Japanese Language Programs Abroad

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A Guide to Learning Japanese Abroad

While only five percent of the world speaks it natively, Japanese is the ninth most popular language to learn in the world. Japan has a strong presence in the global economy, so you can’t go wrong with learning the Japanese language to open doors to a competitive job market. If you’re interested in standing out as a language student abroad, then look no further! Japanese language classes allow you to embrace foreign characters, anime video games, hardcore karaoke nights, and the freshest sushi you’ll ever find.


Japan is the only country that speaks Japanese natively, so attending Japanese language schools are fairly limited. But, with a little research, you’re sure to find the perfect location to suit your needs, whether you want to balance your language studies and navigating wild city life, exploring ancient traditions, or island-hopping in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Head to Japanese language schools in Tokyo, Japan’s modern-futuristic capital city. Tokyo features a contrast of neon-lit streets and mega-skyscrapers, hole-in-the-wall bars and lantern-lit yakitori (grilled chicken) stands. Japanese language students are never bored with many diverse people, activities, and subcultures to explore. They say Tokyo is the best city for learning Japanese for beginners, as they use the standard dialect, and students will have infinite opportunities to practice at artisan markets or while geisha-watching beneath cherry trees.

If you want to avoid the modern city, but still want an immersive experience, try a Japanese language program in Okinawa. Located in the semitropical Southwest Islands, Japanese language schools here help you discover a side of Japan that is not so well known. Coral-fringed islands, primeval forests, white sand beaches, and crystal blue waters create a Japanese paradise that challenge those found in Hawaii and Southeast Asia. While Okinawa radiates a certain “un-Japanese” culture, language students get a genuine Japanese learning experience by stepping away from the major cities where it can be tempting to slip back into English.

For a city-island combo experience, check out Kyūshū. Language students are often drawn to Japan’s southwestern-most main island for its warmth, beauty, excellent cuisine, and friendly locals. Fukuoka is the island’s biggest city, and history lovers will find themselves in heaven here. It is a combination of two former castle towns and is known for its ancient temples, gorgeous beaches, and modern shopping. Practice with locals at a SoftBank Hawks baseball game, a local art gallery, or over a bowl of Hakata rāmen (egg noodles).

While attending Japanese language schools in Japan will allow you to truly immerse yourself in the language, there are other locations that make studying Japanese possible. Japanese language classes are offered in select schools across the United States, and you can practice your new skills with fellow Japanese students from coast to coast. Get lost among skyscrapers in New York City, take in the view of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, or hit up a hole-in-the-wall karaoke joint in downtown Atlanta.

Japanese Language Classes

There’s no doubt that Japanese is a tough language to learn – just turn on Cowboy Bee Bop or take a look at the written characters. Linguists consider it to be a Category-5 language, meaning it takes roughly two years or 2,200 hours of study for the average language student to achieve fluency. Compare this to a Category-1, like French or Spanish, that takes only six months of intensive study, and you’ll know you’re in for a wild ride!

The best way to learn Japanese in Japan is through full immersion. Homestays are the best option option, and students love the perks of a flexible schedule, endless language practice in the homes of their own personal teachers, and traditional Japanese home-cooked meals every night (mochis, anyone?). While there is less structure and privacy in a homestay, students get a full cultural experience outside of their Japanese language courses. You’ll learn more than just the kanji, like when to take off your shoes indoors or how to properly slurp your soba noodles.

For those studying outside of Japan, language classes can be taken at an institution, like a local university or at focused Japanese language classes. Institutions often allow more independence and structure for the students, although Japanese universities often have a laidback atmosphere, rewarding those who have made it through the competitive pre-college education system. Choose a private lesson with your own personal sensei (teacher), a group class for a customized class at a lower cost, or a combination of the two.

Tips for Gaining Fluency in Japanese

Learning Japanese is no joke. The language involves just as much study of nonverbal communication as verbal, and it is essential that language study take place both inside and outside the classroom. Luckily, there are lots of ways to make the effort to learn the Japanese language fun! 

Japanese as a written language is very specific. You must learn the correct strokes of Kanji characters in order to earn their status as a star student. While “bad handwriting” is used as an excuse when writing in the English alphabet and letters take on all forms, the Japanese can tell the difference between finishing a pen stroke with a sudden stop or a swoosh. Learn the strokes in class, or you’ll be considered lazy.

While not very difficult, pronunciation and inflection are key factors when practicing the spoken word in your Japanese language classes. Most classes teach Romanji, the phonetic spelling of Japanese words in English letters, so it’s easy to sound ‘em out— but it’s important to practice daily with native speakers to really learn the Japanese language.

If you don’t choose a homestay, try meeting up with a conversation partner. They’ll enforce correct pronunciation and train your brain to think in Japanese. Conversation partners or host families also teach the nonverbal cues of the Japanese language. Whether you’re picking up social cues on politeness or common sound effects that enter daily speech, you’ll learn a lot that can’t be found in a textbook. 

While attending Japanese language schools in Japan, consciously incorporate language learning into things you like. If you’re a runner, download some Japanese music onto your iPod; if you’re an avid gamer, try switching over to Japanese video games. Turn off the subtitles when you watch the news or learn some slang words during your favorite anime cartoons. And don’t be afraid to get sucked into the karaoke scene, Japan’s unofficial national sport. Not only will you rock what you’ve learned in your Japanese language courses by singing and following the lyrics, but it’s fun – and you’ll impress locals when you can belt out their songs like a pro!

Benefits & Challenges

Japanese may not be the first language that comes to mind when considering language learning abroad. Other languages like Spanish, French, and Chinese are much more popular and widely spoken around the world. Because Japanese is only spoken as an official language in Japan, language students will find narrow location options when choosing a program. You may be limited to a few cities for Japanese schools in Japan, but you will undoubtedly get a unique language experience.

After you get over the initial shock of slurping your food, bowing to strangers, and bizarre foreign characters, you’ll find the Japanese language is fairly easy to learn. Japanese is an organized language with simple sounds and structure. If you take time to learn the patterns and truly dedicate yourself to practicing daily, you’ll find yourself thinking in Japanese in no time! 

While signing up for Japanese language classes requires more time than other languages, it will be a rewarding experience that shows your patience, organization, and dedication. You’ll find yourself embracing a new culture, falling in love with unagi (freshwater eel), and improving your singing voice. “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto” is sure to have a whole new meaning!

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A Guide To
Learning Japanese Abroad


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