Up to this point in the series, I’ve focused on language learners who are looking to either start their first career after college, or change their career at some other point. In this article, I would like to speak to those happy individuals who do not want to change their career, but are still interested in whether foreign language proficiency can help them professionally.
Fundamentally, foreign language proficiency can be of use to you in basically any professional setting. It goes without saying that for any profession in which one must interface with the public, the ability to speak more than one language would allow them to interface with more people. To be more specific, I will briefly outline some of the ways in which Japanese skill can help you grow your career.
The impact Japanese language can have on your career will vary by field of course. Here are some notable industries:
All things STEM(Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
As a developed nation with a shrinking population, the easiest way to find employment in Japan is probably through IT and engineering expertise. These skills have been enough for many foreign residents to find lucrative work in Japan even without Japanese language ability. Of course, one’s employment opportunities will increase greatly if they DO speak Japanese.
Even the Immigration Bureau of Japan gives preferential treatment to a certain demographic of people that tend to work in STEM fields, devoting one section to those engaged in “Advanced specialized/technical activities” which you can read more about here: Another section on preferential treatment for immigration is devoted to academic researchers. (If this is you, you should also check out my earlier article for students, which outlines programs like the MEXT scholarship awards for foreign researchers in Japan.)
While the employer preference for STEM can be very useful for many foreign professionals, it would seem to at least partially exclude those working in medicine. Which is not to say that doctors and nurses are not needed in Japan, but you’ll be unlikely to work for a Japanese hospital without a pretty high level of Japanese. All the more reason to crack open that N1 study guide.
All things lucrative:
Any foreign resident applying for special “highly skilled foreign worker” status will also gain points with the Immigration Bureau based on how much money they make per year. This can make staying in Japan easier, but what about the people who are happy to live elsewhere for their career?
Even without leaving one’s home country, foreign language skills have become something akin to required training for many jobs. Try taking a taxi ride around Kyoto when you’re here; you’ll notice that many drivers speak at least a little English – or even Chinese or Korean. There are many tourists from many countries in Kyoto, so one has to be able to communicate with them to keep their business competitive.
In the Tokyo area especially, medical staff are being trained in English because many non-Japanese residents live in Tokyo, and their numbers are growing. But that’s for English – which you already speak.
Lest it be said that I’m only talking to people who have a desire to stay in Japan, I want to take a moment here to speak of an acquaintance of mine whose Japanese ability helped her earn a job at Amazon in Seattle. Her language ability was indispensable for coordinating between marketing departments in America and Japan. Although her job description was not translation/interpretation, having the ability to do either made her a desirable candidate for a well-paying position.
Japanese is not so ubiquitous in other countries. But when it comes to lucrative industries, Japanese is a very important language. The cars we drive, the computers we use, and the videogames we play are quite often Japanese products, after all.
I’ve intentionally kept this article brief because you’ll stand to gain a lot more insight into the connection between career and foreign language skill by reading my next installment(s), in which I interview Benjamin Boas, an American expatriate who has made a comfortable life in Japan, and for whom Japanese language skill has been integral to his success.