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Is a Japanese Language School Better Than Self-Study?

Explore the pros and cons of enrolling in a language school versus self-study methods for mastering Japanese, and discover which approach best suits your learning style.

By 5 min read 1

For individuals aiming to master the Japanese language, there are two primary paths: diving deep into self-study or enrolling in a Japanese language school. While self-study offers flexibility and cost-effectiveness, it may lack the structured environment and direct feedback crucial for many learners.

Conversely, language schools provide a comprehensive curriculum, dedicated teachers, and immersion opportunities that can accelerate one’s proficiency. The decision between these methods largely hinges on one’s objectives, available resources, and preferred learning approach.

The best place to find a language school in Japan is on GaijinPot Study. It offers an extensive list of language schools in Japan, allowing prospective students to explore the unique features of each one. Beyond just listing schools, they provide support throughout the application process and while you study.

Curriculum vs. Free Study

One of the big problems with studying by yourself is knowing what to study. A good place to start can be looking at the JLPT levels and the recommended vocabulary and grammar lists, but be aware that the more formal, business-oriented language used in the exams is not necessarily for everyone. Instead, some solo learners prioritize the more casual, “natural” Japanese in anime, manga and pop music. For such learners, “correct” grammar may not necessarily be as useful as regular exposure to the language and drilling using free or affordable resources such as online courses, textbooks and language apps.

On the other hand, language schools follow a well-designed curriculum that progresses systematically from beginner to advanced levels. Language schools cover all aspects of the language, including grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, listening and speaking, in a logical way that builds on earlier levels. Many schools also offer classes focused on passing the most valued tests, such as the JLPT, that many jobs require.

Language Schools Offer Immersion

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You’ll have more opportunities to experience Japanese culture at a language school.

Studying independently offers the flexibility to learn anywhere and anytime. With the plethora of online resources available, you can significantly improve your Japanese skills without stepping foot in Japan. This approach can be both time and cost-effective, as learners don’t have to account for schooling, accommodation, and living expenses, which can be challenging when juggling work or family obligations.

On the other hand, enrolling in a language school in Japan ensures a complete immersion experience. Living in Japan and interacting with its residents every day improves learning. On top of this, many language schools in Japan accommodate part-time employment (students can work up to 28 hours a week with permission), providing students with an opportunity to work and live in the country and deepening their immersion experience. It’s a good way to try living in Japan and see if it fits you without committing to a long employment contract.

Schools often organize field trips and events to showcase the language in varied settings, enhancing linguistic skills and providing a rich insight into Japanese culture, traditions, and etiquette. These will also benefit your language skills as polite Japanese grammar points such as kohai-senpai involve understanding the unique culture of these isles to appreciate them fully.

Language Schools Have Structure

One advantage of studying by yourself is learning exactly what you want. If you want to learn about the latest animes and get involved with those Reddit conversations about how such and such a character is totally moe, you can focus entirely on this. I’ve spent many happy hours on trains, blasting through the animes I missed as a kid and picking up some wild Japanese.

Of course, this has its drawbacks too as, without a teacher to advise you, it can be hard to distinguish between the multiple synonyms that Japanese has. A classic example is the Japanese levels of politeness, which can be a stumbling block for newcomers.

Overly specializing in one form of Japanese can mean you may not be exposed to other useful things early in your studies. If your knowledge of the very formal forms of Japanese is limited, entering the world of work will be challenging.

Schools Offer Extra Resources

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Where do you start if you’re an absolute beginner?

One problem with studying alone is the lack of access to materials. There are many books to study (and many manga and anime) to consider. This is where forums and chatting with other learners can be useful. Although there are many textbooks, you’ll find that most learners find the same five textbooks useful.

On the other hand, language schools typically provide access to textbooks, multimedia resources and language labs, which can be expensive and difficult to acquire on your own. Beyond that, they also have many resources beyond simply studying, such as interview practice for landing that dream job in Japan. With many schools having 80-95% employment rates, schools can be a great way to jumpstart your way into a career in Japan.

Meeting Other People

You can make friends at a language school.

When you study by yourself, you must create your own immersion. This can involve using YouTube Japanese channels to get your news, looking for Japanese people in your area willing to do language exchange, and making friends online.

Of course, language schools cut out all of this. One of the underrated benefits of schools is the other people. From the teachers themselves to meeting fellow students from around the world who share your interest in Japanese, meeting other people can lead to valuable friendships and connections. It can also expose you to other forms and uses of Japanese; I can still recite haiku that I picked up from another student at a language school.

So which is best: language school or self-study? Ultimately, it comes down to you. The general considerations are your goals, resource access, learning study, and desire to live in Japan. Best of all, you may not have to choose. Many schools offer part-time courses that allow you to immerse in a language school with the freedom to pursue your interests outside of class.

We’d love to hear from you about this topic. Let us know your experiences in language schools and self-study in the comments.

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  • pax via says:

    I self study Japanese with less than desired results. I would happily enroll in a Japanese language school IF there were over 50s only schools as there are in European countries. I’m yet to find one. As an English language teacher I witnessed the isolation of older students among the 99% young students.

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