How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese

6 vital factors influence how long it takes to learn Japanese.

  • Your language goals and learning purpose(s).
  • Your mindset and motivation.
  • The resources you use and how you implement them into your studies.
  • The environment you learn in.
  • Your prior knowledge.
  • The amount of time you can dedicate to study.

When measuring how long it takes to learn the Japanese language, consider how the above six points relate to your individual circumstance.

Realise what your language goals are and what it is that you want to achieve.

What’s your attitude towards learning Japanese in the first place? Does the Japanese language excite or fascinate you? What about it does or doesn’t? And why?

Is your desire to learn potent enough to support you when you need it? Studying Japanese or any language for that matter is an adventure with ups and downs.

There may be times when you’re enjoying your studies and other times when grammar doesn’t make sense.

It may be tough at times, but if you’re truly passionate about learning, keep going! Anyone can learn Japanese!

What resources do you have access to? Your resources and how you implement them into your studies are vital.

This can be the difference between it taking 500 hours or 1500 hours to reach your desired Japanese ability. 

The environment you’re in is also important. If you’re already in Japan, first-hand exposure to the language and culture will make a world of difference.

Finally, how much time can you dedicate to studying? If you can only manage an hour a week, progress will naturally be slower than someone studying an hour a day.

This ultimate guide explains in great detail how long it takes to learn Japanese based on the above six factors.


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Table of Contents

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?

According to the official Japanese Language Education Center, with no prior knowledge, it takes students between 3000 and 4800 hours of study to pass the JLPT N1 and reach fluency in Japanese.

The JLPT refers to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. This test is globally recognised as the official way to assess and verify your Japanese language ability as a non-native speaker.

There are five levels of the JLPT. N5, N4, N3, N2 and N1.

N5 is considered to be the beginner level and the easiest to pass. While N1 is the most advanced level and most difficult to pass.

  • N5: An ability to understand some basic Japanese. (325-600 hours).
  • N4: An ability to understand basic Japanese. (575-1000 hours).
  • N3: An ability to understand Japanese to an everyday level to a basic degree. (950-1700 hours).
  • N2: An ability to understand Japanese at a business level. (1600-2800 hours).
  • N1: An ability to understand complex Japanese. (3000-4800 hours).

Japanese N2 is the minimum requirement necessary to work in Japan or study at a Japanese university as a general rule of thumb.

When I say study in Japanese, I don’t mean studying Japanese at a university in Japan, but enrolling in the same university as a Japanese student and taking the same classes/examinations.

N2, on the other hand, is said to take upwards of 2800 hours to pass.

The JLPT and You

With that said, despite it being the official way to prove your Japanese ability, the JLPT doesn’t test your speaking or writing.

Therefore investing thousands of hours to learn Japanese is by no means necessary to speak the language to a decent level.

It’s possible to learn Japanese to a conversational level or to a level where you can somewhat communicate your thoughts in Japanese very quickly.

How you study is without a doubt the most important factor in what determines how long it takes to learn a language.

This is because everyone has different reasons for studying language, different goals, and motivations.

Furthermore, everyone has their unique learning style. What works for someone well, might not work for someone else at all.

That’s why it’s important to think about your purpose for studying Japanese and then discover what learning style works best for you.

How Long Does it Take to Be Able to Understand Japanese?

How long it takes you to learn and understand Japanese will depend on your reasons/motivations for studying and your language goals.

What’s your purpose for learning Japanese?

  • For travel.
  • To greet people in Japanese on a business trip.
  • Converse confidently in Japanese.
  • To be able to read complex Japanese writings (academic essays, books, newspapers).
  • To work/live in Japan.
  • For understanding Anime.
  • A more personal/unique reason.

Likely, your purpose for studying and learning Japanese is not limited to a single reason. Instead, you may have multiple reasons for wanting to learn Japanese.

If your purpose is related to travel or vacation in Japan, it will take you much less time to learn Japanese than if you wanted to be able to read a newspaper, for instance.

You can learn sufficient Japanese for travel in as quick as a week. Whereas developing the ability to read a newspaper may take upwards of 2800 hours of study time, according to the Japanese Language Education Center.

Developing the proficiency to hold a steady conversation in Japanese takes less time than you’d think at first, also.

Conversational Japanese is considered to be at around the N3 level. This means need between 950 and 1700 hours of study, going by the JLPT study time standards.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese on Average?

How long it takes to learn Japanese will be different for each person. It depends on if you have any previous knowledge, classroom learning time vs self-study time, what resources you use and the study methods you utilise.

The JLPT N3 takes a maximum of approximately 1700 study hours to pass. This is considered the average level at which a person can have a general conversation in Japanese.

However, even if you reach the high levels of JLPT, you still may feel unconfident using Japanese in certain situations.

That’s why it’s so important to recognise your purpose for studying the language. By focusing on what you are interested in you’ll have a motivator to help you study, as well.

In 2010, 65000 people who took the JLPT exam were surveyed. They were asked to describe what they feel comfortable doing in Japanese with their achieved JLPT level.

The survey reveals what the average person of each Japanese ability feels they can accomplish in Japanese.

Refer to the survey for a comparison of how long it would take to learn Japanese on average to reach your desired goal.

You can find the survey on what successful JLPT examinees think they can do and communicate in Japanese here.

Can I Learn Japanese in a Year?

It is entirely possible to learn Japanese in a year. You can become incredibly proficient as well.

Going by the JLPT standards it takes between 3000 and 4800 hours to pass the N1 exam.

Therefore, if you study 9-13 hours a day for 365 days, theoretically you’ll reach N1 and be fluent.

However, it’s not as simple as just studying for 13 hours 365 days a year. Besides, the definition of “fluent” is extremely objective as well.

Honestly, going by the JLPT levels, you only need N3 to be conversationally fluent in Japanese.

If we use the metric governed by the official language centre, you can achieve a conversational level of Japanese (N3) from zero prior knowledge by studying 3 hours a day for 365 days on average.

