How I reached Japanese Level 40 In 8 Months — 66 Comments

  1. I like the idea of this guide and hope it helps a lot of people! Makes me think, I’d be interested in a “part two” guide from Adshap or someone around that level on how to powerup from level 40 to 70 next! For someone like me who is already past level 40.

    Very good advice on choosing a pre-made deck over making your own. When I did Anki, I sometimes felt like all I did was create decks. Nice little hack for power leveling.

    Looking forward to reading your next post!

    • I’d be very interested in that as well! Although I think the later parts of the guide will be helpful to even high leveled learners because at some point in the thirties it’s really all about time management and finding the right native material.

      • Hmm… From my experience I think there’s a little more to it than that for higher levels, but I’m sure a lot of people, regardless of level, would be interested in time management advice. Especially if they’re having a hard time fitting in their study into their day. I personally don’t have any trouble in those arenas. It may be that when you’re a higher level, you pretty much know what you need to be doing.

        There are other aspects of fluency that come into play at higher levels, such as speaking and writing naturally and accurately.

        Edit: Oh, but for the thirties, I agree with what you said (^_^). Just talking about level 40+.

        • I just misunderstood what you said. I thought you said that’s all that’s to it for higher levels in general, when you just meant level thirties, and that the advice can also be applicable to higher levels.

          Sorry about that! I get it now (^_^).

  2. And I agree! Opposition does breed progression. When I told a Japanese professor over the phone back when I was looking into colleges to go to years ago the method I was using, he told me I should hold off and wait to learn in college when I can take a class. Boy did that make me question myself for two weeks, and man did it make me mad. But that really pushed me and I proved him wrong, because I jumped into Japanese 202 by the time I went to college. I’ll never forget that.

  3. Scheduling a test is a great idea! If you’re starting Japanese before the end of high school, there are Japanese AP exams available (check CollegeBoard).

    My goal was to study for about a year and hope to get at least a couple courses worth of credit from the exam. Although I ended up not being able to take it as an adult, I was able to enroll in the first Japanese course online this semester and finished it within a couple days. It felt great seeing how far I had come!

    • That’s what I’m hoping to do! I passed the N3 in December and I’m hoping to take the AP exam this Spring. It really gives you something solid to show your progress.

  4. Nice post. Being around level 25 currently, I am really looking forward to seeing the subsequent part(s) to this article. I really want to blast past any sort of mid-level blues and into level 40 territory as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    • I’m hoping to get the next parts of the series out soon because I know the twenties and up are where you can really start to power level.

  5. You dirty rat! Haha just kidding! Good work bro! Glad your experiences can really help other people out! You da man! :D

  6. As a possible improvement, you could consider dropping RTK altogether and just learning words using the Kanji in RTK order. That way you would get vocabulary, kanji readings and you’d still ‘learn’ the kanji.

    In the interest of learning more and more new material, you might also consider changing your anki graduating interval from 1 day to something like 14 days, and suspending cards that pass the 14 day interval.

  7. Interested to see where this goes post JALUP series decks. I’m assuming once the original 3000 end you’re left in the early to mid 30s area. Is it approach that goes towards branching eventually or have you come up with some other J-J solution?

    I branch and am using the JALUP expert at the moment. But it’s difficult to keep a pace as fast as when using JALUP premades when you’re making your own cards, unfortunately.

    • Using tools like Rikaisama or Epwing2Anki can help speed up the card creation process. It takes me about half a second to create a new vocabulary / sentence card, for example. If you get an EPWING version of 大辞林, it could work well with J-J sentence cards.

      • would you mind elaborating on this process for me? J-J card creation preferrably.

        I use the one deck already, and the times that I need to make cards are for branching almost exclusively. How exactly would this speed up the process of branching? Does this epwing2anki give you the J-J definition and an example sentence automatically generated into an anki card? What happens for words with like 9+ definitions? Rikaichan on chrome is pretty good at breaking down conjugations, but I’ve heard you can get J-J defintions with Rikaisama.

        • Use Rikaisama or Rikaichan to save words to a text file. Once you have a list of words in a text file, setup Epwing2Anki to use the 大辞林 Epwing version that you (il)legally acquired and setup an appropriate card layout. Then press “go” and wait for it to finish and then import the file (with potentially thousands of sentences) into anki.

