Every month this year, we will be turning our focus towards one of the core languages we love to teach – looking at the language’s potential for business, considering a few facts and figures to put its global prospects in context, plus sharing some tips to help you get started. This month we take a look at Japanese, the language of a country that may be small in size but which is also one of the largest manufacturing economies in the world.
Japan has a population of 126 million people, which accounts for almost all Japanese speakers (also around 126 million). It may be tempting to dismiss Japanese as a language that does not ‘travel well’ due to this concentration of Japanese speakers; however, Japan is a manufacturing giant compared to its small size and, like Germany, it offers a myriad of business opportunities if you work in certain industries (such as manufacturing, technology and automobile industries). Japan’s significance on the global business stage should never be underestimated.
Learning Japanese: Business Prospects and Opportunities
The argument for learning Japanese in many ways follows the argument for learning German: both Japan and Germany are the third and fourth largest manufacturing economies in the world, respectively; likewise, they are respectively the third and fourth largest global economies by GDP. As a result, while neither country’s language is widely spoken beyond its own borders, there are plenty of reasons why UK businesses would want to be able to communicate effectively with Japanese companies.
Japan’s story further reflects Germany’s in that the country has been able to fend off the worst economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – its focus on manufacturing has helped to buffer Japan from the impact that more service-based economies have experienced. Japan’s economy only shrank by 4.8% over the course of 2020, and the third and final quarters saw expectation-beating GDP growth. However, the vaccination programme in Japan has been slow-starting, and this is starting to impact on Japan’s ability to combat the virus into 2021.
Japan is also due to host the postponed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which has the potential to further boost its economy – however, without a robust vaccination programme in place, Japan may struggle to capture the full economic opportunity. Now it has been confirmed that international spectators will not be able to attend the Games, the opportunities for maximising the economic benefits will be limited, with service industries in particular feeling the economic impact.
Looking beyond the pandemic presents a more positive outlook. Manufacturing in Japan takes in a range of goods made by world-class brands, from smartphones to motorbikes, TVs to electric cars. Japan was also the first country to agree a major trade deal with the UK after Brexit, which adds a layer of symbolism to the relationship between the two countries. Japan is one of the most technologically innovative countries in the world, and its prospects from a business perspective remain very competitive, cementing its appeal to global businesses.
Did You Know? A Few Facts about Japanese
Whether you are looking to import smartphones, trade in car parts or take a trip to Japan when air travel restarts, learning Japanese could be a good starting point for building lasting relationships with a country that has as much to offer culturally as it does in a business capacity.
Here are a few interesting facts to know about Japanese before you get started on your language-learning journey.
- Japanese is a ‘language isolate’ – it is unrelated to any other language. There are of course some theories on where Japanese originated from, but nothing conclusive has been found.
- Japanese has moved beyond the borders of Japan in a few places, with emigrant communities found in Brazil and parts of the United States (notably in Hawaii). However, the numbers of Japanese speakers outside Japan is only a fraction of the total number of Japanese speakers.
- Japanese may be a language isolate, but it does share some things in common with Chinese – it shares some of the same characters! Kanji is the name for the Chinese characters adopted into the Japanese writing system.
- Japanese uses more than one writing system: the characters from Chinese (kanji); hiragana (usually used to represent native words) and katakana (usually used to write words of foreign origin). Many people in Japan also use romanised Japanese (rōmaji) to read and write in Japanese (the romanised version is taught in schools in Japan). All four of these writing systems may appear in one piece of Japanese writing.
- In Japanese, ‘Japan’ is actually ‘Nihon’ (or ‘Nippon’) – which makes the Japanese language, in the native tongue, ‘Nihongo’!
- Japan is famous for its cherry blossom – when it first appears, it is thought to herald the arrival of spring. 2021 is a record-breaking year because the cherry blossom season peaked at the earliest date since records began, over 1,200 years ago!
Click for more facts and figures about Japan’s language and culture.
Tips to Help You Get Started
Learning a language with a variety of writing systems may seem daunting, especially as Japanese tends to use a mix of these systems for effective communication. However, Japanese is a popular language to learn and we believe it is worth breaking through the pain barrier – trust us, it does get easier! Here are a few tips to help you develop your language skills and build your confidence.
- Try not to get too hung up on writing perfect Japanese – at least at first. The majority of the time it will matter more that you can read and comprehend Japanese, and that you can speak and listen to Japanese, so focus on the practical. Mastering your handwriting and crafting perfect Japanese characters does not necessarily mean you understand the language – and that is the most crucial thing if you want to both learn and use a language in everyday life.
- Listening to and watching Japanese language TV, films and radio can boost your familiarity with the language. Japanese cinema is more than anime and manga (although these certainly have their place and can support your learning too!), and Japan has a flourishing film and arts industry. Japan has produced many of the most world-renowned films of the past 100 years. For a taste of Japanese cinema, check out Tokyo Story (by Yasujirō Ozu) or Seven Samurai (by Akira Kurosawa) to hear the language in action, or try the films of Studio Ghibli (such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle) for more of a fairy-tale feel. Try watching the films with English subtitles so you can hear how the language sounds, and then consider reversing it so you listen to the English language version while following the Japanese subtitles. When you can follow the story without the English component, that will be a great time to celebrate your progress!
- While moving to Japan to learn the language ‘in situ’ may not be an option right now, there may still be opportunities to join a language course or a conversational group to give you ample opportunity to practise your language skills. Listening to the language will help you fathom the leap from reading the written characters to understanding the spoken word, but speaking aloud yourself is when this magical language truly comes alive.
If you would like to find out more about learning Japanese to help you grow your business prospects in this dynamic and forward-thinking country, contact us today. We can work with you to develop a bespoke language-learning plan for your business, as well as provide cross-cultural training to help you connect with your global colleagues, whether virtually or in person. All our courses can be taught live online.