Everyone who studies Japanese always wants to know how long it will take for them to become fluent, or at least be able to communicate effectively.
In this guide, we’ll show you how long it will take to reach fluency as well as how long it will take to master different levels of Japanese. Most importantly, we’ll teach you how to learn Japanese faster and more efficiently than using traditional study methods.
- How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?
- How Long Will it Take to Speak Japanese?
- Can I Learn to Speak Japanese Faster??
- Fluency in all areas: Speaking, Reading, and Writing Japanese
- Does it Really Take That Long to Become Fluent in Japanese?
- How to Learn Japanese Fast
- The Biggest Secret to Mastering Japanese: DO THIS NOW!!
- But Can I become Fluent in Japanese in 3 Months or Less?
- What Learning Japanese is Like
- In Summary
How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?
If you want to know how long it will take you to reach an advanced level of Japanese and become “fluent,” here are the numbers. These numbers are based on my personal experiences with learning the language and talking with other people who have attained fluency in Japanese. Everyone learns at their own pace, so the hours listed here are just a rough guideline.
*Studying using traditional methods (classroom learning, studying textbooks, etc.)
- Fluent in speaking only: 1,500 – 2,000 hours or more: At this level, you should have no problems speaking with native speakers about virtually any topic.
- Fluency in reading, writing, and speaking Japanese: 2,200 – 3,000 hours or more: At this level, you should have little to no problems communicating with native speakers, and should be able to read a variety of materials with few issues (books, websites, newspapers, etc.)
*NOTE: These hours are estimates using TRADITIONAL study methods. If you incorporate additional tools to help you study, you could learn Japanese much faster and more efficiently. I’ll talk more about this later. Or if you would like, check out our huge and detailed guide on how to learn Japanese effectively.
What if I just want to be able to have simple conversations with people? How long would it take me to be comfortable speaking Japanese in everyday situations? Let’s take a more in-depth look into the amount of time it will take an average person to speak Japanese.
How Long Will it Take to Speak Japanese?
Many people only want to speak Japanese, and don’t care about learning how to read or write. Check out the list below to see how long it will take to speak Japanese at different levels.
Speaking Japanese: Hours of Learning/Studying
- Can say words and simple sentences: 20 – 50 hours
- Basic conversation: 300 – 500 hours
- Daily conversation: 800 – 1,000 hours
- Fluent: Talk about difficult topics 1,500 – 2,000 hours or more
Let’s take a look at each of these levels in more detail.
1. Able to Say Simple Sentences and Words: 20 – 50 Hours
At this level, you can saw a few basic sentences, but you can’t have a full conversation. You should also have mastered Japanese pronunciation by this point. In general, your conversations will last for less than 30 seconds and be comprised mostly of you stating facts.
For example, a conversation at this level might sound like this:
“Hello, my name is David. I like sushi. Do you like sushi? Is sushi in Japan good? My favorite sushi is tuna, but I don’t like shrimp. I’m going to eat sushi tomorrow.”
As you can see, the conversation is very basic but good enough to meet people in Japan. You’ll speak by using words instead of full sentences since you still don’t know a lot of grammar. At this level, gestures are essential to help get your point across.
You can listen to simple conversations and pick out several words that you know. You are still building the foundation of your Japanese skills, but you’re off to a great start.
2. Basic Conversation: 300- 500 Hours
300 – 500 hours is around the equivalent of 2 years of classroom study at a university. At this level, you’ll be able to hold short conversations about basic ideas. You’ll have the ability to ask simple questions and express your likes and dislikes. You can tell short stories, but for the most part, you can only chain 1 – 3 sentences together. If you study for 1 hour per day, you can attain this level in 42 – 71 weeks, or 10 – 1.5 years.
3. Daily Conversation: 800 – 1,000 Hours
This is around the amount of studying you would do in class with 4 years of Japanese at a university.
At this level, you should be able to have longer conversations (5 minutes or longer) about “easy” everyday topics. There will still be times where you won’t be able to understand what people say, and you’ll also have some trouble expressing yourself fully. But at this level, you could comfortably live in Japan with few language problems in your daily life.
You’ll be able to communicate at places like the doctor, post office, supermarkets, and other commonly visited places with few problems. While you might not be able to express yourself 100%, you can get your point across and ask questions about things you don’t understand. You can easily look up words that you don’t know in a dictionary and immediately use them in conversations.