Reaching Your Language Goals in a Year

Your goals and purpose for studying Japanese play a huge factor as well.

How you study each day will determine if you’re able to reach your goals or not. What does each hour of study look like to you? What does it entail?

Your study goals may also reflect how you study as well. If your goal is to be able to converse in Japanese, you may want to look into getting an online language teacher.

When selecting a tutor, make sure that you don’t just pick any online teacher.

Research the teacher’s profile, ask them lots of questions and really make sure they are right for you. Disregard their qualifications. You want someone who can truly help you reach your goals. I’ve written a post on finding an online teacher who is right for you here.

If your goals are to watch anime without subtitles, you may wish to use sites like this one which can help you do so.

Learning Japanese is an adventure that takes time. How much time it takes is dependent on you and your goals.

While everyone learns differently, the next sections in this guide will walk you through learning Japanese in the most optimal way possible.

Textbooks to Start Learning Japanese From Zero

How to Start Learning Japanese

While there are many amazing textbooks for learning Japanese, there are two series that stand above the rest.

The Genki series for beginners and the Kanzen Master series for post-beginners to advanced learners.

The Genki series textbooks are hands down one of the most popular ways to learn Japanese independently. The first book in the series, Genki I, is designed for absolute beginners.

Described as an integrated course for Elementary Japanese, Genki I walks you through the Japanese language from literally zero, making it one of the best ways to get started.

The Kanzen Master series books are what I used as I reached post-beginner levels of Japanese.

Due to having extensive coverage of reading, listening, vocabulary and kanji along with an expansive collection of practice questions available the Kanzen Master books are an excellent resource to have when it comes to preparing for the JLPT exams.

Genki I Pros

Genki Textbook for Beginners

Genki I introduces you to the fundamentals of the Japanese language in a fun, immersive and engaging way. It breaks down the very basics of the Japanese language without overwhelming you with needless explanations.

The book is straightforward and to the point. Each lesson and topic is designed in such a way that learning progression feels natural and practical. Strong visual aids are provided for context.

Lessons start with a dialogue, followed by the vocabulary, clean grammar explanations and examples and a practice page.

Lessons feel intuitive and flow really well. The pacing is not too fast and not too slow. The book also includes some activities to do if you’re studying with a friend or in a class.

Learning hiragana is one of the first things you should do as early as possible when learning Japanese.

In the reading section, Genki I teaches hiragana and provides diverse hiragana learning activities keeping your studies enjoyable.

Genki I Cons

The biggest con of Genki I is that you have to purchase another separate book, called the workbook to truly get the most out of it.

While the Genki I textbook contains all the dialogues, vocabulary, and grammar, the practice questions are limited.

Instead, the practice questions are mostly contained in a separate book, called the Genki I workbook.

While having two books side by side makes questions on dialogues easier to refer to, having to purchase a second book to get the most out of the Genki experience is something I did not realise myself at first.

The workbook is, in my opinion, an essential supplement to the Genki I textbook.

The Best Ways to Minimise How Long it Takes To Learn Japanese

Study techniques, high-quality resources and how you implement them into your studies are vital.

You don’t need to know tens of thousands of words and hundred and grammar combinations to be “fluent” in Japanese.

Instead, there are other, often overlooked factors and techniques that substantially increase language proficiency.

Listed below are five crucial factors/study techniques that will significantly improve your Japanese proficiency.

  1. Learn the core vocabulary necessary for your goals.
  2. Refrain from stressing about learning complex grammar.
  3. Develop the ability to explain the meaning of words in Japanese.

By implementing these steps into your studies, you’ll greatly reduce the length of time you’ll need to confidently communicate in Japanese.

Establish a Core Japanese Vocabulary (1)

As a complete beginner with zero knowledge of Japanese, after learning how to read hiragana, the very next thing you should do is establish a core vocabulary.

Begin by building up a vocabulary of around 100-500 words to get you started.

While the Genki textbooks are one of the best resources for a beginner learning Japanese, there are many good free resources you can use as well.

You can find a list of 100 core words in Japanese here which is a great place to start from.

If your goal is to obtain the N5 certificate to prove your Japanese ability, it might be better for you to learn the words that appear on the N5 exam.

Retaining Vocabulary

Of course, simply staring at a list won’t keep the words in your memory. You’ll need to implement study techniques to ensure they stick. There is a multitude of effective ways to do this.

Learning words in context coupled with well-composed explanations will greatly reduce the time it takes for you to learn Japanese words.

We have a collection of Ultimate How-To Japanese guides that you can use for free. All guides list how to say numerous expressions and phrases, all of which are coupled with explanations, sentence examples and audio for your pronunciation reference.

As a beginner, you can start by familiarising yourself with a bunch of words and then watch videos that explain and show how to use them.

 

You may find remembering Japanese words challenging at first and feel that it’s taking you a while to learn them. This is completely natural; the more words you learn, the quicker your brain will adjust to recognising and understanding how Japanese words generally look and feel to read.

Some videos add some colour to your learning. You may find this more visually appealing and thus easier to remember.

 

Learning new words, phrases and expressions in context will drastically reduce the time how long it takes you to learn Japanese.

This is because your brain will retain information much more effectively, compared to trying to absorb information from a list with no examples/explanations.

If and when you can, try explaining the use of the new vocabulary you’ve acquired to someone else.

Explaining what you’ve learned to someone else increases your ability to recall. It’s a fantastic way for your brain to process the information and turn what you’ve learned via input, into output.

Why Learning Lots of Grammar is Not Necessary (2)

While grammar is another core element of language, learning the advanced stuff is not necessary to be able to communicate effectively in Japanese.

It’s more important to focus on learning and improving your knowledge of beginner N5 and N4 grammar. There are multiple reasons for this.

Firstly, you will use and hear the beginner grammar in everyday conversation more.

Secondly, a lot of advanced grammar is not used in general conversation.

Thirdly, mastering beginner grammar will make studying the advanced stuff significantly easier.

