How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?

If you have started learning Japanese or thinking about doing it soon, you might ask yourself: How long does it take to learn Japanese? It’s an honest question, and probably the most important. Between people’s fascination with Japanese culture and the desire to live in Japan, Japanese has become one of the most popular languages to learn – but also the hardest, too.

The answer to this question is, “it depends”. Understandably, no one likes to hear that — but it’s an honest answer because there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how long it takes to learn Japanese. The factors that affect how long you’ll get to your goal include your prior language experience, learning style, motivation, and dedication

That’s why we see a lot of people who seem to be passing JLPT N2 or N2 effortlessly, while others re-taking N5 or N4 tests.

In this response, we’ll explore the different factors that can impact the time it takes to learn Japanese and provide some estimates on how long it may take for a beginner to become proficient in the language.

Why People Say Japanese is Hard to Learn

It’s Harder if You’re a Native English Speaker

Regardless if this is true for you or not, the Japanese language has a reputation for being hard to learn. 

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI), which focuses on teaching languages and cultures to US diplomats and government officials, has a system that ranks languages based on how difficult they are to learn. FSI classified Japanese as a “Super-hard language.” They estimate that reaching Japanese fluency takes 88 weeks or 2,200 hours. 

It’s really hard to argue against this data, but you should take this with a grain of salt: FSI ranks languages based on how long native English speakers learn them. If you speak languages like Spanish, French, and Italian, among others that are in the same language family as English, the study hours are probably close to that.

FSI classified Japanese as a “Super-hard language.” They estimate that reaching Japanese fluency takes 88 weeks or 2,200 hours. 

This has numerous reasons, one of the biggest ones being that English and Japanese have very few words with common etymological origin. Recently, Japan has adopted a lot of English and non-English loanwords due to American and western influence, but this is nearly nowhere as many as French or German. This makes learning vocabulary much harder. Let’s take a look at the word “university” in English, German, and French.

universityuniversitätUniversité universidad

If you’re a German studying French, you’ll probably have an easier time absorbing vocabulary than a Japanese student. Likewise, those who speak Chinese or Korean can learn Japanese more quickly than someone from French and Italy as the languages come from similar roots. This is all due to geographical and historical factors.

This is not to be mistaken that Chinese and Korean languages originate from Japan. In fact, it’s Japanese and Korean that borrow words from the Chinese language. 50% of Japanese words come from Chinese. 

So while people from the US struggle to get a good grip on Japanese words, you might notice your Korean or Chinese friend seems to learn vocabulary and soak in kanji at a quicker rate. Using the same example, let’s compare “university” in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.


They’re not all the same, but the fact that there is a close phonetic resemblance between the three words can give you an idea of why some people learn Japanese faster. As an addition, it takes 3,900 hours to study JLPT N1 without kanji knowledge. For students with kanji knowledge, it takes 2,150 hours of JLPT study to pass — almost half the time!

Whole New Grammar Structure and Writing system

The Japanese writing system is also very different from English. Japanese uses a combination of three writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are syllabic writing systems, where each symbol represents a syllable, whereas kanji are characters derived from Chinese that represent whole words or concepts. This combination of writing systems can be difficult for English speakers to learn, especially since kanji alone consists of over 2,000 characters that must be memorized.

The Japanese grammar structure is also very different from English and many other languages. Japanese sentences typically end in verbs and particles which describe the function of the words in the sentence. The particles are used to mark the subject, direct object, indirect object, and more, and they come after the word or phrase they are marking. This means that a sentence in Japanese can be structured in many different ways while still being grammatically correct, making it challenging for English speakers to learn.

English Word OrderJapanese Word Order
Subject + Verb + ObjectSubject + Object + Verb

Let’s try to translate a Japanese sentence literally, based on its word order.

SubjectSubject ParticleLocationLocation particleObjectObject ParticleVerb
Tanakacafeatcoffeeis drinking

Confusing, right? With time, you’ll get used to the sentence structure, but you might need time to adjust to them when translating whatever Japanese sentence you hear or see into your native language. 

The language often omits the subject in a sentence if it is already clear from the context, which can lead to ambiguity and confusion for English speakers who are used to always including a subject.

Watashi wa kouen e ikimasu.
I am going to the park.

