and business opportunities.

Given that acquiring Japanese was going to make me viable in the job market, I reasoned that I should expect to put the same level of effort and time into learning the language as I would in getting a graduate degree. This was helpful in justifying the time and expense.

The milestones that I set for myself were as follows:

1) Kumon Japanese Language Program Completion. I wanted to digest one complete curriculum as fast as possible, and chose the 15-level Kumon Japanese Language program for its flexibility.

2) Intermediate Daily Conversation. Reaching the intermediate conversational level so that I could speak in Japanese with my bilingual Japanese wife on a daily basis. In addition, so that I could interact in Japanese with in social settings.

3) Kanji. Gradually become familiar with all frequently used Jouyou Kanji as individual characters (through Kanji cards while walking), but primarily through frequently used vocabulary.

4) Functional Reading. Initially reading simple personal emails and gradually switching most of my internet info sources from English to Japanese sites.

5) Advanced Daily Conversation. Consolidating my studies with daily practice with my wife and other Japanese friends and acquaintances.

6) Business Reading. Studying business kanji and terminology and beginning to read the Nikkei newspaper and other business related material on the web.

7) Business Japanese (Spoken). Getting started on business Japanese on my own and with retired businessmen tutors.

8) Begin Doing Business for real in Japanese Environment. As soon as possible get to the stage where I could continue my learning while working and interacting in a largely Japanese environment.

[Terrie again]. You’ll note that TP decided to acquire some kanji and reading ability before embarking on a job and learning spoken business Japanese. Personally I recommend a re-arrangement of his milestone sequence so that spoken daily working Japanese should be learned first. Then, after you have found work, you can start studying Kanji sufficiently to be able to read and write. The difference here is due to the fact that most people need to return to the workforce as soon as possible, and 6-12 months is about as long as they can take off. Further, in reality, most foreign firms may require their local hire foreigners to speak Japanese and read a little, but unless you’re being hired as an analyst, they do not expect you to be proficient reader/writer as well.

Next week we look at TP’s study curriculum.