With that said, you will need to understand as much grammar as possible if your goals are to pass the JLPT exams.

Ensuring you have a solid understanding of beginner grammar will provide the perfect platform for you to increase your knowledge further.

Complex Grammar is Not Necessary for Conversation

 

Yet if your goal is to communicate well in Japanese in as short a time as possible, refrain from stressing about learning intermediate/advanced grammar.

Instead, focus on learning and mastering beginner grammar to become confident and fluid in communicating in Japanese quickly.

Much more often than not, you can communicate almost everything you’ll want to say with beginner grammar.

So much of the advanced grammar has specific uses and unique nuances that are hard to recognise and understand without context.

Attempting to use more advanced grammar in conversations that you don’t fully understand risks sounding very unnatural.

This is because N2 and N1 contain advanced grammar that is often used for academic writings, newspapers, public speeches etc.

Words and grammar that are usually reserved for these kinds of instances are called 書き言葉 (kakikotoba). These are words and grammar that are generally only used in essays/papers etc.

In essence, don’t overwhelm yourself with the grammar, study a bit at a time. Focus on mastering beginner grammar. 

This will make transitioning into learning the more difficult grammar so much easier later on.

Mastering Beginner Grammar Makes Learning Complex Grammar Easy

Moreover, strengthening your knowledge of beginner grammar will prepare you for when you do learn more advanced sequences and conjugations.

A huge amount of the advanced N2 and N1 grammar expands on the beginner N5 and N4 content.

For example, the て (te form) is one of the hardest grammar conjugations to learn for beginners.

But don’t worry if you’ve yet to encounter the て (te form) yourself! Once you do learn it and master it, you will find learning and using all of the other grammar to be noticeably easier.

Furthermore, as you refine your understanding of the beginner stuff you’ll begin to notice a pattern in how Japanese grammar sequences are formed.

The once seemingly confusing rules of how Japanese grammar works will become easier to understand.

More often than not, Japanese grammar follows the simple pattern of “verb+conjugation+grammar point”.

Once you master the て (te-form), conjugating words in Japanese, in general, becomes easier. There is always a lot of conjugation going on in Japanese and the て (te-form) is the biggest hurdle for beginners to overcome.

The Post-Beginner Hurdle

Is studying Japanese Difficult

During post-beginner (N4) to intermediate (N3) levels of Japanese learning, recognising conjugated words can very be challenging.

This is because, by this point in your studies, your vocabulary and grammar knowledge has expanded to the point where you are capable of communicating a variety of things.

You’ll likely know a good number of words and a range of different verbs. The vocabulary and grammar knowledge you possess will be versatile enough to have solid conversations in Japanese.

When you’re learning verbs, in particular, you’ll probably only learn them in their stem-form or dictionary form.

In simple terms, you’ll be learning verbs in the present tense. You won’t be learning them in the past tense or in the te-form etc.

Firstly, you’ll want to develop the ability to recognise words when they’re spoken.

In particular, practice recognising words that are in a post-conjugated state. For example, you might know the verb 行く (iku), which means “to go”. Kanji will also help you with this.

But can you recognise 行く (iku) when it’s spoken? What about when it’s conjugated into another form?

To list a few, imagine you hear 行く (iku), 行って (itte), 行かない (ikanai), 行かなくて (ikanakute), 行け (ike), 行った (itta), 行かなければならない (ikanakerebanaranai), and 行ける (ikeru).

You can’t see the kanji of a word when it’s spoken, and you can’t control the speed that which the word is spoken either.

Therefore as your grammar and vocabulary expand, be sure to try making example sentences with a variety of verbs and words.

Eventually, as you become more familiar with hearing conjugated verbs, your brain will be able to process the meaning much faster.

Explain the Meaning of Words in Japanese (3)

When you don’t know a word in Japanese, it’s very easy to jump to English. This is especially true when you’re still a beginner as your current vocabulary repertoire is small.

However, you should refrain from switching to English when you can.

Instead, focus on utilising your current knowledge of Japanese to explain a word/phrase you don’t know or understand. Think of related words, synonyms, and ways you can explain the word’s meaning.

Explaining a word you don’t know using words you do is without a doubt one of the absolute best skills you can develop.

By explaining the word you don’t know or are unable to recall you’ll be able to keep a conversation going with minimal pauses.

Hence not only will the flow of the conversation will be much smoother, but you’ll also sound much more natural.

The best part of this skill is that you’re substantially more likely to remember the word you didn’t know/ couldn’t recall after you’ve finished explaining its meaning.

The person you’re speaking with can likely deduce what word it is that you’re explaining. It’s a eureka moment when they mention it and you’ll retain the word you were explaining better.

Example!

Let’s say you want to know the word for “astronaut” in Japanese. You can say something such as:

  • ね、職業として宇宙に行く人って何という?
    ne, shokugyou toshite uchuu ni iku hito tte nantoiu?
    Hey, what do you call someone who goes to space as their occupation?

It takes some practice to be able to explain the meaning of words in Japanese. However, with a bit of time, it will massively boost your Japanese skills.

When you’re able to explain the meaning of any word, the time it takes you to learn Japanese will be cut drastically as you won’t need to spend all that time hammering vocabulary.

In fact, I recommend making a note of the words you explain each day. You’ll find it a hundred times faster and easier when you do sit down and study the words again later.

Therefore, even when you don’t know a word, being able to explain the meaning of what you want to say is an extremely powerful skill to have.

How Long Does it Take to Learn the Japanese Alphabet?

How Long Does it Take to Learn the Japanese Alphabet?

The more accurate question is “how long does it take to learn the Japanese alphabets” as there are three of them.

The three Japanese alphabets are hiragana, katakana and kanji. Kanji are Chinese characters, katakana is mainly used for words “borrowed” from other languages, and hiragana is a Japanese phonetic alphabet/script.

There are 46 characters in hiragana, 46 in katakana, and more than 50,000 kanji.