Imagine that you are leaving the house, and your mom asks you where you are going. In this case, it’s obvious that your answer indicates yourself, and no one else. A correct sentence often does not require a subject in Japanese, since the subject is usually implied in the context of the conversation.

kouen e ikimasu.
(I am) going to the park!

Kanji Can Be a Challenge

With the points made above, Japanese is actually a fairly mechanical language in its grammar. The tricky part is learning kanji, which consists of thousands of Chinese characters with various meanings and readings. Learning these hiragana and katakana writing systems and understanding how they interact with each other can be a daunting task for beginners, but knowing kanji is an ever-evolving process, even for advanced learners.

In order to study any written material, you need to learn hundreds of kanji characters — how to write them, what they mean in each context, and all of their different pronunciations (onyomi and kunyomi). A single kanji character can have a couple of different meanings and several different pronunciations depending on how it is used or combined with other kanji.

Beyond Listening, Speaking, Writing and Reading, You Need to Look at Social Cues

The issue of speaking basic Japanese and considering it done is one thing but to really speak Japanese, complete with the right social, is another barrier that a lot of foreigners fail to cross.

A couple of reasons fall into place: when you’re not in a Japanese-speaking environment, you tend to miss out on all the social cues that play a big part in communication. In Japanese culture, it is important to be mindful of the other person’s feelings and to avoid direct confrontations. Social cues are used to convey meaning in a more indirect and subtle manner, which can be challenging for non-native speakers to understand.

One of the most important social cues in the Japanese language is the use of honorifics and keigo, which are special words and expressions used to show respect and politeness to others. These honorifics can vary depending on the social status, age, and relationship of the speaker and listener. For example, using the wrong honorific can be seen as disrespectful or rude, which can cause offense or damage a relationship. This system includes different verb forms, honorific and humble language, and varying sentence structures, all of which can be difficult to master.

Another important social cue in the Japanese language is nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. In Japanese culture, these nonverbal cues are considered just as important as verbal communication and can convey a great deal of meaning. For example, maintaining eye contact and nodding can show that you are paying attention and are interested in what the other person is saying.

Defining Fluency in Japanese Language Learning

To the majority, language fluency is a spectrum. You can talk to your Japanese friends in casual Japanese and call it fluent. You might think that to be one means being able to lead a meeting with your coworkers in full keigo.

A good rule of thumb is if you find yourself constantly translating between Japanese and your own native language and forming sentences quickly, you’d be hard-pressed to describe yourself as fluent. In its academic definition made by Dr. Paul Nation and Asuza Yamamoto, fluency is ‘being able to receive and produce language at a reasonable rate’. You should ask yourself, “Am I at ease when I speak Japanese? Do I get constantly worried about the next question from my partner?”

On the other hand, this number begs the question: Can I call myself fluent if I am able to watch anime without subtitles? Talk to your Japanese friends without any fillers like eto or ano? Or write a foolproof business email to your Japanese boss?

Remember that there’s more to communication than speaking and listening! There are also four aspects that make up Japanese language fluency: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. You may be excellent at conversing in Japanese, but barely able to write a single kanji.

So depending on how you define fluency, you might get to that point faster or slower! And don’t worry: we’ve broken down the study hours based on your goal and the desired level below. 

How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese Based On Your Goal?

The FSI of the US State Department estimates that it takes 88 weeks, or 2,200 study hours, to reach what most people define as Japanese fluency. This is probably a fairer assessment than saying it takes 2 years to speak Japanese. The more hours you put to practice Japanese in a day or stay consistent throughout the week, the faster you’ll learn.

Ultimately, achieving a high level in Japanese takes time, as with other languages. A lot of people who live in Japan and studied the language for years might still say they have a long way to go, so you can’t expect instant results in a matter of weeks. 

As a reference, we’ve broken down how long it takes to learn Japanese based on what you’re using the language for. Depending on your goal, you might want to focus on one language aspect (like speaking) more than the other. 

GoalHow you’ll use JapaneseStudy Hours
TravelAsk for directions, order food, and make basic greetings.7 – 30 days
Make friendsDaily conversations, expressing thoughts and opinions, holding natural conversations in a wider range of circumstances.900-1,300 study hours (6 months – 1 year)
Work part-time job in JapanSpeak basic keigo to customers, interact with Japanese coworkers900-1,300 study hours (6 months – 1 year)
Get a job in JapanUse keigo (Japanese honorifics), business Japanese, manners and cultural awareness, JLPT (N2 or N1)2,000 – 4,000 study hours (2 years)
Go to universityTake the EJU (Japanese entrance examination, and JLPT (N2 or N1), take Japanese tests, make a presentation2,000 – 3,000 study hours (2 years)

How Many Hours a Day You Should Study Japanese

You might notice we’ve been using “study hours” instead of exact days or months, which can be frustrating if you want a straightforward answer on how long it takes to learn Japanese. 