          A much easier process is to use anki for vocabulary and use rikaisama along with the anki plugin. As long as you can copy a word into a text field, you can press one button to instantly create a card, with a definition, example sentence and audio.

          As an Aside, I’m tempted to create a program that will gloss an entire dictionary and create sentence cards for everything, along with appropriate defintions. This database of around 100K sentences could then be sorted using the MorphMan anki plugin to create an optimal i+1 study environment.

          • you’re the best! Thanks so much :)

            Ps. how does rikaisama+anki addon handle cards with mmultiple defiinitons? Do you get 8 separate cards with example sentences?

            And what happens when there isn’t an example sentence in the dictionary? Does it generate it with a blank field or does it just fail to make one?

            • If you can be bothered to input the entire sentence into a text field, you can use the sentence the word came from. It won’t fail if it cannot find examples.

              If you add a word like “かかる” It will give you the entire entry, including all the definitions and example sentences for the word. This can be quite funny if you’re using Kenkyusha and you get about 300 example sentences along with the word.

          • I tried that morphman and was going to try and use it on my J-J deck. Maybe I’m just tech illiterate, but I could not understand how to set it up at all, and was too scared of mucking up the existing cards in my deck.

            That would be awesome if you morphman’ed it before releasing it. Saves spastics like me that do not understand how to use that application at all. I sat there for like an hour reading the wiki before i gave up haha

  8. And people though I was crazy for studying just a few hours a day… Really inspiring stuff though, I should probably step it up a little myself. You’re right, I definitely would like to just be done with RTK already. At my current rate, I’ll probably be level 16 or 17 by the end of 8 months. I can’t wait see what I can do to speed that up (beside the obvious of studying longer).

  9. Love this article, especially the heavy use of comedic Dragonball pics. I did try powering through kanji last summer but could only average at about 35 a day, and that was after a lot of stumbling in the early part of the holiday, leaving me with about 700 kanji. Now I’m in school, I need to organise my time a bit better because I need to speed up without jeopardising my other subjects. I do 3 other subjects (this is British A-levels which are few but in huge depth to prepare you for uni) and teachers advice is 5 hours per subject per week. I am awful at keeping to anything like that so I need to start timetabling that properly and hopefully once I’ve done that I’ll be able to see where I can fit more Japanese in.

    • The next article in the series will feature ways to manage your time and create the best immersion environment so it should help with your busy schedule.

      • That great, thanks, that would be so helpful. 15 hours of non-japanese study sounds okay but when I’m at school or travelling for 12 hours a day and only 2 of those hours are time I can spend studying and when I get home I’m exhausted and need to practise guitar too, and I’m failing maths so I need to spend twice the reccomended time on that, plus to do well at History I need to read as much as possible, it does get busy. Mostly because I have gone from barely giving my homework in and only studying for Japanese to being expected to study all day and I’m not sure how to handle it. (Wow that sounded like a rant sorry). My 2 hours bus time has become great flashcard time since I got an android phone though. Anyway, really looking forward to the next installment judged on the quality of this one!

        • I was failing math last semester too and it was soo rough! (Thankfully, I did end up passing and graduating, though I was on the verge of failing.) Usually I have no problem fitting my interests around my school life, but that semester I really had to put studying first. I feel your pain (;’_’;).

          Another way you could fit in some listening time is using an mp3 player (android phone will work for that) to listen to Japanese while you walk around school. Even listening to things as you do your flashcards can work. I find it really relaxing too. I recommend listening to ripped audio from your favorite dramas or anime, drama CDs or podcasts, as opposed to music, to get the most out of it.

          A good podcast app for Android is Podcast Addict. Set it to download automatically while on wifi so that you have new episodes to listen to on the go and you’ll be all set! I recommend きくどら, a voice drama podcast (

          • Ooh wow thanks for the podcast app and recommendations. A voice drama podcast sounds great. Its rather encouraging to hear that you managed to turn around your maths situation; I hope I do to.

            Yeah I have a lot of drama audio (split into 10-15min chunks) and Japanese music on my iPod and recently I deleted all the English so I can listen to it on shuffle whenever I’m not going to get in trouble for wearing headphones. Thus i get a mix of the useful drama audio and the more motivating music. I need to get some in-ears for walking around school and such like you said though.I just have one pair of good but huge headphones.