Out of the more than 50,000 kanji, only 2136 of them are considered to be the most important.

These select 2136 are referred to as the joyo kanji, the number of kanji learned in compulsory education in Japan.

However, very few Japanese people know anywhere near 50,000 kanji.

Even so, 2136 kanji is a considerable amount and it may be daunting to think about how long it would take you to learn them all.

For starters, you don’t need to know any of them to speak Japanese at a conversational or fluent level.

However, kanji is important for reading and writing.

But perhaps more important is hiragana; the core of the Japanese language.

Out of the three (kanji, hiragana, katakana) hiragana is the most used.

Furthermore, to be able to read kanji, you first need to be able to read hiragana. And to top it all off, Japanese kanji can be written in hiragana.

You might be thinking that if kanji can be written in hiragana, why is kanji (and this many of them) even needed? This guide has more coverage: How to Read Japanese [Ultimate Guide].

In short, hiragana is the most important and the alphabet you need to prioritise learning.

Let’s have a look at how long it takes to learn hiragana, kanji and katakana respectively.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Hiragana?

Hiragana makes up the core of the Japanese language and can be picked up surprisingly quickly.

There are only 46 hiragana and you can become consistent in recognising them within a matter of hours.

Some textbooks begin by teaching Japanese in romaji, which is Japanese written in roman characters; the alphabet we use in English.

As a native English speaker, you may feel this method of learning Japanese is more suited to you as romaji is familiar.

Yet, in Japanese, romaji is only used in a few unique situations. For example, Japanese city names are written in both kanji and romaji on signs.

For this reason, I strongly recommend avoiding any language resources that teach solely in romaji.

Romaji is not used outside of a few sparse scenarios as outlined above. Learning Japanese in romaji won’t help you when you need to read or write actual Japanese.

Instead, your priority should be to learn hiragana and become proficient in recognising the characters.

Learning hiragana is not difficult and can be done in a day. I recommend revising the characters every day for at least the first week or so after you’ve finished learning them. This helps them stick in your long-term memory.

Besides, all post-beginner textbooks teach in hiragana. You’ll need to learn it sooner than later to progress in your studies.

After you’ve learned the hiragana, being able to jump in and read actual Japanese text that early on in your studies feels overwhelmingly satisfying! I promise.

How to Learn Hiragana

Learning Hiragana was the first thing I did when I decided I wanted to learn Japanese.

Becoming familiar with Hiragana and being able to decipher their readings within 5 seconds was my goal.

There are so many superb free resources available online to learn hiragana. You do not need to make any purchases!

Firstly, I recommend taking a look at a hiragana chart.

Hiragana Chart

Once you’ve spent a little time familiarizing yourself with how hiragana generally look, you have a few pathways.

One of these pathways entails utilising spaced-repetition learning methods to rapidly increase your ability to recall Japanese characters.

I used this site to learn Japanese hiragana. The English equivalent of hiragana will appear. Click on the hiragana that it represents. Continue practising until you can achieve a perfect score of 100-0 as quickly as possible.

Kana Bento is also a fantastic web game with more visuals to learn hiragana and katakana.

You can also utilise mnemonics. This is a learning method that helps you remember hiragana by associating them with images, songs, rhymes etc.

Take a look at our Japanese Core; a fun way to learn Japanese hiragana quickly through mnemonics.

There are a few really good videos that can help you can learn hiragana:

 

Furthermore, Misa has an excellent video for beginners looking to learn hiragana that introduces some vocab too!

 

There are only 46 hiragana and you can learn them in less than a day. Learning to write hiragana is not that challenging either! Learning how to write hiragana will also rapidly speed up your ability to recognise and recall them.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Kanji?

As mentioned, there are over 50000 kanji in Japanese.

But, you only need to know 2136 of them to be in line with what Japanese students learn in their compulsory education. These 2136 kanji have been labelled as the joyo kanji by the Japanese Ministry of Education.

It takes Japanese students 6 years to learn the first 1006 of the joyo kanji. They learn 1006 kanji in Primary (Elementary) school through grades 1-6.

In Secondary (Junior High) school Japanese students learn an additional 1130 kanji through grades 7-12. Therefore it takes students another 6 years to learn the remaining 1130 kanji.

In total, Japanese students spend 12 years learning kanji. By the end of these 12 years, they will have learned 2136 kanji.

For people who didn’t go through the Japanese compulsory education system, how long it takes to learn kanji will differ.

Let’s use the 2136 joyo kanji metric. If you were to learn 10 kanji a day, it would take you almost 214 days to finish learning all of them.

How to Learn Kanji

Before going further, let’s look at some popular methods to learn kanji.

While there are without a doubt many fantastic methods out there, finding the right one for yourself is vital. Especially when it comes to how long it’ll take you to learn all the joyo kanji.

Learn Kanji Using Anki

The most popular, and in my opinion, the best way to successfully learn kanji is through the spaced-repetition method using Anki.

Spaced repetition is a memory technique that involves reviewing information (often via flashcards) during spaced intervals. The spaced intervals gradually increase in size as you become more proficient.

Anki is a digital flashcard app that utilised spaced repetition learning. You can use Anki on your computer, or your android phone, for free (there is no paid service).

Anki offers complete freedom in creating your own flashcards as well as the freedom to download pre-existing decks online.

I recommend downloading pre-existing Japanese decks, there are hundreds available online.

There are even multiple decks available for download that contain the joyo kanji. This means you can start learning the most important kanji straight away!

How Anki Works

You can choose how many words you learn each day/session.

When you learn words through flashcards using Anki, it will remember what cards you’re good at and which ones you need some more practice with.

Each day you complete a review of cards that you previously got wrong. Eventually, as you get better at remembering those cards, Anki will increase the intervals in which they are shown.

For instance, let’s say there’s a card that you failed to recall. Anki will show it to you again in the following day’s review. If you get it correct on that day, it won’t show it to you again until 2 days after. If you get it correct again, it won’t appear for 5 days.

