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How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese? — 118 Comments

    • 2 years will be fine. If you’re from Kanji user country, EJU will be pretty easy since the test is design to test whether you can take a lecture in Japanese university.

  1. How long time do you think it would take to be able to attend a Japanese University, would that be the same as “Writing advanced essays and anything in high academia”? This of course would depend on the level of university and what subjects, but on average?

  2. These are good guidelines. I started learning Japanese September, 2007, so it’s been a little over 4 years. While I’ve made it to a lot of these goals using the immersion method, I feel because of my lack of effort towards learning kanji (though stronger than some, weaker than many people using this method), I can’t yet read novels unless they have supporting furigana. I think this a clear sign to me that I should be working harder to learn kanji <(-_-).

      • You’re my hero. I am happy that your whole blog explains why it would take so much time which means I am gonna have to give more time to my Japanese learning sessions. I really appreciate the way you explained it here. No false promises, no lies. Keep up the good work.

      • I don’t think 紗織 (who is also Rachel M. on this site) visits here much anymore, but last time I talked with her (about 6 months ago), she was doing quite well and her progress had come quite far from 5 years ago.

  3. i’m a beginner.. I’ve been doing all this Japanese thing for 4 months now..
    i first thought that it was going to be difficult, but honestly, it’s easy!
    hmm… i wonder if i’ll get better soon ^__^
    this post really boosted up my confidence and i think i can do it.
    thanks for motivating me!

  4. I agree, it depends on what you’re aiming for. I know people who speak very little Japanese but able to survive for years living in Japan. I wondered why they’re not getting any better in their Japanese, but then I concluded that they don’t enjoy Japanese cultures and, so, are satisfied with only minimum level of proficiency.
    I like Japanese funny variety shows, so I call myself fluent when I found myself able to understand Sanma-san’s words, 100%, in his TV programs. He’s a famous comedian and he speaks really fast in Osaka dialect. I think it took me 7 years *gasp*. But you know if you’re making progress, so learning Japanese from your favorite Japanese “anything” (movie, manga, parenting book, etc.) is fun.
    But I know I still can’t read classical literature without consulting a dictionary. I don’t enjoy the classics so I don’t practice.

  5. Could you give an estimate of how much time per day of studying you imagine when you give these numbers? It would help with making a rough approximation of that magic formula.

  6. Thanks for this post. My rule is “as many hours as I feel like, and always do my anki reviews.” This only works because I don’t have any time-based goals, but your timeline post made me curious.

    There is one point you make that I would go a different direction with: avoiding burnout in the early stages. I think the beginning energy shouldn’t be stifled: it can jump start studying making studying more fun, as you put it–and for me at least, intentionally slowing myself down can also be frustrating, and paradoxically lead to burnout-like effects. I’m sure it’s a bad idea to expect yourself to spend too much time on Japanese at that point, but if someone feels like spending more I think they should go ahead. As long as they don’t do it by increasing the new anki cards per day number; then they’ll have to keep up with too many reviews on the days they don’t have that energy.

    • I fully agree. If you have the energy in the beginning, you definitely should go all out from the start. And thanks for the comment that inspired this post!

  7. I’ve got the immersion part down, but I still have to get my Anki routine in. All semester, I never touched it. Finally, I decided to make it more obvious, so I moved the exe to my desktop. I’ve used it a couple of times for JSL since then, but still haven’t done kanji. Granted I was in my finals, but if there’s some sort of routine, even busy schedules like finals won’t get in the way. I just need to set in that routine. I’m on my fourth year of learning Japanese and I’m still going in SRS phases where I’ll do it for a couple of months and then stop for awhile.

  8. I wish to enroll myself in a known language school in india this month..The Course is a 2.5 years one (5 semester of 6 month each)…i want to learn japanese coz i want to bcm a language expert..y i am choosing japanese?ill b very honest..its bcz that its one of the biggest economy after u.s and china and india-japan ties are ever-increasing…i want to be an INTERPRETOR..iv just one question-if i study in india for 2.5yrs and devote 2-3 hours per day,will i reach my target(goal)..??or do i have to do further studies after that and visit JAPAN??
    awaiting your soonest response.

  9. this is from India hai for all
    you can easily study more than twelve hours a day. All this is possible only by doing yoga. yes its real you use to study twelve hours a day. believe me you can make it please try it

  10. This is a great post!

    I’m leaving for Japan soon for a conference, but have been studying like a madman in preparation. I thought my 8-hour days were too much, so this is comforting!

    For the record, I commute 2 hours each way every day, so that’s 4 hours of active study right there–mostly vocab/kanji review and memorisation. I read Doraemon, my saviour, for about an hour on and off in the evening, watch another hour of Doraemon episodes, and spend two hours working through various textbooks. I’m amazed at how quickly my understanding of manga etc. has increased and how understanding what I hear is almost effortless now. Still, I don’t think I could keep this up for much more than the two months I’ve been doing it for. New vocab makes my brain hurt!

  11. I’d say I’m about level 4 (450 kanji but 10 sentences) and after seeing this post I decided to time how much I did.. and in one week I did 70 hours of passive and 10-11 hours of active (of course, I was doing passive during those active hours so that means I did a total of 70 hours of japanese, not 80-81).. quite a bit more than the 2-3 hours a day recommended haha

  12. When the English TV shows I watch are on, I put an earphone in and listen to Japanese while watching TV. So I don’t miss out on my TV shows and I’m improving my Japanese.
    Thanks for this website! It’s truly amazing. I use this alongside AJATT.

  13. Great article, but woah! … 9 months to 1.5 years just be able to have basic conversations? Up to 1.5 years to be able to talk about the weather and what your interests are?

    There are definitely elements of Japanese that are harder than other languages (for English speakers at least), but really the basics of any language are just not too difficult right? If someone said it would take 9 months to 1.5 years to get basic conversational skills about the topics you listed in a language like German, French, or Italian, people would think you are nuts. Now, Of course Japanese is a different kettle of fish, but do you really think the spoken language is that much harder? So hard that it takes a year to say, ah ‘it’s cold today’, or ‘I’d like to do X, because then after I could do Y’?

