French Vs Japanese: Which Is Easier And More Useful?


Deciding on which language to study is an even bigger prospect than a new language learner first suspects. Learning a language is notoriously difficult, so it is important to decide on the right language for you to learn. If you are considering French versus Japanese, which is easier and more useful?

When considering French vs Japanese for a second language, which is easier to learn and more useful becomes two of the major concerns. French is easier to learn and more useful for the most people. The exceptions to this are those specifically interested in Japanese culture or living in Japan.

In this article I will go over the usefulness and ease of learning for each language so you can start your language learning journey well informed. The timeframe for both languages is measured in years, so it is imperative to choose the one you are going to find most useful, enjoyable, and pain free to learn.

Is French Or Japanese More Useful?

It is important to pick a language to learn for practicality as much as for aesthetic or cultural reasons. Not only is your new language going to take years to master, it will take some level of upkeep to stay usable. With this in mind, is French or Japanese more useful?

French is overall more useful than Japanese. French has more speakers in the world (300 million), is an official language of the United Nations, and was historically the language of education. Japanese, though significant in the tech industry, has 96% of its 130 million speakers living in Japan.

Of course, the usefulness spoken of here pertains to which language most people in the world would find the most useful. Individual goals and uses will vary.

For instance, if you are planning on living in Japan, a notoriously monolingual country, learning French would do you little good. Japanese would be infinitely more useful.

The fact is though, that there are more countries, businesses, and universities that use French to some significant degree than Japanese. If Japanese meets your specific goals then for you it will be much more useful. But for a wider range of people around the world, French fits the bill better than Japanese.

Is French Useful In Today’s World?

There is one main reason that makes French more usable than Japanese for most people around the world. It has to do with global reach through historical political influence. Throughout history French was spread around the world through conquest, education, and diplomacy.

French is one of the top five usable languages in the world today. It is an official language of the United Nations and makes the list of one of the top 10 most spoken languages in the world. Historically, French was the language of the aristocracy and educated from England to Russia.

With 300 million speakers around the world, French is the official language in:

  • Belgium – See my article: How Common Is Spoken French In Belgium?
  • Benin – French shares the spotlight with three other national languages.
  • Burkina Faso – French is used in governmental proceedings.
  • Burundi – French is used along with Kirundi.
  • Cameroon – French shares official status with English, which has caused much conflict.
  • Canada – See my article on How Common Is Spoken French In Canada for the whole story.
  • Central African Republic – Here approximately 33% of the population speaks French.
  • Chad – French competes with Arabic for the top spot.
  • Comoros – French shares official status with Comorian and Arabic.
  • Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast) – French enjoys official status.
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo – French is the official language, but shares popularity with languages like Swahili and others.
  • Djibouti – French and Arabic are officially spoken.
  • Equatorial Guinea – French, Spanish, and Portuguese are all official languages.
  • France – The French language developed here from its Latin roots in the mid 800s (9th century).
  • Guinea – French is the official language, but there are over 40 others spoken.
  • Haiti – French and a blended Haitian Creole both share official status.
  • Luxembourg – Along with French, German and Luxembourgish hold official status.
  • Madagascar – French is the language of the aristocracy and educated on the island.
  • Mali – Though French is the official language, Bambara is spoken by much of the population.
  • Monaco – French is the sole official language.
  • Niger – French is spoken by over 11% of the country.
  • Republic of the Congo – French is the official language, but other indigenous languages are popular.
  • Rwanda – About 6% of the country speaks French.
  • Senegal – Though French is the official language, Wolof is the national language.
  • Seychelles – French and English are official, but a French Creole is common.
  • Switzerland – French is spoken by 23% of western Switzerland near the French border.
  • Togo – Not only is French the official language, it is the most commonly spoken.
  • Vanuatu – Though Bislama is most widely spoken, French is the official language.

Then there are places like the southern United States with traditional French influences from colonial days. French Creole in the areas around Louisiana is still alive today even if English is the main language of the area.

Some other countries without official status for French have large French speaking populations. Northern Spain for instance will have many French speakers.

With its connections to traditional education, politics, and culture, French will be a strong contender for second languages around the world, if only for basic conversations.

Interesting note: Many in Japan tend to learn basic French due to the country’s seeming fascination with French culture and the city of Paris in particular. A main travel destination for Japanese tourists is in and around Paris. This leads many Japanese to learn ‘some’ French, though admittedly the Japanese rarely learn other languages past the basics.

Is Japanese Useful Globally?

With the popularity of Anime and Manga, you may suppose that Japanese language learning would be on the rise. Yet, the difficulty of the language and strong national ties that the Japanese culture has makes it rare to find outside of the islands of Japan.

