Interest in the United States about Japan has been steadily growing in recent decades. For example, many popular video games are made by Japanese companies, and anime has become relatively commonplace on mainstream television in the U.S. Many American children and adults are introduced to Japan through these kinds of media, which in turn leads some people to want to learn more about Japan and study Japanese. On their own, they can be fun and interactive ways to learn the language; however, deeper cultural understanding and linguistic fluency usually requires more rigorous methods of study.
According to the 2015 Japan Foundation Survey on Japanese Language Education Institutions, the number of people studying Japanese in the United States grew by 9.7% between 2012 and 2015. The same survey also saw a 0.9% increase in the number of institutions offering Japanese courses. Despite these increases, a lingering perception of the decline of Japanese economic power over the preceding decades has led to a range of changes in academic priorities that caused an 8.8% decrease in the number of Japanese language teachers over the same period. As such, Japanese programs are currently faced with a dearth of qualified instructors.
The United States and Japan are tightly intertwined on many levels. For example, as of December 2016 over 53,000 Americans were currently living, working, and studying in Japan. The U.S. and Japan are also bound together by the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and Japan hosts approximately 54,000 American military personnel, in addition to their dependents and Department of Defense civilian employees. Furthermore, in 2015 the number of annual visitors to Japan from the U.S. exceeded 1 million for the first time, and that number rose even higher in 2016. Given the interconnectedness of the U.S. and Japan, knowing how to speak Japanese can be an important asset for the future, a fact which, according to the Japan Foundation, seven U.S. federal agencies recognize.
Japan has the world’s third highest GDP and is the United States’ fourth largest trading partner. Japanese corporations also have a large presence in the United States. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that Japanese companies employed nearly 840,000 people in the U.S. in 2014 and invested nearly $27 billion of new direct investment in the United States in 2015. Likewise, many major corporations recently announced plans to invest in and expand their operations in the U.S. This should make having Japanese language skills an even more marketable skill in years to come.
Japanese is not an easy language to learn. Having qualified teachers that are capable of giving their students the assistance they need to succeed at their language acquisition goals will provide a foundation from which marketability will naturally flow. Moreover, gaining fluency in a foreign language, especially one as linguistically distant from English as Japanese, can open up a plethora of new worlds of discovery for personal and professional growth.
For those who are interested, the Japan Foundation offers a number of resources detailing how to learn the language and what it takes to become a Japanese language teacher. Follow the link below for more information.