    I have been studying Japanese a month now (and only about 2-3 hours a day of conversational practice) and can express my opinions on many things, some quite easily, and some given a little time and patience. Understanding is quite hard for sure, however within 6 months time I fully expect to be able to be having free-flowing conversations with japanese people.

    I may be being wildly optimistic on that aim I will admit, as I haven’t done it yet, however by 9 months, one could surely get far, far past just the basics you outlined. I’m not having a go either, I love what you write here, but just given my own (albeit tiny) experience, I have to say that 9 months for conversational basics just can’t be right.

    • I think you are slightly misunderstanding what I meant. You are fully correct that you can definitely express simple things like this much sooner. The 9 months to 1.5 years is not just for the “ability” to have simple conversations but to be “fluent in” simple conversations.

      This would mean that you could effortlessly and smoothly, without any pause or interruptions discuss your weekend, what you want to do, where you want to go, what you like, etc. with a Japanese person, have them respond, and continue back and forth with that conversation with ease.

      Does this make more sense?

      • oh. yeah sorry if I mis-understoood, that does make more sense.

        However just logically, I think if someone spoke a language for 2-3 hours everyday for 6 months, by the end of 6 months they’d be more than fluent in those basics, no matter the language.

        • I agree, if your study focus is mainly Japanese conversation, you can achieve basic conversations faster than 9 months. The timelines here are for the typical Japanese learner who doesn’t put an excessive focus on any one particular skill.

          • Yes that is true, I have an excessive focus on being able to speak the language. I still have to wait to see if I like Japan enough to get really into the writing and Kanji!

  14. OK, so I’m around level 18-19 (based on the very helpful test on this site). My immediate goals are:

    – to be able to read a Japanese novel, understanding as much as I would if I read an English novel (i.e. there might be one or two words I don’t know in the entire thing)
    – to be able to watch and understand a Japanese drama (without subtitles, and understanding the lot, except maybe one or two words as might happen in any English drama). I’d love to understand variety shows too, but I’m being realistic here, at least for the next year or so.

    At the moment, apart from daily Anki practice of vocab and sentences (all in kanji–no furigana for me), I’m reading Doraemon manga (understanding ~75% without a dictionary at this stage) and listening to a lot of music as I commute. I’m also working through a test-preparation text for the JLPT–not because I’m going to take it (I’m not), but because it highlights for me any areas of grammar or vocab I need to work on. In total, it’s about 5 hours a day.

    My biggest obstacle is vocab. I just need more words, and I need to recognise them more quickly. For example, I’m fine when reading Doraemon at my own pace, but when watching the anime episodes, they go too quickly and I catch less than half of it. I really hope Anki helps in this regard. I’m Anki-ing through the JLPT vocab lists at the moment since they’re convenient, and will add more when I’m close to finishing.

    Thanks for this post with the time estimates. I really feel good knowing that my goals aren’t decades away. 1.5-2.5 years before I can comfortably watch a drama isn’t too bad, especially since I’m already part-way there. Maybe I’ll get there in less than a year from now?

    Oh, and bizarrely, my conversation skill is certainly beyond basic stuff (hobbies, weekend, etc.), without having to translate to English in my head or pause or put in any particular effort. But due to my limited vocab, I avoid words in funny ways. Instead of saying, “this is my husband”, if I didn’t know the word for ‘husband’, I’d say, “this is the man whom I married”. Of course, when the person with whom I’m speaking uses a word I don’t know, sometimes I’m screwed, but generally it’s obvious from context, although I’ll forget the Japanese for the word almost immediately as the conversation moves on.

    Yeah… I really need to get my vocab up. It’s really holding me back. Maybe just that alone will get me closer to understanding dramas? Maybe that’s all I really need, since the other areas all seem to be high enough? Ah, who knows. I’ll just keep plugging away. Thanks for this post. It really boosted my motivation.

  15. I want to share my opinion on learning languages. I don’t disapprove of any one’s way of studying, I’m saying what works for me and what I’ve noticed.

    I’ve been living in China for around 6 months now and studied Mandarin for 3 years in university. What got me to near fluency was speaking as much as I can whenever I can without care for mistakes at the time. I can read and write characters very well at HSK 6/6 – but my speaking and listening lags behind at around HSK 4 or so.

    Aside from that, I’ve learned some Japanese in university for 2 years and haven’t even come close to the level I am with Mandarin. Lack of motivation killed my interest and although I regret it. Well, I just recently flew from China to Japan to visit my kanojyo for Chinese New Year and my motivation sky-rocketed again… the people there are awesome.

    So in order to fly over to Japan and find a job there I need to learn Japanese. The companies close to my girlfriend all want me to learn Japanese nearly as fluent as my Mandarin. My Japanese can be described as basic – but I am getting more fluent by the day and I remember things I study.

    I do study vocab with flashcards for the HSK test on my cellphone frequently now that I’m in China. It works. Do it and do it often. Now these days I only put about 3-5 hours a week into studying Chinese. Whereas in Canada I only put 6.5 hours a WEEK into it. I say 6.5 because the time I used was 6 hours in class; and 0.5 hours outside of class on a bus ride one-way, once a week. How did I achieve some manner of fluency this way??

    While I agree immersing oneself is one method… but I believe some people don’t take ‘quality’ time studying but favour ‘quantity’ instead. (Or vice versa) It’s fine to use either or, but it’s better to use BOTH. I must say, my Mandarin has improved greatly after using both methods. If I didn’t switch and try quantitative means, I wouldn’t have learned it was ALSO a good method. For me, learning words that had significance – I can’t learn things unless I use it in some situation that was ‘meaningful’ so I would ‘prepare’ words, sentences or possible scenarios in which would help me be more fluent. This is much like preparing for a speech. Interesting note from my Chinese teacher: Loads of students here in China with a MAJOR in Mandarin only get to HSK 3/6 after 3 or 4 years. (Not everyone, I have seen some people with a lot better Mandarin than me – but it’s interesting isn’t it?)