Days and months can vary in length and can be influenced by external factors, such as holidays or personal schedules, making it difficult to accurately track progress. There are people who might study 30 minutes a day. Some dedicate 3 hours a day, while a few people spend 6-7 hours studying full-time. This isn’t the best-standardized unit of time.

If you are learning as a hobby, dedicating 15 to 30 minutes a day to studying is fine. In 6 months, you’ll be able to read basic texts and hold limited conversations. 

Most people recommend studying for 3 to 4 hours every day on a set schedule allows your brain to work at its full capacity and avoid burnout. Even intensive courses at Coto Academy and Japanese language classes at other Japanese language schools only have 3-hour classes on weekdays. 

So if you think studying 9 hours a day to achieve the “study hour goal” is a good idea, think again! You’ll most likely experience burnout and have trouble holding onto the information that you have learned.

How Long it Takes to Learn Japanese: Beginner

When we think of Japanese levels, we tend to associate it with JLPT, or the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, as the ultimate benchmark for how much Japanese you know. Beginner-level Japanese ranges from JLPT N5 (beginner) to N4 (upper beginner). 

According to the official JLPT administrator, JLPT N5 and N4 “prove your ability to understand some basic Japanese.” You should be able to listen and comprehend conversations about daily life and classroom situations — provided that they are spoken slowly.

Reading-wise, this means you’re already familiar with daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji.

For students with kanji knowledge, it takes 350 study hours to pass JLPT N5, and 462 hours if you have no prior kanji knowledge. For JLPT N4, it will take 550 hours and 787 hours under the same condition.

Keep in mind that the JLPT does not test your conversational skill, so while your written Japanese skill is good, this doesn’t necessarily reflect your practical fluency during day-to-day conversations.

If you want to learn the most basic kanji and have no prior experience with Japanese, it should take you around a month. This is if you learn 10 kanji a day every day. 

How Long it Takes to Learn Japanese: Intermediate 

Japanese intermediate level is around JLPT N3, which can take 900 – 1,500 study hours to get to. Many Japanese learners are at this level, and you should be able to get a part-time job at this point. You are able to get around Japan with ease and while you may still encounter difficulties in understanding and expressing certain ideas, you should be able to engage in conversations on a wide range of topics with a degree of fluency and accuracy.

Typically, studying for JLPT N3 takes about 6 months to one year, depending on how many hours you dedicated each day and how hard you commit to your study plan. 

Around N3, you should already know around 650 kanji, which can take anywhere from 2 months to four months if learn 5-10 kanji each day. 

How Long it Takes to Learn Japanese: Advanced 

In order to get a high level of Japanese proficiency for work, you’ll want to achieve JLPT N1 and have sufficient written and spoken ability to effectively communicate in various settings, such as in-person interactions, emails, presentations, and meetings, with a mastery of the formal Japanese register (keigo). Acquiring the JLPT N2 or N1 certification can take anywhere from 2,200 hours to 3,900 hours of study, which would require at least 2 years of full-time study. Even after obtaining an N1 certification, many learners continue to study more kanji and vocabulary to further improve their proficiency.

You can achieve the same advanced level in 3-5 years of learning Japanese part-time. This is when you can get jobs that require native-level Japanese skills, like interpreters, translators, customer service, and Japanese teachers. 

In most cases, the amount of exposure to the Japanese language and culture plays a big part in truly reaching an advanced level. At this point, it’s not just about knowing a lot of grammar points, vocabulary, or kanji; it’s also about understanding the culture and context in which the language is used.

Ways to Speed up Japanese Learning

Most of us have different learning preferences, like taking notes, using visuals or graphics, or speaking words out loud. There are numerous ways to acquire proficiency in Japanese, but selecting the most effective method for yourself will enable you to enhance your learning speed and quality. Here are a few tips we always recommend to those who are starting to learn Japanese.