  10. 4/5ths of the way through RTK I switched from training production to recognition. From searching the web on this topic, I can see that the consensus is that training recognition instead of production with RTK doesn’t work very well. There is a post on this site somewhere from Adam that recommends against this approach.

    So I’d been wanting to switch for so long, but every time, I would look for an opinion from someone who has made the switch, and each time I would be discouraged. Eventually I was so desperate. I’d started RTK at a healthy pace, and I enjoyed it up until about 1200. The last few hundred were progressing so slowly, and I hated every minute of it.

    So I switched, and started enjoying RTK again, and finished much faster than I started. If only I could go back and reassure myself, I could have invested months more time into the language itself. Sure, I won’t be handwriting, but then I doubt I ever would anyway. Honestly, I won’t handwrite english unless I absolutely have to.

    Anyhow, it is true that stories you have created while training production might not work well the other way. It’s an association thing. Quite often the associations work well both ways, but sometimes you will need to retrain an association, tweak the story somewhat, or just add a detail that helps bridge the gap. I’m finding this easy as reviews come up for my mature cards, which were all trained by production.

    Anyhow, YMMV. My accuracy is ok @ 95.5%. I can’t see how to work out what my accuracy was before I switched, but it had gotten pretty bad. After 1200 cards, the reviews were killing me, even without adding new cards sometimes for days in a row.

    One piece of advice I have that works either way, and really restates Jonathon’s advice to ensure that the reviews are done, is to complete the reviews each day before adding new cards. Set daily new cards to zero, and only add them through custom study after the reviews are done.

    This really helps, because nothing puts the brakes on completing reviews, like stopping to develop a story. It also helps because the cycle time on learning new cards is really low when they’re added in small chunks and not mixed with lots of reviews. So accuracy improves, and you breeze through the new cards.

    • Yes! Doing all of your reviews everyday is one of the greatest things you can do for your studies. The way I did it was to make all of my stories for the day first on paper, and then do my reviews later. Making the stories first really helps anki’s flow and you aren’t taking time to develop stories.

  11. Using the level guide i would say im around level 40, been learning japanese for a few years in and off. I wonder if its possible to go from level 40 to around 60 in a month or two of studyng and listening to japanese 24 7

    • depends how you measure it. if you’re looking at japanese levelup guide you’d need around another 4-5000 sentences to reach level 65. If you did 50 a day for 3 months you’d get 4500 sentences. So it’s definitely possible but you’d be spending 6-8 hours a day minimum to do so I’d say.

      • Thanks for your input. Lately ive been making 100 new cards per day which takes about 4 hours and i do it while watching j drama in the background. Im planning to start working twice as hard, hopefully i can keep that pace up

  12. That is some damn impressive power-leveling, especially considering the only fire you had under you was “I just really loved all things Japan, and was determined to learn”. Congrats!

    This is especially inspiring for me because I (re-)started my Japanese early last year, and took the N3 JLPT about 9 months in or so… and did *not* pass, heh. I had just recently been patting myself on the back for getting as far as I did in 9 months, when really I should be getting my ass in gear and pushing even harder!

    • Nah, you should be proud of what you did. But being proud doesn’t mean you have to complacently slow down. Inspire yourself ;)

  13. Looking forward to part 2! I was wondering how many cards people add per day. I’m in the JALUP Advanced deck and some days I only feel like doing 10 but others I can easily do like 60 in a day. I always wonder if this is bad because the reviews might bog me down later, but I feel that if I have the momentum, why waste it? My plan is to finish the advanced deck really soon and just go solo after that.

    • I’ve been doing 100 per day for awhile now. If you feel like you can do more then do it, but you also need to know your limits. Usually if I feel like reviews are getting too much I just skip a day of adding new cards. The time you get from not doing new cards will be enough to finish your reviews.

    • Personally I like to do 30-35 per day. This will get you to around 1000 in a month. I’ve been at this pace for around 3 months now and the reviews aren’t too bad, just recently got over 300. If I just did reviews it would probably only take an hour or so. If you can handle the reviews and want to go for more that’s fine, but I see using Anki as more of a marathon and like to “run” at an even pace. Though that’s just me, you should do as much as you think you can!