    Now I’m studying Japanese 3-7 hours a day when I get the chance amongst my work and Chinese… this approach is working very well. Japanese hiragana and katakana doesn’t stick unless I use repetition similar to Anki… but why?

    Beforehand Japanese didn’t come easy to me. It just wouldn’t stick and there were a few reasons why I was learning so slowly. Motivation, applying my Mandarin study habits, and one pitfall. The pitfall I fell into before was just learning vocabulary by itself rather than the context surrounding it and I didn’t have any flashcard software. Japanese required a different kind of studying for me. (Though, interestingly, I studied a grammatically similar language – Korean – and it was much easier to learn.)

    I’ve only 4 months to study Japanese and become as close as I can to my Chinese level. I do plan to have simple conversations as mentioned but in only 2 months and fluently. Unrealistic? No, I actually disagree. Challenging as hell? Yes. Just the right kind of studying does the trick. Believe it or not, my Mandarin speaking when I left Canada was probably only about level 2 HSK but it shot up to a high level 4 after a month of being in China. So perhaps there is a chance I can do the same with my Japanese.

    I have Japanese friends, I’ll be speaking with them over Skype. I don’t want to be told I won’t become fluent in 2 months. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention or meaning here and people are pressuring for a definitive average. I don’t believe it applies to everyone because I’ve seen people become fluent conversationalists in 2-3 months Mandarin or Japanese. I don’t want to say it’s something to strive for only to get disappointed – it’s not so long as you can dedicate quality and quantity to your studying of a language.

  16. Hello, I am still level 1-3, and have been active studying Anki 1 hour per day over 1 month. I have just discovered from this site “passive” learning and I want to get started. I need help finding passive material to listen to and watch. I don’t know where to look, what easy Japanese books to read, and other stuff mentioned here.

    1. Should I listen/watch funny things, cultural things, science fiction, slice-of-life type things? What is easiest for a beginner to pick up on?

    2. Do you recommend chatting online on Japanese chat programs as a type of study? Under what type of study is that considered?

    • Check the recommendations menu at the top of this site.

      Chat is fine. It falls under writing and reading. I would hold off on chat until you reach an intermediate level.

  17. How does passive learning (watching Japanese drama and presumably without dubs?), actually help when you only know like 1% of the words in a full episode?

  18. Hi with the immersion, for example above you put an “example” for a 7hr day.

    I’d say I do most of that, however sometimes it overlaps. You say 1hr doing anki then 4 hrs above listening. Though I always have an endless playlist (well 17 days long) of podcasts playing while I study anki each day (which tends to take 3hrs for me each day).

  19. Is it possible to pass the JLPT 1/2 by doing three hours of passive learning and two hours of active learning while I take Japanese class of three hours a week during three years?

    Note: I have never taken Japanese in my life.

    • @Adel

      To pass the old JLPT 1. (Dont know about the new ones), an average university student needs to put in about 900 hours of active studying.

      There is about 27 weeks of active studying per university year. (If you take away exam weeks, starting lesson each semester and holidays). This gives 80 hours of lessons/ year.

      If you study at home 2 hours per day, 350 days a year (Then you got 1 day/month where you can skip studying – christmas etc ). That is 700 hours/ year.

      Passive studying gives maybe 10 % of what active studying gives = 0.1 * 350 *3 = 105 hours /year.

      In all this means you COULD do JLPT 1 in ONE year. However, this means a lot of you studying has to be targeted specifically at passing JLPT 1. To pass it in 2 or 3 years is a better goal, as you can focus more on learning what YOU enjoy learning. :)

  20. I have been a fan of Japanese culture for sooo long I want to be able to read, have conversations, play the games, watch a movie I want to be able to do everything on the list. But politics can’t stand it… Also I learn language easy. :)

  21. All right, first off, let me start by first saying that I’ve tried to learn programming. I’ve given up learning programming since (this is when I was 11 years old) and haven’t really involved myself in learning anything outside of school. The reason I gave up learning programming is because I didn’t have the required resources. My laptop couldn’t download the correct software to start programming anything. It took me days to realise that after everything I’ve tried, this isn’t going to work. C++ was the language I was attempting to learn, so I thought I’d start with a different language. The same problem again. Even after getting my Mac and Xcode, it still wouldn’t work properly, and frankly, Apple’s programming language was annoying to learn anyway. Finally, I decided to learn something as simple as Python and Ruby. It worked. My problem, however, was that I couldn’t create very much at all with these languages (nothing I wanted to create), and that the interface was extremely annoying to use. This frustrated me to no end, and I eventually gave up, both out of boredom and out of frustration.

    2 years later, I’m trying to learn Japanese. This is a little better, however. The only things I need to worry about in Japanese is boredom, lack of resources, and frustration. Which, while it doesn’t seem very different from learning programming, It is rather easier, in a way. Boredom does hit me hard and heavy, but I believe that I can keep myself concentrated for long enough on one subject before I learn the next, supplementing learning the language with listening to music or watching a video occasionally. The lack of resources shouldn’t be a problem. There are a lot of websites, books, and videos that teach Japanese, some specialising in one specific area. Finally, the frustration of learning Japanese comes with not being able to understand certain things and the tedious memorisation (or learning) of Kanji. 2,000 standard Kanji characters which (most) don’t at all “look like what they describe”. That’s one of the tedious aspects of Japanese that make it frustrating to learn. However, I’m confident I can get through this frustration and achieve my goal, however strange that sounds.

    All in all, thank you very much for making this article. This has helped me think a lot about what I’m going to do, and about whether I should spend my precious time learning Japanese. I’ve decided I will learn Japanese. Having about 4 years left of High School, I’ll have almost achieved my goal. By the time I’m 25, I’m confident I will have learnt enough of the language to complete this goal. I really don’t have any better way to spend my time, anyway. So, thank you for the motivation booster that this article entails (however much you didn’t intend it to be).

  22. Hi guys, nice article adshap. This helped me get an idea about how long it will take me to learn Japanese. Thank You.

