Do you wonder how long it takes to learn Japanese fluently? If you are interested in learning this language, dig in and we’ll tell you valuable information.
According to the US Department of State, Japanese is one of the most complicated languages for English native-speakers to learn. It doesn’t share many similarities with English in terms of structure. As per the study conducted by the US Department of State, it may take someone as long as eighty-eight weeks to reach fluency.
Well, is this true for everyone?
Let’s find out!
How Long Does It Take to Learn Japanese Fluently According to Statistics
Japanese Culture is nothing short of unique. Various Japanese media such as J-Pop, J-Movies, Anime, and Manga have given us a glimpse into the unique culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. However, the Japanese Language, Nihongo, has a notorious reputation as being hard to decipher, especially for non-Asian, English speakers. Whether you are learning Japanese out of pure interest, honoring your heritage, preparing for a vacation, or expanding your business opportunities, the first question you may ask yourself is how long does it take to learn Japanese fluently?
A common judgement says it takes around four thousand eight hundred hours of study for English-language students (or non-Asian learners without prior Kanji knowledge) to reach true Japanese mastery and pass the Japanese language proficiency test at the N1 level.
One user shared on a Reddit thread that it can take as little as eight hundred hours of study time to watch anime with complete comprehension. Others said that it might take two to five years of learning. However, they also said that you could survive in the language after one year.
So how long does it take to learn Japanese fluently? The short answer is it varies from person to person. To roughly estimate how much time you’ll have to dedicate to learning Japanese, you’ll first need to answer a few questions.
What Are Your Japanese Learning Goals?
Learning Japanese is a broad aspiration in and of itself. To determine how much time you will have to invest in learning Japanese, you first need to define your learning goals. Depending on your goals, you may have to dedicate a shorter or longer time to learn this beautiful but complex language.
For example, learning to write Kanji will take you a more extended amount of time than speaking Japanese at a conversational level.
In the Japanese language system, Kanji are among the most complicated of the characters used in writing. They make learning Nihongo more challenging because they require an significant amount of memorization and practice to master. Not to mention there are a lot of them to learn!
While learning to write Japanese will take you a large amount of study time, the benefits will be worth it. Not only will you be able to read, write, and speak more like a local, you’ll develop better fluency in the language as well. Reading is an essential skill to learning any language well.
So when you ask yourself how long does it take to learn Japanese fluently, you first need to understand what part of the language you want to focus on.
Do you want to learn listening, reading, speaking, or writing?
If you wish to do all those, then expect that it will take you a while before reaching your Japanese learning goals. Language learning is very much a lifetime challenge.
How Much Time Do You Spend Studying Japanese?
In a week, how much time are you willing to dedicate to learning Japanese? It is pretty apparent that the more time you practice, the faster you will learn the language.
Casual learners who spend only a couple of hours a week studying Japanese will be slower than dedicated learners who allot a couple of hours a day practicing their skills.
However, we’re not saying you need to spend eight hours or more a day in your studies! Just like with any task, you’ll reach your goal faster if you sit down and focus on completing it rather than just do the task when you feel like it.
Japanese language students who actively allot a few hours a day are usually ready to tackle the advanced-level Japanese tests (like the JLPT N2, short for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 2) after about two and a half or three years.
Keep in mind that at the N2 level, you are likely to encounter a lot of Kanji and more obscure grammar. Depending on your goals, however, you can learn to communicate in Japanese before then effectively.
What is Your Native Language?
When you ask yourself, “How long does it take to learn Japanese fluently?” your native language is also another essential element you have to consider. Your native tongue can factor in how much time-consuming the process would be.
If English is your primary language or your native language is European, you may find it shocking how Japanese is very different from what you’re used to.
Nihonggo uses a different writing system. Furthermore, its sentence and grammar structure is entirely different than your native tongue. Thus, you’re practically learning everything from scratch.
When you include all these factors, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll find an increase in the amount of time it takes to learn Japanese.
