How long to learn Japanese? Easy steps before visiting Japan!

Published June 4th, 2021

So, you want to learn Japanese. That’s great. The Japanese language is a beautiful one. Learning it opens you to understanding aspects of the Japanese culture that you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

But the thing is, it’s no easy chore. I’ve bet you’ve heard that one before. Some say that Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to learn. There’s three writing systems. The sentence structure is different from English. There are various levels of formality. If you have a plan to go to Japan some time in the future and want to be familiar with the language first, you’ve got to plan in advance.

And the question in your head right now is: how long is it going to take to learn Japanese? Some websites will tell you that you can converse easily within a few months using their special tools. But the thing is, there are so many factors you need to consider before even getting a timeline. Here, we highlight five of them.

Learning Goals: Why are you learning Japanese?

The first one is your goal. Why are you learning Japanese? What’s your purpose for learning Japanese? Are you going to Japan for travel, business or to live? Will you be using Japanese for everyday purposes or for work? It’s important to clearly define your purpose and goals for learning the language. That’s because various goals require different durations of time.

There are four main skills involved in a language: speaking, listening, writing and reading. Does your purpose involve all skills or just a few? If you’re aiming to master them all at a high level, you’d need more time than someone who’s aiming to get by with speaking and listening.

Especially with reading and writing, you’d need to have a good grasp at kanji (漢字), one of the writing systems that uses Chinese characters. This is going to take a lot of time. Even local Japanese people struggle with that.

Proficiency: What level of Japanese do you want to achieve?

The next thing to think about is how fluent you want to be in the Japanese language. Are you fine with being able to use the language just at conversational level or are you aiming for fluency?

Conversational Japanese includes being able to give and receive information. You basically can hold a conversation casually. This level of Japanese can be used in day-to-day activities like shopping, watching movies and enquiring about things.

Fluent Japanese is a step up. It involves more complex grammar and technical skills. Everything from casual to formal Japanese, you have it covered. Instead of thinking in your native language and translating it to Japanese, you are able to think in Japanese.

Depending on the level of fluency you want to achieve, it’s going to affect the time it takes to learn the language. You first have to decide how high up a mountain you want to climb before knowing how long it’s going to take to get there.

Time: How long can you commit to studying Japanese?

After that, think about how much time you can commit to studying Japanese. Not everyone can commit a large set of hours each day. Look at your own schedule and decide for yourself. But the key here is to practice every day. The more you practice, the faster you’ll reach your goal. Someone who sets aside four hours a day is going to learn more and faster than someone who sets aside two hours a day.

It doesn’t have to be sitting with a textbook for three hours a night. There’s also passive learning. Whether it’s watching anime and J-drama or listening to podcasts and music, it still counts. If you’re actively learning throughout, you’re getting your mind accustomed to the language.

Generally, if someone studies Japanese a few hours every day, they’ll be able to reach JLPT N2 in two to three years.

Experience: Have you ever learned a new language before?

This next point is not as direct, but it’s really important. Ask yourself if you’ve ever learned a new language. How long it takes to learn a new language does depend on whether you’re bilingual already or not. It’s been proven that learning a third language is much easier than learning a second language.

If you’ve learned a language before, your mind is more adjusted to absorb linguistic information. If it’s going to be your first time, it might be a bit of a struggle at first. It’s especially so with Japanese since there are three writing systems to begin with.

Your native language is going to play a part into the learning process as well. If English is your native language, sentence structure can be difficult. The Japanese language has a different grammar structure than English, and it can take a while to get used to.

Motivation: How driven are you?

Last but not least, ask yourself: how motivated are you to learn Japanese? Are you psyched and excited to start this journey, and maintain this enthusiasm throughout? Are you going to lose that positive attitude halfway through? The mindset you put yourself in during this learning journey is crucial.

If you find yourself losing interest, it will take longer for you to reach your Japanese language goal. If you can maintain your motivation, it will be faster than you think. Someone who wants to learn the language as a hobby is going to learn faster than someone who has to learn the language for work.

Keep your eyes on the prize. All your intentions and efforts to learn the language have to be aligned. Your mind can only absorb what you let it to.

How long does it take?

So, exactly how long does it take to learn Japanese before visiting Japan? As you can tell, it really varies depending on the individual. Some people are faster learners than others as well. But there is a general guideline.

If you’re looking to be able to hold a basic conversation in Japan, it’ll take only a few months for that. If you want to use Japanese to read manga (漫画) or other Japanese books, it might take you over a year. Higher level of fluency can take up to 3 or 5 years. Roughly, a student has to attend 2200 class hours to be able to achieve Japanese fluency. That’s about 88 weeks (1 year and 10 months).

On top of that, you have to be using the language every day.

Our online learning system is the perfect tool to assist you in your daily practice. Try our free trial to jumpstart your Japanese learning journey. Ganbatte ne! (Good luck!)