    @North1085. If I may give you some advice (as a friend with good intentions of course).
    There’s two things about your post what I think are important to be reconsidered:

    1) learning a programming language can’t be compared to learning a spoken language

    2) learning Japanese is way harder than learning C++ in the sense that it takes (at least) 3 times the time and effort which is needed for learning C++ (or any other programming language except Assembler).

    Please don’t get me wrong, by saying this I don’t wanna discourage you from learning Japanese at all. I just wanna point out that You shouldn’t be surprised if it(learning Japanese)takes more time than you first thought and therefore give up (like you did with C++).
    Now here’s the advice (if I may):
    I’m a Mechanical Engineering student trying to learn Japanese (4 months now)on my own and I can say this, while learning Japanese grammar or spelling is not that hard(surprisingly), Kanji is very hard at times and boring as hell.

    I’ve learned C++ syntax in like 4 weeks and it took me about 6 months to become good at programming in C++ so I’d suggest you give C++ another try because programming is really fun and not that hard, besides since You’re a little older now I think you’d be able to master it very fast.

  23. I tried this really fun app “Japanese” from MindSnacks. They have atleast 8 languages plus S.A.T., U.S. History, and Kids’ Vocab.
    It has actually helped me a bit more with my Japanese. I can read the hiragana ^o^
    but the kanji kills me. (T~T)
    I know that with the kanji I will most likely have to do flashcards. I know that words they don’t have in Japanese they use the english and pronounce it in Japanese! Like sweater?! ‘セーター’ (T~T)
    Then kanji and hiragana are used together…Oh! Flashcards here I come! ^0^

  24. I guess I’m crazy… at times I’ll do 8 hours easily in a day… Yes total dork but hey I created passive income online selling psychic readings to people through affiliate marketing… I can do what ever I want ^_^ HAH! It’s pretty epic… I’ve also purchased and torrented a few good resources and now I’m to the point where I have no idea where to start or focus… At least I’m still focusing Japanese though… Crazy part though is I’m also studying how to day trade by this crazy dude name Timothy Sykes .. so I’ll do like 4 hours there and the rest of the day on Japanese!!

    I like the immersion part of all this, I watch the news on http://www.ustream.tv/channel/wjj-tv that’s pretty cool! Great site I’ll be saving this in my goodie bag! WORD!!!!!!!

    • Hey the more time the better. People who love Japanese often try to pour as much time as they can into it.

  25. Hey I just have a small question here. Say you commute 2 hours a day (while listening to japanese audio) and do anki for 1 hour during those commute, does that count as 3 hours in your example or would that still be 2 hours? Just curious as to how it’s all added up :)

    • That would count as 3 hours. Passive hours (listening on a commute) are always figured in to the daily equation.

      • Alright thanks :) I think I’m ready for my 3rd tackle at japanese, this time avoiding burnout by knowing my limit and going slowly but surely (and have reasonable goals, not “reach level 65 by this time next year” haha)

          • Yes I have thanks :) I’ve reset my RtK deck even though I had already finished it; I had let it pile up to 1500 reviews… so reset it, kept the stories, but Ill go back through it much slower especially since Ive already done it. Also changed the format so it feels like a different deck haha. And this time, I will write them out too because for my goals I need to be able to write. I also deleted my genki deck and got your jalup 1000, so starting up fresh!

  26. I’ve been taking Japanese at school for about a year now and I’m currently in Japan as a study abroad student. I must say I don’t know as much Japanese as I thought I did. Probably will take a couple more years at this pace.

  27. The word fluency is used differently depending on the person. I think that the fluency of understanding (things like Anime, Movies, Video Games etc.) will take about 1.5 years. You won’t understand anything but a good amount of it. Achieving fluency in speaking will take longer. I think about 2-3 years is reasonable. Therefore I think that 3 years are likeable. To achieve near or native fluency you need to make an effort for 5 to 10 years (depending on your motivation, immersion and a little talent as well. I don’t think that someone can learn a language way faster, but there is a little advantage for some people I think).
    Think about it. Would you claim that a 3-5 years old child has the same level of fluency like an adult? I don’t think so. Even those native speakers need about 10 years to be considered as an full developed native speaker.

    PS. I’m 18 and have acquired English for 3 years. I’ve just watched movies, videos… played video games etc. and I think that I’ve achieved a fairly good level of fluency. I make some mistakes, though… but if I keep going on like that I think I will reach near native fluency in 2 years (Forgive my little mistakes. I’m not better than a child aged 3 :P)

    • I definitely agree that the use of the word and results will always vary. Thanks for the input.

      I’d like to see a 3 year old child write like you!

  28. When I started reading AJATT, I thought it would take 18 months to be fluent, and I really believed it! I was a teenager in high school, impulsive and passionate (very much still am). My parents didn’t believe it, but I wasn’t listening to them, I was ready to get started and did.

    Now looking back, it’s been six and a half years since then. I believe the website even said why wait seven or eight years to get fluent through traditional methods.

    Right now, I am level 53, an early business level. I see myself reaching fluency (level 65) in a year or two from now. So I’m almost there. I will have been studying Japanese for 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 years.

    What I’ve learned is that there’s a lot between beginner and fluency to enjoy. I’m not fluent, but enjoy novels, manga, dramas, movies, video games and so on in Japanese. Each new level set brings on something new to enjoy. For level 20, it was manga. Now at level 50, I can follow any drama and enjoy it without feeling lost. My Japanese still has a long way to go. If I was told I would be able to read manga four years after I started learning Japanese, that would’ve been motivating enough for me. After all, that’s what I wanted to do! Read manga in Japanese!

    The danger in giving a short time like 3 months (oh my) and 18 months is that when people don’t reach that goal, they may get discouraged. You know, not everyone reaches fluency. What happens then? If you tell someone that the time it takes to reach fluency is different for everyone, but you as the learner can definitely be reading manga in two to four years, I think that would encourage a lot of people. (I think I would’ve been reading manga sooner if I had known the steps to take from day 1, instead I figured things out on my own and that took time.)

    I am skeptical of people who claim they became fluent in a language in less than a year. Or at least in Japanese. It might take less time with other languages, but I have no experience with that.

