Daily Life & Schools

Daily Life & Schools
How To Improve Your Japanese Skills While Working In Japan (Part 1)
January 12, 2024  |  By Nathan Reinholz

Keeping up with your Japanese studies can be hard once you enter the workforce in Japan. The challenge is even more real if your work environment does not offer the chance to speak Japanese often. 

Work already takes a big chunk of our time and energy, so we know how hard it can be to dedicate some more time to improving your language skills. However, not mastering Japanese at a business level may limit your career opportunities in Japan. 

Start easy and build confidence over regular, consistent study. 

Set Concrete Goals 

First, quickly assess your current knowledge and spot your strengths and weaknesses. You can test yourself with JLPT materials and ask colleagues and friends their opinions. 

Are you confident speaking Japanese but confused anytime you need to read a complicated presentation or contract? Or can you read work documents easily but fail to communicate effectively during meetings? 

Figuring out what you must work on helps set concrete, achievable goals. It also helps to break your objectives down into smaller milestones. Shooting for the JLPT N1 when you’re currently at a JLPT N3 level may be more overwhelming than helpful.

Set a Realistic Study Routine

If you have a regular nine-to-five job, one hour a day of study will be demanding. When you get back on track with your studies, the willingness to do well is powered by enthusiasm and high aspirations. Setting the bar too high could make you trip in no time. One big project at work, a sudden increase in lessons or a nasty cold, and your study plan is down the drain. The demotivation sets in, and your books start collecting dust. 

Be realistic and aim for small incremental steps. Learn five new words every day, or do some shadowing practice for five minutes as you walk to work. You can also simply schedule a 10-minute study session in your day and vary the content. 

Since jumping into your studies after a long day can be challenging, consider studying in the morning, before you head out, or during your commute. You can play with a learning app, watch content in Japanese and try to learn one or two new words. Reading an easy manga or a quick story can also be helpful. You can even scroll through a Japanese website and pick up some sentences here and there.

If you work in a Japanese environment, you can select some work material to go through with a rested mind and assimilate the sentences and vocabulary. Continuing your education is about staying steady when you have a full-time job. Being slow doesn’t matter. The key is consistency.

Align Studies With Career Goals

Whether you have an intermediate or advanced level, focusing on vocabulary and typical expressions related to your work field is a must. This is even more true if you are considering a career change. Showing you understand industry-specific lingo to a recruiter is a sure way to be positively considered for a new role. 

At that level, you will need to deviate from your textbooks. JLPT materials cover the basics of reading comprehension, grammar and listening skills. But they are not enough. A great way to hit two birds with one stone is to read industry-related books, starting with beginner-level books that cover essential vocabulary. While these books may not teach you everything about your job, they will help you become familiar with the terms and concepts you need to know. 

Podcasts and videos are also great for improving your knowledge and listening skills. Add some shadowing to the mix, and you will enhance your speaking abilities.

Consider Taking Classes

If you find it challenging to maintain consistency in your self-study routine and have the financial means to do so, consider hiring a teacher or enrolling in part-time classes. 

Professional guidance can help keep you motivated and accountable. You can also explore taking advantage of your employer’s education benefits. Nowadays, remote classes and freelance teachers are readily available, allowing you to study from home. 

Take a Different Approach to Learning

If you find that books, apps and kanji readers are ineffective in helping you learn Japanese, don’t worry. There are countless ways to learn Japanese; you can use the world as your classroom. You can immerse yourself in Japanese programs, podcasts and manga or join a hiking club if you love the great outdoors. 

Nothing beats having meaningful conversations with experienced Japanese hikers in the middle of the wilderness or conversing with locals in small diners. Hobbies can connect people and ultimately help you improve your Japanese through practice. Plus, the sign-up forms for these activities can be interesting to read!

And if you want even more ideas, we wrote a Part 2 for this article which you can check out here!

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