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5 Tips to Overcoming the Language Barrier

An obvious question posed by non-Japanese-speakers when thinking about a job in Japan: what about speaking the language? No matter what kind of job you are looking for, Japanese will become necessary at some point in your career.
The below are general tips to prepare for starting work in Japan.
Note: this advice column assumes that you have studied some Japanese, and that you are interested in learning more Japanese.

Tip number 1: If you haven’t done so already, study and take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
Not only is it a recognized standard at most companies, but the studying serves as good practice as well. There are lots of print materials available in bookstores and online, and the JLPT is offered in many countries outside of Japan.

Tip number 2: Read Japanese news sources.
The newspaper is a guaranteed method for increasing your vocabulary. Not only is it a good way to study kanji, but being caught up with current events serves as a good resource for conversation topics.

Tip number 3: Watch Japanese television, particularly variety shows.
Like many people living outside of Japan, your main exposure to Japan and Japanese culture was likely through some form of Japanese entertainment. While learning and studying Japanese this way is not bad, it does not serve as a reliable resource for knowing how people actually talk. Getting used to the speed and flow of the conversation in variety shows is good practice for listening to actual Japanese people speak, rather than other forms of Japanese television.

Tip number 4: Practice keigo.
Keigo is a large part of the Japanese language, and different workplaces have differing rules on how to use keigo, but having a basic knowledge is crucial in any workplace. It’s difficult for even Japanese people to learn, so don’t feel discouraged if it takes a while.

Tip number 5: Don’t be afraid to speak.
This is the most important tip, from my own experience and also based on how often language teachers repeat this phrase. Conversation is key to having good office relations; don’t let your embarrassment or fear get in the way of talking to the people around you. Practice makes perfect! The people you’re talking to will most likely be patient with you, and want to know what you have to say.

Note: when living in a prefecture that does not always speak standard Japanese (hyoujungo), this is especially important. Japan has a large number of dialects that sound very different from the Japanese presented in textbooks. Conversation is the best, and possibly only way, to become fluent in the Japanese surrounding you.

While all of the above may already be familiar to you, I hope this helped to give a sense of the different ways to learn Japanese outside of a textbook. Until next time! - N