Maybe you've been studying Japanese for a while. Maybe even a few years. You're ready to make a real commitment to learning Japanese and to living in the country – the best way, of course, is to immerse yourself in the language. Choosing a language school in Japan is an important decision. It's not a small investment, either financially or time-wise, and you'll be committing to a months-long program in a new country.
If you haven't checked out our Japanese Language Schools section yet, or signed up for updates, do it today! We have new schools in Japan onboarding throughout 2021!
You must understand some key things about yourself, your learning style, and your goals in studying at a Japanese language school. The good news is that the overwhelming majority of students who study abroad in Japan experience huge gains in language and life skills, and some even stick around after to work or study further. In all, it is a life changing experience. Let's help make the most of your investment by understanding what key areas you need to look at when choosing a school.
How hard do you really want to work, and how much time do you really have?
An important aspect of choosing a language school in Japan that’s going to suit your needs is figuring out how hard you want to work towards your goals, and also how much time you have.
Some schools are going to be a bit more intensive than others, so if you’re one of those people that has trouble motivating themselves to work hard, do homework and study, then you need to find a school that is a little bit more lax.
If you are not in any hurry to learn Japanese, and want to just enjoy it as it comes, there are plenty of schools out there that offer lessons once or twice a week, so if you want a more leisurely language learning experience, keep this in mind.
However, we don’t all have the luxury of time on our side.
Maybe you are a soon-to-be-graduating student looking to get a job at a Japanese company.
Maybe you’ve got the JLPT coming up.
Maybe the Japanese on your Tinder profile was pushed through Google Translate, but you got a match, and now you’ve got a date coming up, and you’re definitely going to get caught if you don’t do something quick.
This is where intensive study schools come in.
An intensive study school is going to whip you into shape faster than your interviewer can say 自己PRをお願いします。
Many of the intensive Japanese schools are… intense.
These programs can range from short two- to three-week programs to full semester or year curriculums in which you go to school, study for many hours a day, have a lot of homework and (if you work hard) learn a lot about the Japanese language.
Needless to say, if you don’t have a lot of time to devote to studying, this is not the way, and I hate to say it but... You might have to forget your Tinder date.
This type of language study works well for a lot of people, but it does come with its downsides, aside from the obvious time commitment.
First of all, language learning isn’t the easiest thing to rush, particularly Japanese. There’s a lot more to it than languages such as German or Spanish, which are a lot closer to English.
You also might not retain as much as you think you would. Sometimes "crunch" or "cram" studying can be effective short term, but ultimately for some people it doesn't stick.
Japanese is multifaceted. It’s a language that you can learn to speak, even without perfecting its three alphabets (all of which are larger than the English alphabet).
Sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
You can go with a slightly less intense Japanese school and still make huge progress in the language. Time spent talking with friends outside of actual studying, playing games, and even just strolling the streets, can all contribute to a fuller understanding of Japanese.
If you happen to choose a school that some consider "easier" you may not be at a disadvantage in the long run, especially if it suits your learning style and you can stick with it for a couple semesters.
There are countless stories of students slacking off on homework and skipping class for school in Japan that they paid for themselves! That's crazy – it's often because they chose a school that didn't match their learning style and instead of being overwhelmed everyday, they duck out and enjoy the country instead.
We promise you – there is a balance between study and free time that will best suit you. You just have to know yourself and choose the Japanese school in Japan that matches you best.
Where do you want to live? Do you intend to work?
Maybe the bright lights of Tokyo or Osaka have enticed you to look up a Japanese language school from abroad. Or maybe you are looking to experience the quiet life and you'd prefer a study abroad experience in spiritual Kyoto or even the countryside. With such a big difference in potential lifestyle depending on where you live, this may be the biggest factor in deciding which language school you'll choose.
This is another great opportunity to be honest with yourself about what matters to you. If you want to live it up and go to late night karaoke with friends and salarymen, or hit up smoky izakayas and people watch from posh cafes, you're going to want to go very metropolitan. Tokyo, Osaka, and even Yokohama will give you what you're looking for.