You may opt to learn some elements of the Japanese writing system to start with before tackling Kanji. Hiragana, the entry-level phonetic lettering system, is perfect for beginners who want to learn writing in Japanese but are intimidated by Kanji. Still, they take time to learn and get used to.
Unless you are familiar with or have studied an Eastern Asian language before, keep in mind that there will be some difficulties learning the language. It’s simply going to take some time to adapt to Japanese, so you don’t need to rush yourself.
The Respectful Language: What You Need to Know about Keigo
As you continue asking yourself, “How long does it take to learn Japanese fluently?” you may also have to consider whether or not you need to learn Keigo.
So what is Keigo? Keigo is the ultra-formal form of Japanese. It is mainly used for formal and official situations, and the Japanese language’s polite reputation is all thanks to Keigo.
For example, when you want to ask your teacher for help, the casual way of saying it would be:
Tetsudatte-kudasai (please help me)
However, if you want to sound more formal, respectful, and more like a native speaker, you could instead convey the same message in Keigo form by saying:
Tetsudatte itadakemasen ka? (Would you be so kind as to help me?)
If you are visiting Japan for leisure purposes, then you may not put too much emphasis on learning Keigo. On the other hand, if you plan to work with people in a Japanese working environment or anticipate talking to many people who are higher in rank than you, you must improve your communication skills by speaking in Keigo.
To elaborate, Keigo transforms words that you are already familiar with into something completely different. Here is an example:
taberu – eat (standard form)
meshi agaru – eat (Keigo form)
As seen in the example above, these two variations are entirely different!
It doesn’t stop there!
In addition, Keigo has two forms: respectful and humble.
The respectful form is used to praise and speak highly of people ranked higher than you. These people could be your seniors at work, your immediate supervisors, or anyone with a higher position than yourself. On the other hand, the humble form is used to speak humbly about yourself. Both of these forms can be used simultaneously, especially during meetings and company after-work activities. Thus, you must make sure that you do not switch them so that you speak highly of yourself and humbly of someone higher than you!
So if you think you will need to learn to use Keigo, it will take you a lot longer to learn Japanese since you will simply have many more new words to learn.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese Fluently? A Quick Estimation
As you can see, there are several things to consider when figuring out how long it will take you to learn Japanese. In reality, achieving a high level of Japanese language proficiency (or any language for that matter) takes time. Even if you put in a lot of effort, you cannot expect instant results or fluency in a matter of weeks.
However, it is also important to remember that learning a new language is a process. You acquire results and meet objectives one step at a time as you progress, not all at once!
For that reason, you should not think you will take years studying Japanese before you can use it practically. The truth is that you would be able to do many things in Japanese very early on!
If you want to hold basic conversations in Japanese with friends, you can learn enough Japanese to accomplish this in just a few short months.
Want to read simple fiction books or comics in Japanese? If you put enough effort into your Japanese language studies, you could pull this off in a little over a year.
But, keep in mind that it depends on your ultimate goal.
If you ultimately aim to read native-level material or watch TV shows in Japanese, you are looking at a more long-term goal. Thus, you are probably looking at around three to five years of learning.
But in truth, trying to put a specific estimate on things like this is not that useful. Every person’s situation is different, so there is no concrete standard to compare how fast two students learn. The main reason is that they may not be able to invest the same amount of time studying.
Studying for 1 hour a week for a year is not the same as studying an hour a day for a year.
The way you study may be more or less effective than the way another person studies. Furthermore, some people may encounter fewer difficulties in comprehending the Japanese language system compared to others.
How long does it take to learn Japanese fluently? Well, you have to understand that it depends chiefly on your goals and how you plan to study to achieve them.
Tips to Make Learning Japanese Easier
The average Japanese learner spends around ten hours a week studying the language. That is simply a lot of time! While some might think that they cannot invest ten hours a week in their pursuit of Japanese language fluency.
But you don’t need to worry! By trying to find ways to incorporate Japanese as part of your daily life, you can still spend time with the language even when you are not sitting down to study.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to immerse yourself in Japanese, and these activities won’t be taking any time out of your schedule! Here are some tips to help you learn the language faster.