4. Fluency: Talk About A Variety of Difficult Topics 1,500 – 2,000 Hours +
At this level, you can have conversations about specific topics such as politics, business, medicine, and world issues. To get to this level, you’ll need to learn a lot of specific words related to each topic. You can easily understand and participate in debates.
You effortlessly use casual, polite, and honorific speech depending on the situation you’re in, and you can switch between them. At this level, reading Japanese is a great way to improve your level of fluency.
Can I Learn to Speak Japanese Faster??
Let’s break down how long it will take to get to a daily conversation level of Japanese (800 – 1,000 hours)
If you study for 1 hour per day, you can reach this level in 28 months – 36 weeks (2 years 4 months – 3 years).
How to Speak Japanese Faster
If you use good audio/video lessons in addition to books, you could cut 50 – 150 hours of studying time off. I highly recommend the lessons on Japanesepod101 if you’re at a beginner to a low-advanced level of Japanese.
If you also hire a private tutor to help you with speaking (3 times per week or more), you can cut off another 250 – 350 hours off.
Practicing speaking with a good private teacher and getting feedback is probably the fastest way to learn Japanese. It also doesn’t cost that much to hire a good teacher/tutor online. Popular sites like italki and Verbling are great for this.
With the right resources and a good private teacher, you could reach this level in 300 – 500 hours, or 10 months – 1.5 years with 1 hour of studying each day.
Fluency in all areas: Speaking, Reading, and Writing Japanese
Fluency (an advanced level of Japanese) in speaking, reading, and writing: 2,200 – 3,000 hours or more
There is no upper limit or end goal. There are always ways to improve and learn more. People who are truly fluent never stop learning. They actively learn new kanji or vocabulary words all the time.
Going from Zero Japanese to Fluency
Let’s look at the average amount of hours it takes for someone to become fluent in Japanese with no prior experience.
Here’s data that comes from the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). There are five levels of this test (N1 – N5), with the N1 being the highest. If you can pass level N2 (the second highest level), you’re considered to be at an advanced level of Japanese. If you want to work in Japan, many companies will request that you either pass the JLPT N1 or N2.
According to the Japanese Language Learning Center, students with no prior knowledge of Japanese or kanji studied 1,400 – 2,000 hours to take the JLPT N2 and 3100~4500 hours for the JLPT N1 level. (Source)
According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), to reach a level of “general professional proficiency,” you’ll need to study Japanese for 88 weeks, which translates to 2,200 hours of class time. (Source)
I assume that a general professional proficiency is equivalent to an advanced level of Japanese. At this level, you should be able to speak, read, and write with little to no problems in everyday situations.
However, if you want to become fluent to the level of a native speaker of Japanese, it will take a lot more time. If you studied Japanese for 2,200 hours, you should be able to communicate with people 95% of the time with no problems. If you can’t, you aren’t learning Japanese the right way.
2,200 hours at 88 weeks translates to 25 hours of studying per week, or around 3.6 hours a day. That’s a lot of studying! It’s no wonder why the Japanese language is classified as an “exceptionally difficult language for native English speakers.” On top of this, half of the 2,200 hours (1,100 hours) should be spent in Japan. Wow!
I know most people don’t have time to study 25 hours per week, or let alone have the opportunity to study in Japan.
From my experience, I would say most people study Japanese on their own, and can only study around 3 – 10 hours per week at most. Even 3 hours per week might seem like a lot to some people.
Does it Really Take That Long to Become Fluent in Japanese?
The short answer is yes. It will take you hundreds to thousands of hours to truly become fluent in Japanese. However, don’t let this discourage you. There are many Japanese resources that can help you learn Japanese faster and more efficiently than traditional methods.
Let’s say you study for 5 hours per week. At that rate, it would take you 440 weeks, or around 8 and a half years to reach a “general professional proficiency” level. That’s a long time right!? Don’t worry; there are ways you can learn Japanese faster.
Does it take everyone that long to learn Japanese? Isn’t there a faster way?
How to Learn Japanese Fast
Want to become fluent Japanese faster than most people? I feel that it’s possible to get to a “general professional proficiency” level in LESS time than what the Foreign Service Institute or Japanese Language Learning Center claims.
