When I came to Japan I did not want to learn how to speak Japanese.
I think that most foreigners feel the Japanese language is too difficult to learn. There are not one, but two alphabets and thousands of kanji. In most English speaking countries, foreign language is a requirement but most people think that they can travel and speak English. And they can.
When I arrived in Japan I found many students and friends that really wanted to practice their English and quickly found out that I could live easily in Japan without speaking Japanese. Like many foreigners who come to Japan to teach English, this made me relieved. I had traveled to Europe and everyone could speak English. I lived and studied in Australia for two years because it was a far away place where everyone spoke English. I wondered if I would be OK in Japan without any ability to speak Japanese.
Of course there are difficulties. Ordering food in a restaurant (I had to go to restaurants with pictures or displays of the food and point to them) and getting business things done like opening a bank account or buying a mobile phone (most companies that hire foreigners help them do these things). But you can go sightseeing, buy groceries and make friends without being able to say arigato.
So why learn Japanese?
Most foreigners are here for a short experience and they will go back to their home country and never speak Japanese again.
I think most people that study Japanese all the way to fluency fall into three categories:
1. People who were studying Japanese in their home country and want to continue studying in Japan. I think for most people that want to speak a foreign language it is a dream to work and live in that native country. 2. People who have met a special someone and may need to communicate with their family and their friends for the rest of their lives. 3. People who are working in Japan in a job that is not English teaching. They must learn how to communicate in at least a basic way in the office
Of course there are many many other reasons why people learn to speak Japanese but I think these are the most popular.
So why do I study Japanese? Because it is fun. Japanese is a really fun language to speak and it is also relaxing. When you teach English every day it is a refreshing change to be the student and learn something. Japanese is also a very expressive language. You can have fun with Japanese even if you only know one word. You can enjoy a meal with only one word ﾐ oishi. The hot humid days of August can be expressed many different ways with atsui. The long cold winter in Akita requires only the repetition of samui.
Another great thing about studying Japanese in Japan is that people, especially in Akita, are very nice and understanding if you make a lot of mistakes. Some countries, like France, are not happy if you speak the language poorly. But in Japan people will share a laugh when you mistake kawaii and kowai, mizu and mazui, sakana and sakura etc.
Learning Japanese also helps me understand how difficult it is to learn English and helps me be a better teacher. Both of the languages have a lot of difficulties but can also be really fun. I have been studying for over a year and I still donﾕt understand sometimes when people ask me where I am from. So good luck and keep on studying!!
Before moving to Akita I taught English in Prague (Praha). I taught children, housewives, and organizations. From my apartment to my different lessons I often traveled by tram, bus, metro (subway) and on foot. I traveled the city and learned more and more about it and the people who lived there every day. After my lessons I often rode the tram back to my apartment. I rode it from the hilltop at Prague Castle, then crossed the Vltava River to Old Town, past the National Theater and then on to my neighborhood, Vinohrady. Vinohrady means "vineyards", because long ago my neighborhood was covered in grapevines for making wine. Today, however, the area is filled with so much art and architectural beauty. There are cafes, restaurants, museums, and my favorite, movie theaters.
One of the great things about living in central Prague was that within walking distance of my apartment were dozens of small art-house theaters. These theaters showed some of the most obscure and creative films. A movie would play for an evening or two then be replaced by something else. Often, I would be the only one in the theater. I listened as the projectionist prepared the movie reels, turned up the volume, and then pulled the curtains. It was a process that I really enjoyed, and it's what made me fall in love with movies again. And they were cheap; about 500 yen!
But nothing is free in the Czech Republic. One of the surprises for visitors to the country is the price of services and items that many countries offer for free. If you go to the supermarket, you will have to pay for the plastic bag that you put your groceries in. If you buy a salad from a potraviny (a convenience store), you will have to pay for the fork. At a fast-food restaurant a packet of ketchup will cost you extra. And if you need to use a public toilet, you will have to have money because it's rarely free.
Overall, however, living in the Czech Republic was a fantastic experience. The country is very small, so it is easy to travel across. Outside of Prague there are wonderful areas for hiking, rafting and skiing. There is something for everyone, but for those enjoy art Prague is especially wonderful. The city is like one big museum.