    Fluency to me is what Jun says, near-native fluency. Anything less is not fluency to me.

    • Of course I definitely agree that there is no rush to fluency, and that most of the ride will be enjoyable. And as you said, it’s all about a balance of encouragement and beneficial expectations. Once you start, you realize the number becomes meaningless, but people often like a number before they start.

      I also added a note that the word “fluency” in this post isn’t referring to level 65 on the Jalup chart.

  29. I’ve been at it for years, and I still don’t think I’m fluent, or even intermediate. I will leave it at that.

    • What is proficiency? Is it the same thing as fluency? 1.69 years seems low if it is. If it’s not fluency, what is it? Fluency itself isn’t well defined, but “proficient” seems like an even more wobbly word. It’s not really useful to say it takes 1.69 years to reach some undefined level.

    • The point of this post is to say that there is no “X years to fluency” that will ever be accurate, but there is a different purpose behind why people give certain numbers, and 3 is based on a balance of those benefits.

      I appreciate the chart, but it refers to “achieving language proficiency,” and not fluency. But even more, the Foreign Service Institute is basing their 88 weeks (2200 hours) data on the following:

      “Students at the Foreign Service Institute are typically 30- 40 years old, are native speakers of English with a good aptitude for formal language study, plus knowledge of one or more other foreign languages. They study in small classes of usually no more than 6. Their schedule calls for 25 hours of class per week with 3-4 hours per day of self-study.”

      I would call this situation highly above average of what most people will be able to do.

      • First off, I thought this was a good post and I think three years is enough to reach a point where you can read novels, write emails, watch movies, and have natural, wide-ranging conversations in Japanese.

        But how many hours are packed into those three years? For my own part, I assume it will take 1000 hours of conscious effort toward learning vocabulary via sentences in Anki, and 1000 hours each focusing on the skills of listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

        That amounts to 5000 hours if I don’t count overlap (where I can read x while listening to and perhaps shadowing it) and significantly less (maybe around 3500 hours) if I count such overlap even partially.

        At a few hours each day, I and anyone else can reach that point in roughly three years. By studying 25 hours per week in class, and as much outside of it, full-time students (such as at the Foreign Service Institute) can reach that point in a little under two years. And some insanely motivated person who studied 10 hours each day could theoretically reach that level in a year.

        All of us would still have a lot to learn after that, of course. But we would have a solid foundation for doing so and, at least for those of us who enjoy reading novels more than doing Anki reviews, would have much more fun doing so, too.

        • Thanks. Any type of post like this is bound to result in largely differing opinions. And there isn’t much research that applies to the average person in his average situation.

          As for hours, who knows. Coming up with years was hard enough haha. But I like your assessment and it seems reasonable.

        • I really like these figures, by the way.

          I wish I could calculate how many hours I’ve put into things at this point. I’m glad I have Tadoku and BookMeter to keep track of things ever since I started reading novels! I have a VideoMeter as well.

          I’d say these are reasonable numbers to aim for and they will definitely bring about progress. I’d say I’ve reached this kind of fluency and a big contributor was when I became more consistent with immersion and started taking in media at a greater quantity and frequency.

    • That’s a very useless infographic. They don’t even mention what level on the ILR scale that amount of hours is supposed to get you to: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ILR_scale

      However, it’s always motivating to see “JAPANESE IS THE HARDEST LANGUAGE EVER” posts. Especially when it’s about kanji.

  30. This question completely depends on what your definition of fluency is! I would have called myself fluent after spending a year in Japan (could handle every day conversations easily, was thinking in Japanese instead of English 99% of the time), so going from that it took 2 years of university lessons with a tiny bit of exposure to Japanese on the side, and then a year of pretty much full on immersion in Japanese to get me to that level.
    So I think that 3 years, even if two of those years are kind of half-arsed (like they were for me) is a decent time frame to get to some level of fluency. To get to a near native standard though, I think you probably need years and years of study, as there is always something new to learn.

    • Fluency all depends on the individual’s goals, and I think that is all that matters. If fluency is watching an episode of Goku transforming and understanding his grunts and yells, that’s fine. If fluency is debating Classical Japanese literature, that’s also fine.

      And I think everyone is in agreement though that going from “fluency” to “near native” is in a league of its own.

  31. Fluent for me would be reading manga and watching japanese tv shows and understanding everything. Ive been studying japanese for about 4 years and have been listening to japanese for pretty much 24 hours a day (even while sleeping) for the last 5 months. Feels like its taking forever to reach the level i want and i can still barely follow the plot of anything (everyone talks so fast lol). I’ve started doing around 50-100 anki cards a day so hopefully i get there soon

  32. Fluency for me has to be talked about in the context of a language skill. In English, I’ve always been far stronger in reading/writing than listening, and downright terrible at speaking.

    So far, my Japanese adventure has largely mirrored that, and 13 months in I imagine fluency in reading could be as little as a year off, while speaking is probably still 3-4+ years away. I can read easy manga comfortably, but trying to talk to the shopkeeper when I go to buy them feels impossible.

    Maybe if I make good friends with a speaking partner I can bring that number down, but either way I’d be perfectly content with text fluency. For other peoples’ goals, speaking may be crucial.

    So IMO each person’s “fluency” timeline will be wildly different depending on their natural skills and their goals.

  33. Personally, I’m not too concerned with the distant, grand goal of “fluency”. I just want to be able to make sense of things I’m interested in (manga, anime, games, blogs, light novels etc.) without having to resort to a dictionary every second sentence. I think fluency will take care of itself once I get to that point :p

  34. I have been working in japanese industries since 2012 and teaching japanese for 10 years but due that my classes were basic level i my level decrease.
    I Read japanese and listen to japanese conversations daily and i listen to music, dramas or some shadowing audios, but something is clocking me, specially at talking

    What can i do about this?