As mentioned earlier in this article, using the right resources (good audio/video lessons, the right books, hiring tutors, etc.) can make you learn Japanese faster than traditional methods. You also need to be consistent with your studying, have the right mindset, and enjoy the process. Doing all of these things correctly will allow you to learn Japanese faster than you can imagine. We wrote a very detailed article on how to learn Japanese fast, so check it out if you want to learn more!
However, there is one thing you need to do if you want to become fluent in Japanese.
The Biggest Secret to Mastering Japanese: DO THIS NOW!!
If you’re reading this and are discouraged that it will take you thousands of hours to reach an advanced level of Japanese, don’t be. It’s very easy to feel discouraged and overwhelmed when we come face-to-face with a difficult challenge. When faced with challenges, most people run the other way.
If you want to learn Japanese here is what you do.
Ignore this whole article and take action RIGHT NOW. Even if it’s watching Japanese videos on YouTube or listening to Japanese music, do something right now.
Do you know why many people fail to learn Japanese?
It’s because they never get STARTED in the first place.
That’s right, many people who want to become good at Japanese never even learn a single word. They think that learning Japanese is impossible, or they find out that it will take months to years to become great at it. They give up.
Plain and simple. The sad thing is that they give up before they even start.
The most difficult part of any challenge is GETTING STARTED.
Here’s the secret.
Once you get started, you’ll realize that learning Japanese is fun and you won’t care about how many hours you need to study to become fluent. If you enjoy learning Japanese, you will become good at it before you know it.
But Can I become Fluent in Japanese in 3 Months or Less?
I have a feeling that 90% of people reading this wants to know if they can become fluent in Japanese in 3 months.
The answer is no.
However, if you get started right now, the amount you can learn in 3 months might surprise you. You could be having conversations with native Japanese speakers, understand movies, or even read simple books.
Either you get started, or you don’t. It’s that simple.
However, most people don’t.
So don’t be like most people. Take action! All you need to do right now is take the first step.
We all want instant gratification in life. We all want to lose 30 pounds and have a beach body in 2 weeks or make a million dollars in 3 months. It’s the same with Japanese. We want to become fluent in Japanese in weeks or months. If anything takes longer than this to achieve, we feel that it’s too hard and not worth doing….this is complete bull$@&t!
Everything worth doing in life takes time, effort, and persistence. Nothing worth doing comes quickly and easily. If some tells you otherwise, you’re either being scammed or are fooling yourself.
What Learning Japanese is Like
Why do most people get discouraged when they hear that it takes a lot of time to master Japanese? One of the reasons is listed above. They want instant gratification.
However, another reason is that they feel like it’s just not worth it. Many people think it will take years of hard work before they can start to see any results. They want to be rewarded now, not three years from now.
This is not true.
Many people think learning Japanese is like building an airplane. Building an airplane takes time to create the blueprints, buy all of the materials, and then put it together. Until they finish building the plane, it’s just taking up space and keeping them from seeing the world. Only after months or years of hard work can they travel to their favorite destination and enjoy themselves.
No, no, no! Learning Japanese doesn’t work this way.
Learning Japanese is more like hiking up a tall, but beautiful mountain.
In the beginning, you’ll feel intimidated and even depressed at how tall this mountain is. You’re also not in shape, so walking uphill makes you tired quickly.
However, you can take a break whenever you want. Once you stop and look around, you’re amazed to see how far up you are, and how beautiful the view is. Even though it’s a constant uphill journey, you start to enjoy the hike. Soon, your legs become stronger, and you start to get into shape.
You can start to hike up the mountain quicker, and for longer periods of time. Sure, there will still be obstacles on the path, but you have so much momentum now that there’s no stopping you. You keep pushing forward and amaze yourself each time you look to see how far you’ve come.
When you finally reach the top, it will feel like you were hiking for days instead of months. The view at the top is something that no one can buy, but can only be earned.
There will be other mountains to climb another day, but on this day, you’ve worked hard and are standing on the peak of success.
The moral of the story is: Get off your butt and get going!
If you just get started, study consistently, and don’t give up, you will be standing on top of that mountain one day.
Learning Japanese takes time and effort. There is no way around this. Either you put in the time, or you don’t.
Learning Japanese is awesome. You’ll be able to understand Japanese culture on a deeper level and maybe connect with someone amazing. Communicating and connecting with people in Japan is one of the best experiences of my life. Being able to read manga or watch Japanese movies is pretty cool too 🙂
So what are you waiting for? Start your Japanese journey right now, and you’ll be standing on top of that mountain before you know it. Get to it!