The interval will keep increasing until it’s burned in your long-term memory.

You can adjust the speed of the interval to your liking, you can add notes to cards, and you can draw temporary notes on them (I recommend doing this to practice your writing!).

However, Anki is a spaced-repetition app. This means that if you miss your review because you didn’t have time (this will inevitably happen) your review for the next day will contain your regular cards and the previous day’s cards in the same review.

This can get quite chaotic and overwhelming if you miss multiple days in a row.

Therefore, I recommend whenever you have a spare minute, before bed, in the morning after waking up, or commuting to work/school etc, open Anki! You can even schedule an additional review session if you have the time!

The Heisig Method

One of the best ways to speed up how long it takes to learn kanji is to implement the Heisig Method.

The Heisig Method teaches how to learn kanji by using your imagination in a creative way. It’s a method to learn and remember kanji that involves using your imagination and creative stories.

It’s a much more effective and enjoyable way to learn kanji as opposed to mindlessly staring at them without a strategy and just hoping they will stick in your head.

Each kanji is composed of multiple small pieces called radicals. There are 214 radicals in Japanese and kanji are made up of multiple combinations of them. Some radicals also function independently as kanji, too.

Using the Heisig Method we can break down the individual radicals in each kanji and make connections/stories using our imagination.

For instance, the kanji for “tree” in Japanese is 木 (ki). This kanji also functions as a radical.

By placing two trees together we make the kanji 林, which means “grove”.

Finally, by placing three trees together we make the kanji 森 (mori), which means “forest”.

The Heisig Method helps you remember the kanji through stories and explanations like these. It makes learning the kanji intuitive and the meanings make sense.

By breaking down each individual component of the kanji and understanding them, kanji no longer looks like jumbled-up scribbles. But rather of a combination of radicals that make sense.

You can download the Heisig flashcards for Anki for free online. I highly recommend learning kanji this way!

How Long Does it Take to Learn Kanji with Anki?

Learn kanji quickly

Going by the metric earlier, if you studied 10 kanji a day using Anki, you’d have to study for 214 days straight before you get through all the kanji.

This doesn’t include how many days afterwards you’ll need to review the new kanji until they’re burned to your long-term memory.

Of course, you could increase the number of kanji you learn in a day to reduce how long it would take. You could double it to 20 kanji a day, for instance.

This would halve how many days it takes to learn all the kanji to 107.

However, learning kanji is not a process you can rush. You can attempt to speed through it, but it will be tough.

The first few days or even weeks will feel pretty good. You’ll feel productive, motivated and generally positive about your learning progress.

This is all great until your reviews for each day keep getting bigger and bigger. After a certain threshold, your brain will begin to struggle to keep up. This is because your brain needs time to process your learning.

You’ll begin forgetting kanji you’ve already learned and it will become frustrating.

There will be some days where you can study, and some you cannot – you’ll feel pressured that you have to study/review your cards even when you’re exhausted, or are on holiday.

Managing Your Anki Studies

Although not Japanese, there’s this very interesting video of a guy who tries to memorise the 2500 most commonly used words in Spanish in a week.

He uses Anki to learn 500 Spanish words a day for a week. Take a look to see how he coped with this endeavour. It’s a very fascinating watch!

 

As incredible as having digital flashcards are, they only work as well as your brain lets them. Finding your comfortable number of kanji to study a day is important.

Timing is also a very valuable skill to have. On regular days I studied 5 kanji a day. If I knew I had a weekend with no plans I’d schedule 50 new kanji for Friday night and use Saturday and Sunday to review them, perhaps even adding a few more new ones over the weekend.

If I knew I was going on holiday, I’d hold off learning any new kanji until I got back. It’s quite discouraging to come back to a 1000+ card review on Anki.

With this method, it took me close to 3 years to finish my reviews and learn the joyo kanji. You could do it faster or slower, it depends on you and how much time you have to put in!

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese if You Know Chinese?

Having any knowledge of the Chinese language can help massively with learning Japanese.

Regardless of whether you’re a native Chinese speaker or a beginner, if you’ve studied Chinese before, you will quickly discover how much of an advantage your knowledge brings.

In short, this is because a large portion of Japanese vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. In particular, the kanji; Chinese characters.

The Chinese language is solely made up of kanji and the Japanese language adopts a hefty amount of them.

It’s worth noting that while the Chinese language is written in only kanji, the Japanese language is not.

With that said Kanji is the most dominant of the three alphabets/scripts in the Japanese language.

According to the Japanese Language Education Center, having prior knowledge of Chinese can cut how long it takes to learn Japanese to fluency down by up to a whopping 65%.

While it’s estimated that it takes up to 4800 hours to learn Japanese to fluency with zero prior knowledge, knowing Chinese can reduce that time to a mere 1700 hours.

How Knowing Chinese Helps You Learn Japanese Faster

How Knowing Chinese Helps you Learn Japanese Faster

Firstly, having any knowledge of Chinese can help you to understand and even read numerous Japanese sentences without having ever studied the language.

This is because the Chinese language shares many of the same characters (kanji) with the Japanese language.

If you’re fluent in Chinese or a native speaker, you will immediately feel the familiar presence of so many Chinese characters in Japanese text.

Take the kanji (Chinese characters) for numbers in Japanese and Chinese for instance, they are both the same!

Even if you’ve only studied Chinese a little, you will still find that you’re able to learn Japanese at a quicker pace than someone with no Chinese ability.

As long as you know the meaning of kanji, deciphering the general meaning of a sentence becomes easier.

How Knowing Kanji Speeds Up Your Japanese Learning (Example)

For example, take the below Japanese sentence.

  • 今年りは二月にある。
    kotoshi no matsuri ha ni gatsu ni aru.
    This year‘s festival is in February.

This sentence is full of kanji that are the same in Chinese. Therefore, even if you’ve never studied Japanese before, just by recognising/knowing the kanji, you can make a very good guess at the meaning.

Let’s see how much meaning we can comprehend by only looking at the kanji.