    Thanks

  35. just curious, I have been looking forward to being able to learn Japanese for a while now and am very enthusiastic about one day possibly even living there. I am 15 now and wanted to go visit over summer in 3-4 years when I am 18 or 19 years old. I have learned a miniscule amount of basic stuff on my own through little games and apps. I finally am able to pay for lessons now that I have a job to pay for the lessons, and hiragana has come somewhat easy to me. would you think by 3-4 years from now I would be able to communicate well enough to get my point/need across to a Japanese person smoothly ? and I know everyone is different and learns at different speeds and levels than others, but from your personal experience or experience you’ve seen of others, do you think this is a likely goal ? even so I find this a personal goal with no end to see where this road in life will take me.

    • This is my opinion only, and 皆 feel free to correct me if I have any misconceptions…
      The above estimates are fairly accurate (imo) and as the article says, what do you want to do? I am assuming you want to speak Japanese [Not to play anime, manga, or video games]. It should take you 1 year of preparation AND 1 year of practice [It takes skill to be a good speaker even in your own native language].

      Three things (in my opinion):-
      1. The only skill you should be needing lessons for is speaking, that too when you know the stuff you want to speak, because the initial months will focus on either:
      a) Teaching you a mechanical way of speaking , like “patterns” and “phrases” [Not exactly “getting your point across”]
      b) Memorizing Vocabulary Lists
      …both of which are waste of Time & Money and can be easily done at the home.
      2. Use the Walk-through on this site, and start immersion [Level 25+].
      3. Keep moving forward.

    • For what it’s worth I had an abortive attempt at learning Japanese several years ago through private lessons. I did not find it very productive for the reasons Manan has outlined. Coming from zero you need to get a grasp of grammar and a good working vocabulary before you can do anything. It’s not an efficient use of time and money to do that with a teacher.

      I have had far more success with the Jalup methods and (for the first few months) Japanesepod101 so far.

      If you wanted to go to Japan in six months, then maybe learning to parrot a few standard phrases would be useful. If you have a three to four year time budget, I think the Jalup method is going to give you better results. You won’t have much to show for the first year perhaps, but you will be very good after four years.

      I spent a couple of years learning Russian with private teachers and got to the level of being able to have simple conversations. So I have given the teaching route a fair trial in another context. If I had to do it again I would use a Jalup style method. The money and time I spent do not justify the level I reached.

      I do think there is merit in trying out a teacher at a later stage when you have basic grammar and a decent vocabulary. They can help you with the details, fix little mistakes, and correct pronunciation. I plan to engage a teacher in about a year’s time, but I will definitely compare the value against things like Lang8 and Skyping with natives. I suspect the teacher will come out second.

    • I think 3 or 4 years is a reasonable time frame (so is a year and a half if you have the determination), it all depends on how many hours per day you study (that means study every single day no exceptions (okay some exceptions but not very many)).

      Your biggest obstacles are going to be burn out, and losing interest. It’s the same reason it’s so hard to lose weight, most people can’t keep the routine necessary over a long period of time. No fault to them, but you need serious determination and the ability to do something (study) even when it makes you feel like vomiting, or you need the ability to love it so much it doesn’t even feel like you’re studying (even when you really are).

      I would probably skip the lessons for now. I used to be a teacher and I learned what a racket it really is, most people can learn faster than any teacher can teach. Learn the Kana, start learning Kanji, and then buy the Jalup beginner deck. And when you are at your limit, come post here and we’ll cheer you on <3

    • As others have said, 3-4 years is plenty of time to develop your Japanese communication skills to a functional level, and the degree of proficiency you achieve will depend on the effort you put in during that time. Since most of the big stuff has been covered already, I’ll add just a few tips of my own:

      -Kanji is not (that) scary
      You will struggle with Kanji early. More importantly, you *must* struggle with Kanji early. It’s absolutely essential to understanding how the language works, and is necessary to read almost any Japanese text that’s worth reading. It will allow you to identify useful patterns in the meanings of various words that will save you a lot of time down the road. But 2000 letters is insane, right? Kind of, yeah, but with a mnemonic approach like RTK you can tackle it in roughly 200 hours. If you spend an hour a day on it for 7 months (or 2 hours a day for 3ish months…etc), you’ll have a rock solid kanji foundation. If you can make it that far, things will get much easier, to the point that you’ll wonder why you ever thought kanji was hard.

      -Read early; read often
      One of the things that irks me about college classes is that you spend years chained to textbooks filled with contrived scenarios and dry, unnatural dialogue. The reality is, you can start reading actual native material much earlier than you might think. You can start reading something like Yotsubato as early as “level 10″. That’s achievable in a matter of months, and is extremely motivating. But what if you mostly only care about talking? That’s even more reason to read. Think about all the people you know who are great speakers with broad vocabularies. I guarantee you every single one of them owes a large part of that knowledge and proficiency to countless hours spent reading.

      -Don’t be afraid to test your limits, and don’t be discouraged if you fall on your face
      The walkthrough on this site recommends starting up conversation around Level 35. This is an entirely sensible recommendation, but if writing or speaking is something you’re really excited about, there’s no harm in trying it earlier. Write brief comments on blog posts or start a Twitter account. If any of your friends speak Japanese, try talking with them a bit. Even talking to fellow learners is great practice. In any case, you will stumble and make huge mistakes doing all of these things, and that’s *totally OK*. Pushing your boundaries will give you a better sense of where you are vs where you want to be, and the mistakes you make will anchor your Japanese knowledge in memorable real-life moments.

      Anyway, the walkthrough and learning tools here (both paid & free) are fabulous, and the community is extremely supportive. You’ve definitely come to the right place =)

      Good luck on your adventure! 頑張って!

  36. Hi, I am currently working in a MNC and i have cleared my N5 level of Japanese. I want to make career in this line only and I foresee myself as a Japanese linguist after 2 years. I am not able to divert much time in my studies. Its approx maximum 2 hours in week days and on weekends I have my classes. Is the time which I am devoting is sufficient to clear my JLPT next level or I need to leave the job to get proficient in Japanese language till another 2 Years. Kindly reply me soon since I am very confused if I talk about my career but my aim is very clear to be a Japanese linguist.

    • What methods are you using? Why are you studying Japanese i.e. motivation?

