Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic (or Japanese-Ryukyuan) language family, and its ultimate derivation and relation to other languages is unclear. Japonic languages have been grouped with other language families such as Ainu, Austroasiatic, Korean, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.
How long does it take to learn Japanese? The honest answer may surprise you.
The truth? Learning Japanese takes as little as 90 days. We’ve seen plenty of learners start having in-depth conversations in Japanese in this time. Follow the right methods, and you’ll get there fast.
Now, of course, a lot depends on your learning goals.
How long it takes to learn Japanese on average depends on if you want to learn Japanese for anime. Or are you learning to speak conversationally? Or to speak Japanese fluently?
If you want to be an undercover spy who sounds like a native speaker of Japanese, then you’ll likely need thousands of hours. Conversely, learning basic Japanese to attend the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will only take you a few hours.
So, let’s deep dive into exactly how long it takes to learn Japanese, depending on your end goal.
Depending on the language you select and its relation to your native language, it can be harder or easier to learn. For example, if your native language is English, then Spanish or Dutch would be easier to learn because they are similar to English. The less like your native language your target language is, the harder it may be to learn.
How Hard is it to Learn Japanese?
- According to the US Department of State, Japanese is one of the hardest languages for English natives to learn. It doesn’t have many similarities in structure to English. They estimate it takes 88 weeks of learning, or 2200 hours, to reach fluency. That’s about a B2 level on the CEFR charts, or JLPT N2 level (conversational).
- Some estimate that it takes English-language students (or non-Asian, without prior kanji knowledge) about 4800 hours to reach true Japanese fluency and pass the JLPT N1 exam.
- On a Reddit thread about how long it take to learn Japanese, users shared that it took about 800 hours of study time to be able to watch anime with full comprehension.
- Others said it takes 2-5 years of effort to reach mastery, adding that you could survive in the language after one year.
To pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N1, which is considered fluent Japanese? You would have to know all the jouyou kanji, 10,000 words, and know hundreds of grammar patterns. So, to reach near-native levels of fluency, you’d need at least a year of full-time, immersive studying. That doesn’t mean you’d have to live in Japan, but you would definitely have to create an immersive environment at home. Even still, the average time it takes someone to reach this level with intense, but not full-time, studying is 3-5 years.
The reason it’s so hard and takes so long is because you have to learn kanji on top of everything else. It segments your learning between speaking and listening, and reading and writing. But if you have the motivation, you can do it with effective study habits.
So don’t let those big number of hours discourage you. That’s focused on inefficient study hours. If you know how you learn best, you have amazing Japanese resources, and you put in real study and speaking time, you can get there fast.
Tips to Make Learning Japanese Easier
If you’re serious about learning Japanese, then here are some tips to help you learn the language faster.
1. Set Your Goal for Speaking Japanese
Your end goal matters. So decide what “fluent” means for you. If you want to understand anime in Japanese, you need to learn vocabulary specifically for that. And even the type of anime matters, too. Naruto uses a lot of “ninja speech” that’s harsher and less polite than, say, Sailor Moon.
2. Break Down Your Goal into Daily Chunks
Okay, let’s say you want to reach JLPT N1 or near-native fluency. As we already discussed, you’d need to know 2200 kanji, 10,000+ vocabulary, and hundreds of grammar patterns.
If you can commit to studying 60 minutes a day, then you’d need to break that goal down into daily chunks. 10 new kanji a day, 30 new words, 1 new grammar pattern… Divide it up based on how much you know you can fit in a study session. Or, study kanji on Mondays and Wednesdays, vocabulary on Tuesdays and Thursdays, grammar on the weekends… Whatever works best for you.
3. Start Speaking and Writing NOW
Find a Japanese language exchange partner and start speaking today. Even if all you know how to say is “Hello, my name is…” start using it. If you don’t use it, you lose it. And making mistakes is the best way to learn. So get out there, make mistakes, and start speaking.
4. Find an Entertaining Japanese Resource
The only way you’ll enjoy studying all the time is if you make it fun. And the good news is, you can learn from things you already enjoy in Japanese.
If you like to play video games, switch the language to Japanese. Pokemon games are great for this. The language is simple, and it’s easy to switch it to Japanese when you start a new game.
If you like to read manga, find the manga you enjoy in Japanese. Push yourself to read a little each day. The more you read, the easier it will get.
Watch your favorite shows in Japanese. I love to watch Terrace House on Netflix! There are several different seasons and locales, and it’s fun to watch.
5. Immerse Yourself in Japanese Culture
Adding on to that last point, Japanese is a contextual and cultural language. To master it, you would need a deep understanding of Japanese body language, history, and cultural insights and mannerisms. You won’t learn that from a textbook.
As much as you can, study the history and culture. Watch the news, variety shows (they’re full of pop culture references), and read Japanese message boards or social media. If something confuses you, Google it. You’ll pick up all kinds of shorthand, slang, and cultural references. The more you understand them, the more you’ll be able to speak Japanese.
6. Squeeze More Japanese into Your Life
Can you listen to a podcast during your commute? Can you read the news in Japanese while drinking your morning coffee? Can you do your Anki flashcards while using the bathroom?
Most people feel like they don’t have time for tons of studying. But you can usually find small pockets of time, or swap out one thing for another. Instead of watching TV in English, watch it in Japanese. Instead of skimming Instagram in English, look up Japanese hashtags and read the captions. Instead of listening to the radio, turn on a Japanese podcast or J-Pop station.
How Long it Takes to learn Japanese Depends on YOU
There are so many variables when it comes to learning about Japanese. But with the right study habits, effective time management, and consistent commitment, you can learn to speak conversational Japanese in as little 3 months.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed by looking at the numbers, if you focus on the positive factors that can help you learn the Japanese language and work with complete dedication, it definitely is not impossible to master Japanese in a year.
So don;t think too much and start learning
All the best!!