  14. It also depends on the way you review.

    I personally put a lot of effort into regurgitating the sentence out aloud and working on smooth pronunciation.

    Sometimes I will read the same sentence 5-6 times until I can do it at the same speed as the native voice without a mistake. So for me reviews my take a lot longer than others. I usually average 30sec per card though.

    I don’t like to let me reviews go above 100-ish cards, so I have only been adding 20 card during the week and then just doing reviews on Saturday and Sunday.

  15. Took me about 4 years to get to level 40 haha didnt learn about anki or immersion for a couple years, lets see if i can power level up to 60 soon. Just started talkin japanese to some waitresses at a japanese restaurant, wish me luck。Got just ovet 8000 anki sentences, deleted about 1500 that were too easy, but i dont feel im as good as i should be yet

  16. I’d like to suggest an less alternative method to power up (not necessarily better) for those who only want to focus on their comprehension (are in it just for tv shows and anime) than speaking/writing based on my personal experience.
    It should roughly take you 6 months to enjoy 3 starred media on this site. I am assuming you are using JalUp battle equipment package. Let’s say you start Japanese on January 1:

    January 1:
    -Learn Kana using visual mnemonics (Dr. Moku, Tofugu..etc.). (~4 hours for both)
    -Start Kana Conqueror. Choose your own pace (minimum 10 cards/day).
    -Start Heisig’s RTK at moderate 32 cards/day. I am assuming you are using RTK standard deck (2200 cards).
    -Start Reading Tae Kim (Basic Section).
    -(optional)Read Japanese the Manga way
    -You may want to read each entry in these books multiple times. I repeat, “multiple times”.
    -(optional)Japanese Pod 101 (Nihongo Dojo order up to Beginner season 5)
    If possible, start immersing a little.
    -(optional) Read textfugu season 1 (free).

    February 1:
    -Tae Kim (up to advanced lesson 1). You have 40 days to read it multiple times.
    -(Optional)Start using Tae Kim deck (mentioned in the post). Only recognition cards.
    -Start reading JalUp’s posts.
    -Start reading Tae Kim’s blog
    Feb 15:
    -Start beginner deck at 40 cards/day. You should be able to power through it easily.

    March 10:
    -You should be finished with Kana Conqueror, RTk and Beginner and feel like a Boss! You should have read all the Tae Kim (upto Lesson 1 of Advanced)and (optional) Japanese The Manga Way multiple times by now.
    -Delete the Kana Conqueror and the Tae Kim deck (but…).
    -You have the rest of the month free! That means keeping up with reviews, immersing (active+passive) a LOT (Level 1 materials are a good starting point). You can ditch the Japanesepod101 podcasts for more “native” stuff :D.

    Here are some things you should do before advancing:
    -Read Jalup post about phonetic components.
    -Learn how Kanji compounds are formed. This will help you a LOT in Intermediate:

    April 1:
    -You are fluent in Japanese! (April Fools!)
    -Okay, seriously. Start JalUp Intermediate@40 cards/day. When finished, Start JalUp Advanced@40 cards/day and so on.
    -Immerse a lot during this time. Don’t focus on new words that you encounter, just trust Adam’s decks and you’ll be fine.
    -Be strict with your reviewing.

    You will be level 40+ in 6 months. Now it will take some time to internalize what you have learned, but just like RTK, you “know” stuff now. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.

    • Just curious, but is this what you did? If so, how did it go for you? About how many hours a day did you need to finish it all? Do you have any advice for getting past that?

      • This is almost what I did, except one little thing. I did not do Beginner Deck. Rest everything else is same. It took ~5-6 hours per day, but now it takes ~2.5 hours to make and review anki cards. I am currently at level 50-55 and can enjoy most of the Japanese media.
        The problem I can see someone see someone having is the illusion of late results I.e. It would seem you are not making any process, but continue for some months, and BAM, you’d be there. You are making progreds every time, just not visible progress.

    • Why did you suggest to delete production part of Taekim deck? Is it only because of your specific goal of improving input skills rather than output ones? Or do you have other reasons too? I’m currently using Tae Kim deck now and am curious to know your answer.
      One more question doesn’t studying too much new cards per day make it difficult to realize and use them out of Anki, in real situations? Or doesn’t it leads to confusion and mixing up similar words?