      Regarding methods, If you have completed RTK and are using Anki, then it should take you less than ~120 hours (assuming you have mastered N5) to have a firm grasp of the materials and then some hours for practice. Learning and mastering testing techniques are just as important as actually knowing the material on any test.

      As for motivation, if you do no plan to use Japanese for a job, I recommend you read this post: http://japaneselevelup.com/the-inevitable-question-to-jlpt-or-not-to-jlpt/

      I believe others (Adam himself or folks at koohii) would be able to guide you better regarding JLPTs.

  37. The Japanese Language Education Center publishes the following: (N1 is the hardest where one should be able to read a newspaper)

    JLPT Study Hour Comparison Data 2010-2015

    Study Hours Required to Pass Japanese Language Proficiency Test

    Students with kanji knowledge / Other Students
    *eg: Asian Students / *no prior kanji knowledge

    N1 1700-2600 hours / 3000-4800 hours
    N2 1150-1800 hours / 1600-2800 hours
    N3 700-1100 hours / 950-1700 hours
    N4 400-700 hours / 575-1000 hours
    N5 250-450 hours / 325-600 hours

    Got the above from: http://www.studytoday.com/JLPT.asp?lang=EN

  38. Okay, so i am super interested in learning japanese and have collected most of the textbooks and stuff i’ll need to begin my learning journey.
    I’m really good with languages and i bet that could be a plus for me.
    I would love to travel to Japan and live there, simply because i’m deeply in love with the culture.
    I’m originally from Nigeria but i reside in South Africa. Out of the 11 official languages spoken in South Africa, i get by at least half of that number.
    I’m a cultural person and i just love people’s cultures because it defines who they are.
    I shall inspire myself to learn everyday, the every aspect of Nihongo.
    Jaa!

  39. I’ve started learning hiragana and I’m not getting very far but I was wondering do I still need to learn hiragana or could I just move straight onto katakana and kanji

    • You will need hiragana if you plan on doing any kind of reading. Furigana (the small characters indicating the reading of kanji in easier texts) are hiragana and will help you immensely when learning to read kanji.

      Another thing to note is that learning hiragana and katakana are basically the same thing. Both have the same set of characters they just look different. Whereas kanji is much different to learn.

      Maybe try out using Heisig’s books for learning kana or find an anki deck for them. Don’t be afraid of trying different methods if the first one doesn’t work out for you.

      Good luck :)

    • Like the others have already said, hiragana and kanji are a must for reading. Katakana isn’t any more difficult than hiragana so you might as well learn that as well (you aren’t going to lose anything by learning it). In short, learn all 3 at your own pace that you are comfortable with.

  40. thx for that tips ,but really it’s difficult to learn Japanese while I’m not good at English and study Japanese with arabic make more difficult.

    I really glad to find this website it helpful (talking about me of course LOL )
    thx again

    • Welcome to the site! The good news is that once you get to J-J, you don’t need to use English at all. Best of luck.

      • I kind of feel that Jalup Beginner has a lot of merits if your English is not good and it is difficult to find a beginner textbook in your native language. Due to the whole puzzle thing, where only a single word is in English and the rest you have to puzzle out yourself. That single English word can probably be looked up in a dictionary from English to whatever native language you have and then the rest does not have to involve any English at all. The most difficult parts will probably be some of the longer grammatical explanations in Jalup Beginner, but if you don’t care too much about knowing the exact workings of grammar and only care about understanding the meaning, that should work out just fine. After that you’ll hit J-J and then there’s only Japanese challenges ahead.

  41. Looking back on this list, it’s so damn accurate. At least for me. I think I’m already fluent (or indiscernibly close to it) in all aspects of reading in 2.5 years (Inlcuding 3 months of RTK, no language study).

    Maybe because i haven’t practiced them directly, but my speaking and listening are lagging bad. Surprisingly, my speaking and writing are really starting to get a lot of growth recently. Even though I’m still not directly practicing them at all. Pretty awesome. I think I want to go my listening to a bit of a higher level then I’ll probably spread my focus to include speaking/listening. Probably another 6months to a year by my estimates.

    I feel way closer to fluent in Variety shows than anime? Maybe all the written content in variety shows. Then again, I tend to watch a lot of complex anime that covers crime, politics, law etc… I probably also watch simpler variety shows. So 2.5 years for anime must really depend on the difficulty of the show right? Unless you mean fluency with everything at 5 star difficult. I’m probably a ways off if that’s the case.

    I really recommend the getting to level 65 in reading and listening before fully tackling speaking and writing. Unless those are things you desperately want to get to. But the critical mass or ‘boiling water’ has proven pretty true in my case. Pretty stoked with the results. Keeping faith that my speaking and writing will explode over the next year like the rest of my abilities had the over the year prior! Here’s to hoping!

    • Maybe 5 years ago I made this guide just for you!

      Your progress has been great though, and I’m excited to see where you ultimately end up (battling me…?)

  42. I still have 1 year to give EJU…I have just started…but I do not want to give much time on it…I know a little bit of speaking Japanese…do you think I would be able to make it and pass the exam??how much time do you think I should devote in a week….and please recommend a good book for it

  43. Sorry for being anonymous…loved your article! I am 31 and stuck with a career of well 9 to 9 work schedule!! I have post grad in management…and I believe after 6 years of working in corporate arena I am nowhere and my downward career graph reflects that indeed! Am I too old to become a language translator?I used to enjoy writing essays while I was a kid and always felt I am a good communicator…all I can do now is opt for a certification course of 6 months and be sincere about it..my only worry is my age and the time it might take to create a ground for myself where I can start earning as a translator,I don’t want to work where am I working at the moment,I know its hard for you to answer yet looking for some insights and hope!!

  44. How long would it take to be fluent if you’re in Japan for a whole school year? All the classes would be taught in Japanese, so…

    • Depends on a lot of different factors (such as what you consider fluent) but overall a school year can make you a lot of progress but its still only a year.

      What level do you consider yourself currently?