  1. 今年 means “this year“.
  2. means “festival“.
  3. 二月 means “February“.

Just from kanji alone and without even considering grammar, we can establish that the sentence is talking about a festival this year in February.

This can make studying Japanese, in general, feel less daunting, and instead be encouraging. Hence the time it would take you to learn Japanese can be significantly sped up.

Being a native speaker or learner of the Chinese language exposes you to various kanji quickly.

Hence with Chinese knowledge, you can significantly speed up how long it takes to learn Japanese.

In essence, knowing the meaning of kanji enables you to make a very solid guess at what a written sentence means in Japanese.

All that’s left is to study the grammar to help you to fill in the gaps in the sentences’ overall meaning.

Chinese & Japanese Pronunciation

Having any prior knowledge of Chinese can help with pronunciation and greatly speed up your Japanese learning process.

While the majority of words in Japanese and Chinese are pronounced differently, some words are more alike than you may realise at first.

In the beginning, it’s natural to feel lost with Japanese kanji pronunciation. However, as Japanese kanji are borrowed from the Chinese language, many pronunciation similarities exist.

Hence, you can often make a pretty good guess as to how a kanji is pronounced.

For instance, take the word for weather in both Japanese and Chinese.

  • In Japanese: 天気 (tenki)
  • In Chinese: 天氣 (tianqi)

These two words have very similar pronunciations and have the same meaning.

You’ll quickly notice how many Chinese and Japanese words sound alike, especially when the Japanese word is read with the onyomi reading.

Therefore, knowing Chinese can strongly impact your ability to learn and recall how a Japanese word is pronounced. You will notice that the more you progress in your studies, the more accurate your guesses will become.

How Knowing Chinese WON’T Help You Learn Japanese Faster

As discussed above, the Japanese and Chinese languages share many similarities when it comes to vocabulary.

There are also a few connections between how some of the grammar functions, too.

For instance, the Chinese (de) works similar to the Japanese grammar particle (no). Both can be used to refer to possession of something.

In Japanese, attaching to 私 (watashi), meaning “I” makes 私 (watashi no), meaning “my”.

In Chinese, attaching (de) to 我 (wo) meaning “I” makes 我(wo de), also meaning “my”.

Example sentence:

Japanese:

  • 犬。
    watashi no inu.
    My dog.

Chinese:

  • 狗。
    wo de gou.
    My dog.

Both sentences mean “my dog” and the の (no) in Japanese has a similar function to the 的 (de) in Chinese.

With that said, one of the biggest differences between the two languages is how the sentence structures are unlike.

Chinese sentence structure shares a lot of similarities with English. Whereas the Japanese language sentence structure flows like Korean.

As an example, in Japanese, the verb often comes at the end of the sentence. Whereas Chinese and English reflect each other.

Let’s take a look:

  • Japanese: 私はケーキを食べたい
    Chinese:要吃蛋糕
    English: I want to eat cake.

In summary, while the Japanese sentence structure is mostly different to Chinese, there are some grammar similarities and many identicals in terms of vocab/kanji.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese From English?

There are also many advantages you can reap as an English speaker learning Japanese.

You might think that because Japanese and English sentence structures and alphabets are vastly different it would be difficult for you to learn Japanese.

However, there is one element of the Japanese language that is considerably easier for English speakers to learn – even compared to Chinese speakers.

Even if you have zero knowledge of Japanese at all, there are a large bunch of Japanese words that you can learn right now.

English to Japanese Loan Words

The Japanese language is made up of three alphabets or scripts; hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

Most of the words written in katakana are called “loan words” or 外来語 (gairaigo). These are words that have been essentially “borrowed” from another language and adopted into the official Japanese dictionary.

A huge number of these “loan words” have been borrowed directly from English.

Hence, many words in Japanese sound very similar to how they do in English.

For example, take the word for Facebook. As this word has also been adopted into the Japanese language from English, the Japanese pronunciation is similar to the English one.

In Japanese, this word is フェイスブック (fueisubukku).

Let’s look at a few more examples of loan words.

  • インターネット。
    inta-netto.
    Internet.
  • ホテル。
    hoteru.
    Hotel.
  • ウェブサイト。
    uebusaito.
    Website.
  • ワイン。
    wain.
    Wine.
  • フォーク。
    fo-ku.
    Fork.

Some words come from other languages too, such as German and Russian.

  • アルバイト。
    arubaito.
    Part time job.
  • ノルマ。
    noruma.
    Quota.

For a more extensive look at loan words and their use in Japanese take a look at the following ultimate guide.

How to Read Japanese [Ultimate Guide].

When you improve your ability to recognise these borrowed words your vocabulary will quickly expand. Moreover, the number of words you’ll be able to say will drastically increase.

Therefore, as an English speaker who can recognise these loan words, the time it takes you to learn Japanese is reduced dramatically.

Japanese to English Loan Words

Furthermore, just as there are many “borrowed words” in Japanese, there are also a lot of Japanese words that have been adopted into the English language, too.

These words have become part of the English dictionary. Examples of Japanese words commonly used in the English language are:

  1. Anime
  2. Manga
  3. Karaoke
  4. Typhoon
  5. Sushi
  6. Samurai
  7. Emoji

All of these words are originally Japanese words. As an English speaker, you have the advantage of knowing a lot of these words straight off the bat.

Compared to a native Chinese speaker, who will most likely have to learn most of these words from scratch!

Some of these words have slightly different, or added nuances/meanings attached to them too. Take the word for “emoji” for instance. This Japanese word does not refer to the English word “emotion”!

 

Therefore, you will find that there are a whole bunch of Japanese words that feel familiar to you as an English speaker.

These loan words are used in Japanese all the time. Hence, once you adjust to how these words are pronounced and sound when spoken in Japanese, picking up on them will become a breeze.

This will help a lot with Japanese language ability tests too. As these words are unfamiliar to non-English speakers, they may appear in the reading section of the JLPT exam. The question may ask you to recognise the meaning and pick a synonym.