1. Set Your Goal for Speaking Japanese
Your end goal matters. So, it would help if you decided what “fluent” means to you. If your goal is to understand anime without relying on subtitles, you need to work on your vocabulary specifically. Furthermore, the type of anime also matters. For example, Naruto uses a lot of “ninja speech” harsher and less polite than Sailor Moon.
However, if you aim to learn Japanese for natural everyday conversations, watching anime won’t help you achieve that. Anime uses dramatic language instead of realistic Japanese speech used in everyday life. Instead, it is recommended to use more real-life resources and vocabulary references, such as NHK News.
2. Break Down Your Goal into Manageable Daily Chunks
If you plan to reach JLPT N1 or near-native fluency, you need to know around two thousand two hundred Kanji, roughly over ten thousand vocabularies, and hundreds of grammar patterns.
Let’s say you can commit sixty minutes a day to studying. You would need to break that goal down into manageable daily chunks. For instance, you can learn ten new Kanji a day, twenty new words, and one new grammar pattern. Then you can divide it up depending on how much you are confident you can fit on a study session. Another thing you can try is to schedule what you wish to study on a particular day. You can study vocabulary on Mondays and Wednesdays, grammar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Kanji on the weekends. Schedule your topics based on whatever works best for you.
Upon discovering how much you can fit into a single study session, the next thing you should do is breaking down your goal. Determine how many days of studying it will take to learn all those Kanji and vocabulary. These processes will help you determine how long it will take you to learn Japanese to a fluent level.
3. Start Speaking and Writing NOW
If you are serious about learning Japanese, one thing you can do right now is to find a Japanese language exchange partner and start speaking today. It doesn’t matter if all you know is to say “Hello, my name is…” start using it. If you don’t use what you already know, then there is a good chance that you will lose it. So, get out there, make mistakes, and start speaking. Mistakes and failures are the best teachers. How long does it take to learn Japanese fluently? The answer is a very long time if you don’t start now.
4. Find an Entertaining Japanese Resource
Studying a new language is a complicated process. However, it doesn’t have to be boring. The only way you’ll enjoy studying all the time is if you make it fun. Thankfully, you can learn the language from things you already enjoy in Japanese. We have plenty available here!
If you like to play video games, switch the language and audio dubbing to Japanese. The Pokemon games are perfect for this fun experiment. The language of the Pokemon series is simple since the game is designed to be played by all ages. When you have familiarized yourself with parts of the script, switching it to Japanese when you start a new game is easy.
If you like to read manga, find the manga you enjoy in Japanese. You can read it side-by-side with a translated copy so you can compare dialogues and descriptions of the native language to its translated counterpart. By pushing yourself to read a little each day, learning Japanese will get a little bit easier. Push yourself to read a little each day. The more you read, the easier it will get.
Watch your favorite shows in Japanese. Netflix offers a wide selection of Japanese shows ranging from anime to J-drama. Watching them without subtitles, actively listening to dialogues, and taking notes of what you understood is a great way to learn Japanese while enjoying yourself.
5. Dive Deep Into Japanese Culture
Japanese is a contextual and cultural language. When Japanese people communicate, they do not only emphasize verbal communication. Instead, they have mastered the art of reading the room and spotting body language cues to help them determine what their peers are thinking.
To master it, you need a deep understanding of Japanese body language, cultural insights, history, and mannerisms. You won’t learn that from a textbook, so your best bet is to find a local who can give you these insights or at least someone who knows these factors to some degree. You can also study Japanese history and culture by watching the news, variety shows (often filled with pop culture references), and reading Japanese message boards or social media. If something confuses you, search the internet for its meaning. You can pick up all kinds of shorthand, slang, and cultural references by doing these steps. The more you understand them, the more you’ll be able to speak Japanese like a true native.
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? Find ways to incorporate listening and reading Japanese into your everyday life.
Most people feel like they don’t have time for tons of studying. In reality, you can capitalize on small pockets of time in your schedule or swap out one thing for another. When watching TV, if you can change the program’s language from English to Japanese, then 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.
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