However, maybe you want this to be a break from the hustle and bustle, and you see yourself soaking in natural onsens or visiting temples in your free time. You should definitely be looking at Kyoto, Hiroshima, Sapporo, or even some more rural locations. While nothing is too far in Japan (shinkansen!) it can be a bit pricy to zip back and forth to the big city often so be aware of what you're looking for.
Now you know which city or town and which neighborhood you want to be in. What else should you be considering?
Finding a Japanese school that is within your acceptable range of movement from your house when it comes to travel is absolutely essential. We’re currently in the middle of a pandemic, so many of you may have recently become avid bike riders, and as such may be searching for a school within biking distance.
Good call. Honestly, even after COVID-19, it might be good to think about the biking distance, because, well…
We all gain a bit when we get here. (Hello, late night convenience store tonkatsu and onigiri)
Be sure to choose an area/school combination you can commit to. A 20 minute walk to the station on rainy days may inspire less-than-ideal attendance habits, which can become a costly habit.
Some schools will have you pay not based purely on lessons you’ve attended, but more on a contractual basis. If you’ve ever taken any classes at a university or secondary school ever, this actually makes sense.
Let’s say that you sign up for a 30 lesson course; you don’t really have an infinite amount of time to take those lessons, and keep in mind that someone has been scheduled to teach those lessons. This means that if you say that you’re going to take a lesson on Wednesday, but you actually stay home cozy in bed, you might lose that lesson. Because of this, whether you’re taking group lessons or one-one-one lessons is going to be a big factor. Which brings us to our next point.
Do you intend to live and work in Japan after your studies?
Not every language school is created equal. Like it or not, if you're looking for work with a Japanese company after your studies, some schools will help you more than others.
For instance, The Naganuma School in Shibuya, Tokyo, goes as far as helping with 1-on-1 job search consultations and hosting career fairs for students. They even keep meticulous records of the numbers of students who successfully find work each semester. Their course selections allow to you really hone in on functional business Japanese, which can be a huge benefit in a language with such a huge difference between casual and formal speech.
The schools that are willing to go the extra mile for you in terms of finding employment get it. They understand that foreigners are at a disadvantage in competing with native speakers for work in Japan, so their curriculums tend to be stronger in areas that build up your business vernacular and teach you the fundamental culture pieces of Japanese office life and how to succeed.
Take this opportunity to learn professional Japanese if you can handle it. There are many people fluent in "book" Japanese or "casual" Japanese, but it is less common to come across a foreigner comfortable holding a business presentation. Whether or not you intend to work for a Japanese company, a gaishikei foreign company, or even for yourself, the ability to sound like a professional adult on the phone and in the boardroom will do wonders for your overall opportunities in Japan.
Don't make the decision flippantly
"Oh, I've always wanted to visit Akihabara! This school is right there, so that's where I'm going to study"
This writer has met these people. They don't last long in Japan, because for them, the whole decision to study in Japan was predicated on a commitment to doing something other than studying Japanese. Whether it's travel, anime conventions, or karaoke marathons in Shinjuku, you should balance your passions with the functional reason you are receiving a study visa.
The unhappiest people I met in Japan felt constrained by the fact that they had to go to school 4-5 days each week. They rebelled against school rules, skipped classes, and threw a lot of money down the drain by having their studies forcibly cancelled by the school, thus losing their status of residence. I'm not saying school = life, but if you commit to this path, do yourself a favor a commit to it for the amount of time you choose.
A lot of this unhappiness can be avoided by doing the proper research on which Japanese language school you should choose. Make yourself a spreadsheet and start taking notes – treat this like the project it is and you're going to be fine! Studying Japanese at a language school in Japan can be the life changing choice you need to make to get where you want to be; we're here to help you get through the process and into the life you want to live.
Let us know if you have questions in the comments section below – we'll do our best to answer or at least point you to where you should be looking.
We're excited to be partnering with Japanese schools across Japan next year.
COVID-19 has sucked. We get it. If you wanted to get to Japan for vacation, work, or study in 2020, odds are those plans got cancelled.
That's why we are partnering with major Japanese schools throughout the country in 2021 to be able to provide the connections you need to succeed.
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