It’s a great confidence booster when you’re able to pick up on the meaning of these katakana words.

Thus, as an English speaker, the time it takes for you to learn Japanese katakana will be lessened.

With that said, it’s still important to learn their correct Japanese pronunciation!

It’s very easy to slip into English pronunciation when speaking the borrowed words in Japanese. Try to avoid doing this!

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese to N2?

The JLPT is the official standardised test that learners of Japanese can take to evaluate and prove their language proficiency. The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) N2 is the second-highest level on the test.

Passing JLPT N2 is considered to be proof that your Japanese language ability is of business level or higher. This means that you should have little to no problem communicating in the Japanese workplace.

N2 is often considered to be the minimum level of Japanese ability required for working or studying at a university level in Japan. Although sometimes N1 is required.

The official amount of time it takes to learn Japanese to N2 (and pass the exam!) according to The Japanese Langauge Learning Center is 1600-2800 hours if you have no prior knowledge of kanji.

If you do know kanji the time it takes to learn Japanese to the N2 level is 1150-1800 hours.

It’s worth noting that kanji knowledge is essential for the JLPT exams because there is no speaking or writing component. Despite this, the JLPT exam is recognised as the official way to gauge your actual Japanese ability.

The N2 exam is 155 minutes in total with a 105-minute reading section and a 50-minute listening section. There are a total of 180 points in the N2 exam; you need 90 or higher to pass.

These points need to come from both sections of the exam. You also need to score at least 19 points in both the reading and listening sections to pass. You can’t just botch the reading section and smash the listening, for instance.

With that said, the amount of time it takes to reach Japanese N2 will also depend on your circumstance.

Resources to Learn Japanese N2 Quickly

There are a bunch of amazing resources you can use to speed up how long it takes to learn Japanese to the N2 level.

The best resources I used to learn Japanese to N2 are a combination of four things.

  1. Anki – a completely free digital flashcard app.
  2. Japanesetest4you – a site that contains a list of all the JLPT grammar and vocab.
  3. Jisho – The best free online Japanese dictionary.
  4. Kanzen Master Books – Language manuals that prepare you and give you confidence for all questions in the JLPT N4, N3, N2 and N1 exams.

Anki is hands down one of the best ways to learn kanji and vocabulary.

At first glance, it may seem like a regular digital flashcard app, but it’s so much more than that. It utilises spaced repetition learning to ensure that the words you’re learning stick in your head. I explain Anki in more detail under the “learning kanji” section of this guide.

Kanzen Master Books to Master the JLPT Exams

How Long to Study Japanese to N2

As the N2 exam mainly tests business Japanese I cannot recommend the Kanzen Master textbooks enough.

There are books for the N4-N1 exams and individual books for listening, kanji, reading comprehension, grammar and vocabulary respectively.

The vocabulary, grammar and reading comprehension books particularly have helped me tremendously.

The Kanzen Master reading comprehension book is the best of the bunch. It’s a whole book that contains JLPT N2 style practice questions, and a lot of them too.

 

The reading comprehension in the book mirrors that of the actual N2 exam. It’s exactly the kind of reading the exam will present you with.

This kind of stuff is much more difficult to find online, especially reading comprehension practice that contains business emails.

Kanzen Master Textbooks - Best Books for JLPT N2

Nothing beats having a crack at past papers, and as the actual past papers of the JLPT are never published, this is the closest you’ll get.

While superb resources, the listening and kanji books aren’t as necessary, in my opinion. I say this because there are many just-as-good free resources available online.

Listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos or watching streams are excellent ways to boost your listening ability.

Can I reach N2 by Studying Japanese at University?

If you study Japanese at a university level (from zero) you can reach N2 by the end of the 4-year course.

You can also achieve the N2 level by studying at a university that’s not in Japan. Although I would only study at universities that offer a year abroad in Japan as part of the curriculum.

Some universities are affiliated with several Japanese universities. This means that if you study Japanese at a university that offers a year abroad, you will have multiple Japanese universities to choose from.

Therefore, research all the Japanese universities available when preparing for your year abroad.

If you can, stay at a dormitory where the majority of students there don’t speak your native language. You will be forced to use Japanese, hence, your ability will skyrocket especially if you put yourself out there and get involved with everyone and ongoing events.

When you’re surrounded by non-English speakers, you have to resort to Japanese. Thus, you’ll quickly learn how to communicate basic phrases you didn’t know how to say before. For example, “I’m hungry” or “I’m thirsty”.

When I first began texting in Japanese, it took me upwards of half an hour to compose a reply. Once I got done checking the grammar and spelling it felt like sending a simple text had transformed into a study session.

When studying abroad, all of these things quickly become natural to you. This is because of exposure. By being constantly surrounded by Japanese wherever you go you’ll see a massive improvement in your language ability and in your confidence to speak.

How Long Does it Take to Reach N2 Japanese at University?

To answer the question, how long does it take to reach the N2 level by studying at university, we can do some calculations. Using myself as an example, I began studying Japanese without any prior knowledge.

Excluding my year abroad, I had around 150 hours of Japanese language class time a year at University. I was there for 3 years, so that makes 450 hours. I had 850 hours of class time during my year abroad. In total, that’s 1300 hours of class time over four years.

Of course, I would also study for a few hours in the evening almost every day. Sometimes this would be more, sometimes it would be less. Let’s say I studied on average a generous one hour a day for the four years.

This means that I studied 1460 hours in four years by myself.

In total this would mean it took me 2760 hours to reach N2 level Japanese within four years.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese Fluently?

When asking how long it takes to learn Japanese to fluency, we have to remember that each person’s idea of what “fluency” is and sounds like will be different.

Generally, fluency is measured by the extent to which an individual possesses the ability to use language for communication and comprehension with a level of accuracy.

We often consider that level of accuracy to be very high.