Japanese is useful for some people with specific ties to the Japanese people, businesses, or government. Out of the 130 million people that speak Japanese over 125 million of them live in the island nation. The usefulness of Japanese outside of Japan is minimal in comparison with other languages.

This in no way means that Japanese as a language is not useful for all people. There are circumstances that Japanese makes more sense than French to learn.

  • Expats moving to Japan for work.
  • Career military personnel stationed in Japan.
  • Those with Japanese heritage in their ancestry.
  • Employees working with Japanese offices in international business.
  • Translators looking for work in Japan.
  • Die hard fans of Anime or Manga.
  • Diplomats or foreign service officers working in Japan or with Japanese consolates.

My husband is a martial arts instructor and has always been fascinated with Japanese martial, historical, and social culture. He took several semesters of Japanese in college and had personal tutors for years afterward.

There are many things that can make a language useful. This will depend on who is looking to learn it and what their goals are.

To read more about Japan and France or their languages, I recommend my other articles here…

Is French Or Japanese Easier To Learn?

This is a perfectly legitimate question to ask when looking into which language to learn. Though some tout learning a language can be done in a few months, but this is tremendously misleading.

Language learning comes in stages and the timeline for being able to adequately use one in a conversation is measured in years not months. If this is the case, then we should find if French or Japanese is easier to learn.

French is by far an easier language to learn than Japanese for English speakers. The Foreign Services Institute, a division of the US State Department lists French as a very easy language to learn requiring 750 class hours. FSI designates Japanese as ‘super-hard’ with 2200 class hours needed.

This experienced information from FSI is from the perspective of English speakers as a base. The picture changes if the learner is a native Chinese or Korean speaker trying to pick up a second language. French will be just as hard for a Korean native as Japanese is for and English native speaker.

How Easy Is French To Learn?

Let me be clear from the outset here. Learning any language is difficult and takes years to master. That being said, if you are an English speaker, is French easy to learn?

French is one of the easier languages to learn for English speakers. Due to the large amount of borrowed words, cognates, and the Latin base also borrowed from other romance languages, English speakers have a large amount of advantages when learning French.

This in no way takes away from the difficulty of the advanced levels of the language. Grammar and usage in higher levels of academic verbage and prose in French is daunting to say the least.

Yet, for most people asking this question, they will be interested in conversing with French speakers or watching French television and films. For this level of French, it tends to be only one to two years of intense study before a student is well versed in these situations.

How Hard Is It To Learn Japanese?

On the other hand, what type of hurdle is learning Japanese for an English speaker? Due to the difference in foundation, structure, and writing, does it pose a significantly harder hill to climb than other languages?

Japanese is notoriously a very hard language to learn for English speakers. The Romanized alphabet is not used and the main writing system is comprised of thousands of pictograph based symbols. The pronunciation is challenging and the grammar is completely different.

When compared to French, Japanese is mountain where French is a small hill. This doesn’t mean that with the proper motivation, and more than likely an extended stay in Japan, Japanese is not attainable for English speakers. It is just not in the same league in terms of difficulty.

Is Japanese A Dying Language?

With a declining population due to low birth rates and a geographically restrictive country, at first glace the Japanese language could look to be in danger of demise. Would this make French a more logical choice in and of itself? Is the Japanese language on the way out?

Japanese is not only spreading around the world, it is growing in desirability due to business, technology, and a consistently strong economy in Japan. It is in the top ten languages used on the internet, and has increased in its online presence by 152% since 2000.

This shows the staying power of Japanese in the realm of the practical, but it also has a general appeal due to its inextricable link to the Japanese culture. Entertainment, sport (Karate, Judo), arts, and entertainment (manga and anime) give the language a super-power that is hard to beat.

The problems of difficulty, geographic constriction, and non-Romanized script can be overcome by enough interest and motivation. More and more people around the world are attempting and succeeding at scaling the mountain that is the Japanese language.

The Final Talking Point On French Vs Japanese…

When considering French vs Japanese, there are issues of difficulty in learning, usability, and interest levels to consider. With such a monumental task as learning a second or third language, it is important to weigh the costs before starting toward the goal.

French can be easier for English speakers to learn and more usable around the world. It is offered in more schools and spoken by more countries as an official language.

Japanese is a worth goal for those so inclined. It has great cultural appeal and is linked to one of the largest economies in the world. This can give the student a much needed boost in motivation and make language an attainable goal.

Whichever you choose as your next language, it will become nearly impossible without the right motivation. Hopefully the points I’ve discussed here will help you make your decision and set you on your personal bilingual journey.

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Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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