      If you are a low level with all the classes in Japanese you may not get as much out of it as if you were lets say already done with Jalup Expert and have a solid understanding and that year would let you get out some of those kinks you may have.

      You can have some very good Japanese at the end of that yea but unless you are already at that nearly fluent level you won’t be fluent at the end of the year.

  45. I moved to Japan – however my work is 100% English, and I have an English-language family here. I am hoping to achieve daily-conversational fluency in 2 yrs. So far I’m between N5 and N4 (although I am not really too concerned with these tests.

    I need tips on how to get maximum output and listening exposure in my limited ‘free time’ given my heavy English life here. Tips?

  46. Hello Adam and thank you so much for the article! It is extremely inspiring and informative – as well as the other articles on this great website. After much reading, I have a question to ask you.

    Currently, I am in no way involved in Japanese. I only know a few words from anime and several Katakana symbols. However, the college that I’m attending has a wonderful Japanese study abroad program which I fell evolve with as soon as I saw the offers. It will start in one year and will consist of 30 days of mostly traveling and exploring, not being in a class or doing anything ed-related. I will do anything to take it.

    But I will need to learn to interact with locals, right? If my goal is solely to learn spoken Japanese (meaning being able to both speak and understand it), is it a good idea to drop or significantly cease Kanji studies? I still plan to learn both Kana alphabets (your article on romanji only inspired me to learn them more). However, I’m not sure about Kanji for the following:

    You see, it feels like the majority of this website’s audience’s issues are related to memorizing and understanding Kanji. If anything, it almost seems like Kanji is something different from Japanese as people are ready to study nothing but Kanji for extended periods of time and take Kanji-only tests. But as the knowledge of this alphabet is not needed in either speaking or comprehending the spoken Japanese (and neither is it required for writing since everything can be written in Katakana or Hiragana), I personally don’t see the point in dedicating much time to it.

    On the other hand, I’m worried that the lack of this knowledge may not only negatively impact my travel experience (which will inevitably be impacted as I won’t understand some signs or papers), but also my study effectiveness. From some other blogs, I got the idea that a more/less full knowledge of written language is needed to succeed in the spoken one.

    At this point, I want to ask you: if I only have a one year time frame (~300 days at 4 hrs. each) and my priorities are speaking and comprehension, is it a good idea to skip the Kanji part while pursuing both Kana’s? Why or why not? Do I have a chance of success in this time frame?

    Thank you in advance,

    Andrei

    • Almost every point about the romaji article (http://japaneselevelup.com/learn-romaji-only-want-speak-japanese/) also carries over to learning kanji as well.

      Kanji is an integral part of learning Japanese as a whole. But if you need any convincing, the most important thing to remember is kanji makes learning Japanese easier , not harder. Yes, kanji is hard, but that’s because learning Japanese is hard. If you have a year of 4 hours a day, it would seem counter-productive to completely skip kanji.

      You might want to give the natural kanji route (http://japaneselevelup.com/need-study-kanji-separately/), rather than learning them separately if you are still a little resistant.

      That’s my opinion on it. I’m sure there are people out there that have been successful with no kanji at all, but you’ll have to talk to them to see what and how they did it.

      Whatever you decide, best of luck!

      • Thank you very much for the reply!

        I will definitely take your advice into consideration, especially if you say it will benefit my learning effectiveness. As the person above said, it is only logical to start learning the most used kanji first, so this is what I’ll do.

        I will write on this blog in some time to share the experience)
        Thank you again.

        Andrei

    • “as people are ready to study nothing but Kanji for extended periods of time”

      As this perfectly describes me, I felt the urge to respond,too. :D
      I’m an avid reader, so Kanji pose a way more important stepping stone on my Japanese journey,but even if not for reading I’d say that knowing Kanji makes the whole learning process a lot easier. I think that is the reason why people like me devote sole time on Kanji. Because in the end it is just an alphabet. Learning English with only 10% of the alphabet seems similar hard to me than learning advanced Japanese without Kanji.

      And especially if you have 300 days, tackling 7 Kanji per day is not a big task, if you keep up with it.
      I think you might focus your effort on more frequently used Kanji,if you want to limit the amount. Even if you do nothing but speak in the country, you will eventually face a lot of texts everywhere.

      • Hi!
        See, apparently, I was right about Kanji fans ;)

        Thank you very much for the advice. Adam has already told me that Kanji can simplify learning the language, and even though it sounds a bit strange to me, I’ll trust you as experts.

        To me, remembering something is a big problem. I tend to forget things much faster and at larger rate than is usually expected. I fear that my brain will only accept ~500 symbols and will reject anything beyond that. At this point, 7 symbols a day might not even be in the range of my possibilities.

        On the other hand, I will consider your advice regarding the most used Kanji. It is only logical to learn “go,” “take,” “bread,” and “yellow,” first before proceeding to “presumptuous,” “profitability,” or “conjugate.” ;)

        I will do my best at making the most out of the learning process and will share my experience on this blog one day.

        Thank you very much for the reply.

        Andrei

        • > Adam has already told me that Kanji can simplify learning the language, and even though it sounds a bit strange to me, I’ll trust you as experts.

          I think when you start out, learning kanji does make your life harder because it seems like for every vocab word you learn, you need to learn at least one new kanji as well. So yes, in the beginning kanji can definitely feel like a burden.

          The thing is, if you continue to learn, sooner or later the same kanji will pop up again in other words. And suddenly they give you pretty good hints for the meaning of new words, up to the point where you sometimes find yourself wondering “do I really need to add that to my vocab list/srs at all? It’s so easy to get from the kanji”. It may seem like that will only help with reading, but you can often times get a pretty good idea for the pronunciation as well. Of course you don’t have those clues while talking, but in general if you just learn words faster (including the pronunciation of course) that is going to carry over to the language acquisition overall including listening/talking.

          I’m not really sure how I would go about it if I were in your shoes, maybe something frequency based or learning the kanji as they appear in words or so. Whichever way you choose, I wish you the best of luck!

  47. I’m motivated by this article. Is there a complete guideline (lessons/materials) on how & where to start studying Japanese language? Thanks in advance :)

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