The word “fluent” refers to an ability to express and communicate thoughts and ideas accurately and articulately. We can use the word “fluent” to refer to any one of (or all of) the four language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The Japanese Language Education Center estimates it takes upwards of 4800 hours to learn Japanese to N1 level, which is considered to be “fluency”.

Reaching Fluency

However, simply putting a number on how long it takes to reach that high a proficiency is not really an accurate representation.

For starters, exposing yourself to the language and culture by actually being in Japan can drastically affect those study hours. Yet, sometimes packing your bags and heading to Japan is not easily done.

Secondly, the JLPT only measures reading and listening proficiency. There are so many factors that are measured when gauging fluency as a whole.

From being able to read a book, or a newspaper, being able to articulate thoughts and ideas, comprehend audio, write in the language with accuracy, speak with correct pronunciation, understand dialects, speak with a native-like pitch accent and much more. 

All of these above factors are vital when considering what fluency actually is.

Popular YouTuber Matt vs Japan has composed an interesting formula on how to master Japanese from the comfort of your own bedroom and without ever going to Japan.

 

He was able to achieve native-level proficiency in five years via self-study.

However, language learning doesn’t really ever end. This goes for any second or third languages you learn, and for your native language.

Learning Japanese From Anime

If you’ve watched anime, it’s likely that you’ve picked up on a few words that are commonly spoken by characters.

Because of how often some words are used, it’s pretty easy to remember them. Here’s a list of a few words that you may have heard and the general meaning:

  • 先生 (sensei) – teacher
  • 先輩 (senpai) – upperclassman.
  • ばか (baka) – idiot/silly.
  • うるさい (urusai) – shut up.
  • お兄さん (oniisan) – older brother.
  • 妹 (imout0) – younger sister.
  • 大丈夫 (daijoubu) – okay.
  • かわいい (kawaii) – cute.
  • ダメ (dame) – no/not allowed.
  • 行こうぜ (ikouze) – let’s go (masculine).
  • 行くわよ (ikuwayo) – let’s go (feminine).

Some of these words are used in conversation outside of anime, as well. Whereas others, such as 行こうぜ (ikou ze), you will only really hear in anime.

Saying these kinds of words in everyday conversation would be unnatural and surprise some people. It may come across as you’re trying to mimic an anime character or that you speak in a childish way.

Therefore there are also elements of Japanese in anime that are unique only to anime.

In particular, characters in anime will often use fantasy words and unique expressions to exaggerate what’s happening.

A famous expression in the West is the expression お前はもう死んでる (omae ha mou shinderu) which translates roughly as “you’re already dead”.

The only time when you might actually use this phrase in natural speech is when you’re playing against a friend in a game.

To up the hype and express how easy it’s going to be to win, you tell them how they’re already dead with お前はもう死んでる (omae ha mou shinderu).

Even then, if you’re speaking to a Japanese person, it may come across as being unnatural.

These kinds of words and expressions aren’t really used in everyday conversation.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese From Anime?

If you’re fluent in Korean, you may be able to learn Japanese by only watching anime. I’ve met one Korean person who had learnt Japanese entirely from watching anime.

They were able to achieve a high level of proficiency this way because not only do Japanese and Korean sound very similar, but the grammar structures are also the same. The closest comparison I believe I can make is to compare English to German. Many phrases sound similar.

The Korean person claimed that they were able to reach a conversational level within two years. However, even though they reached a conversational level of Japanese from anime, many Japanese natives did comment on how they sounded like an anime character.

Therefore learning Japanese via anime-only is not recommended. You risk learning words and expressions that sound unnatural to use in everyday conversation.

Instead, you should use anime as a supplement to your overall language studies.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese to Watch Anime?

Furthermore, as anime is scripted, the conversation may be slightly unnatural at times.

However, if your main goals are to learn Japanese for the purpose of watching anime, I recommend the following.

Firstly, watching anime with English subtitles can hinder your language progress.

When you watch an anime with English subtitles, your brain will be more focused on reading the English text rather than taking in the Japanese.

Moreover, English and Japanese grammar are considerably different. This makes it harder to read the English subtitles and understand the Japanese at the same time.

Hence, when you reach a high enough level, try to watch Japanese with Japanese subtitles. You’ll find that you’ll learn so many new words. There may also be multiple instances where you’ll learn a word you knew but didn’t recognise before.

Many times when I rewatch an anime with Japanese subtitles, I’m able to pick up on a bunch of words that I already knew, but my brain wasn’t hearing and processing properly when they were spoken by the characters.

This could be because they were spoken with a unique dialect, accent, or even conjugated in a way that I’ve not seen it been conjugated before.

With that said, learning enough Japanese to understand slice-of-life anime (such as school setting) can be done relatively quickly

Yet learning enough Japanese to understand fantasy anime is much more challenging.

I recommend watching fantasy anime with Japanese subtitles. Learning the meaning of kanji to understand the subtitles in fantasy anime will also help tremendously.

The characters will speak the reading of the words for you. And you can deduce the meaning of the words by looking at the kanji in the subtitles.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese? Summary

How long it takes to learn Japanese will be different for each person. Learning the Japanese language is an adventure that should be enjoyed.

Discover your own purpose/reasons for learning Japanese and use that as the initial energy to fuel your motivation for studying.

Sometimes you may not feel like you’re making progress with your studies, even though you very much are.

Implementing the digital flashcard application Anki, into your studies is a powerful way to utilise spaced-repetition learning and accelerate your overall learning speed.

Studying abroad is another factor that can boost language acquisition significantly, especially if you’re in an environment where English is not used.

To reach conversational fluency, focus on mastering the beginner N5 and N4 grammar (and some N3) before moving on to the harder N2 stuff.

You can use beginner grammar to comprehend a huge amount of spoken Japanese. Likewise, N4 and N5 grammar are enough to articulate complex sentences in Japanese as well.

Refer to our collection of Ultimate How-To Japanese guides for detailed explanations of Japanese expressions and phrases.

Lastly, focus on having fun and enjoy your language learning adventure!