  17. This is a very inspiring post, due to this, I just increased my daily new cards count for RTK from 30 to 40 so I can get them over with in 20 days, I hate doing new RTK cards so much but I am completely fine with reviews.

      • I just don’t know why I dislike it so much to be honest, but I keep saying to myself “This isn’t forever.” Granted if I was feeling this way about Jalup decks I would’ve quit them a long time ago because they never seem to finish.

    • I don’t know why, but I LOVED RTK. I used to look forward to adding new cards, and was actually a bit sad when it was over.

      • I’m so jealous. If I had that mentality I would’ve already been done with RTK a long time ago but whatever. This month will be the last of this!

      • Ah, you’re one of those, huh? It’s pretty rare to see someone who likes doing RTK, that’s definitely something to be grateful about! Also I do agree that it’s really about the mentality. If you say you hate it then it becomes easier to hate, but if you reinforce that it’s not so bad and the benefits well outweigh the time to do it then the load can feel a bit lighter.

        • This is a good comment. Your mentality is yours to control.

          Find reasons to convince yourself that you enjoy doing it, and focus on them, not the things you hate about it. For example, every Kanji you learn lets you enjoy your favourite manga or anime a little bit more. Then try to associate that feeling of enjoyment with RTK.

  18. Sounds like I need to get into novels soon. Hopefully in a few months, I’m nervous but excited. Should be just as hard as manga were in the beginning.
    I’ve also been slacking on passive listening; I’ve starting telling everyone I know I’m going to be fluent in Japanese, I should play the part!

    • Good to hear you’re going to start novels soon! In the beginning it’s very important to try and picture the words and story in your head as you read. That way even when you don’t understand all the words you can still get the story. Good luck!

  19. Good article, dude. If you ever want to lend me any of your textbooks or anki decks or anything, throw ’em on over. :D I’m at a lower level (as you know), but going through the Intermediate decks definitely helps me deepen my vocab (something I really want/need) and kanji, especially with the ones that I won’t be seeing in Genki.

  20. I’m not a beginner but I’m considering attempting a Lv.53 to Lv.65 power level over the next 6 months.

    What you say about stop caring about your level is really good advice. It’s started me thinking that actually “Level 65” and “Fluent according to JALUP” isn’t the point. I’m starting a Masters degree in September and after that I’m aiming to go to university in Japan. So I really need to be at the ‘all the groundwork is there, I have the JLPT N1 piece of paper for application purposes, now let’s get reading native material on my specialism’ stage a.s.a.p. I think that’s a better thing to be focused on than a “level”.

    So just to say thanks for reminding me what’s important :) Also the headphone down the sleeve is a great idea!

    • Also you when you were reading you manga/playing games were you inputting words that you did not know into anki? Or was most of your focus was on the premade decks?

    • First, hit custom study, then study a random selection of cards. Then hit the number of cards you want to study from the deck.

      As for your other question; no, I advise against making your own cards because I believe that the Jalup decks are great and there is no need for personal cards because I think that the time it takes to make them is not worth the speed you get by not doing them.

      • I didn’t know about that type of cram study. Anyways, “Review ahead” is really useful for me on the weekends, I choose 5 days ahead on Sunday so I get to do all my reviews for the weekdays so I don’t have an excuse to not do them during school. With that, my review count drops from a 100 everyday to a measly, and very manageable 30. Review forgotten cards really helps reinforce cards you suck at. I assume random selection of cards is really what it is, just a random selection of cards, I am gonna try it today and see how I like it.

      • Exactly. Start making cards when you’ve exhausted the JalUp decks i.e. when you have completed Expert Stage 8.

    • Not the author, but I can assist here as I use this function daily. So after you finish your deck for the day, you can click “Custom Study.” There are a TON of Custom Study options that are helpful. The one that I use is “Review Forgotten Cards.” This function will make a deck with all of the cards that you missed for that day. I always do my reviews in the morning, and I will do this cram session of reviews at night. When you look at the data in anki, this is listed as cram time. Hope this was helpful!

      • I’ve always wondered about this feature… does it actually affect the cards’ “ease”? Like, does it change the state of the deck, or is it something totally outside of your normal deck state?

        Just wondering how a feature like that might negatively affect Anki’s spaced-repetition algorithm, if at all.

        I guess I should just try it, really :)

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