1. Find a language partner

Studying alone can be boring unless you’re an introvert. Not only does it provide an opportunity to practice speaking and listening in a natural setting, but it also offers insight into Japanese culture, values, and customs. Interacting with native speakers can expose you to a variety of regional dialects, idiomatic expressions, and slang that are not commonly found in textbooks or language courses. Moreover, it allows you to receive immediate feedback on your language usage, pronunciation, and grammar, which is invaluable in accelerating your language acquisition.

Engaging in conversations with Japanese friends or exchange partners can also make language learning more enjoyable, provide new social connections, and lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture. We recommend checking out our curated list of Japanese language exchange apps and where to find language exchange events.

2. Study Japanese in Japan for Total Immersion

This one is probably obvious, but hear us out: you learn Japanese most effectively when you’re studying the language in Japan — or at least when you are constantly exposed to Japanese culture. Besides, what better way to reward yourself for your hard work than to visit a country we all love?

Immersing yourself in Japanese culture and making friends with native speakers can be almost impossible outside Japan. Being in Japan will boost your progress considerably. You’re conditioned to always use Japanese, and you’ll inevitably hear Japanese words and phrases every day. 

3. Define your motivation and goal

Want to learn Japanese as a hobby? Find new job opportunities in Japan from overseas? Watch your favorite anime. It’s good to define your goal in learning Japanese for a couple of reasons; the first being these goals are your motivators. A lot of people lose interest in learning Japanese because it gets too hard or boring. Knowing why you want to study in the first place helps you to keep the traction going.

Second, and probably more importantly, it helps you identify which language element you need to focus on. Learning Japanese to take the JLPT for university entrance? You should do a well-balanced study plan covering listening, speaking, reading, and vocabulary. Want to be able to make small talk? Try to do more conversation practices instead.

4. Use a mix of Japanese study materials

Perhaps you’re an auditory learner. Or maybe you notice you hate using textbooks. No matter what kind of Japanese learner you are, studying Japanese can be more effective when you’re genuinely enjoying it — or even making it fun!

And the good news is, you can learn from things you already enjoy in Japanese. For example, if you like playing video games, you can switch the language to Japanese, especially with games like Pokemon, where the language is simple and easy to change when starting a new game.

Enjoy reading manga? Challenge yourself to read a bit each day in Japanese, and as you progress, it will become easier. Additionally, watching your favorite shows in Japanese, like anime series or Terrace House on Netflix, is a fun way to pick up new vocabulary and slang. Initially, try watching without subtitles and actively listening, taking notes, and then watching again with subtitles on to see what you understood and learned.

We have a huge list of articles dedicated to different learning resources: Anki, podcasts, YouTube, TikToks and TV shows, so check them out on our blog!

5. Join a Japanese courses

It’s important not to overlook the significance of getting the right professional support and establishing a study routine. This is where taking a Japanese course comes in.

One of the main benefits of taking a Japanese class is having access to a qualified instructor who can answer questions, provide feedback, and offer guidance tailored to your individual needs. Additionally, studying with a group of peers can create a sense of accountability and motivation, as well as the opportunity to practice speaking and listening skills with others.

If you’re considering taking a Japanese class, we recommend checking out Coto Academy. They offer a wide range of courses, from beginner to advanced levels, taught by experienced and knowledgeable instructors. Their curriculum is designed to be engaging and interactive, and they use a variety of teaching methods to cater to different learning styles. Additionally, their flexible scheduling options and online classes make it easy to fit language learning into your busy schedule.


Learning to speak Japanese involves many factors, but by developing good study habits, managing your time effectively, and staying committed, you can become conversational in a few months. This may come as a surprise, as you may have had different expectations about the process of learning Japanese.

It’s important to find joy and a sense of satisfaction throughout your journey, not just at the end goal. Celebrate each small accomplishment along the way and try not to focus too much on how far you still have to go. One day, you’ll be glad that you persevered and didn’t give up!

If you’re interested in learning more about Japan and exploring offline or online Japanese lessons, be sure to visit the Coto Academy website! FIll out the form below for a free level check and course consultation!

How long does it take to learn Japanese for beginners?

The FSI of the US State Department estimates that it takes 88 weeks, or 2,200 study hours, to reach what most people define as Japanese fluency. However, the amount of time it takes to learn Japanese for beginners depends on various factors, such as how often and how long you study, the quality of your study materials, your motivation, and your natural ability to learn languages.

How many hours a day should I study Japanese to become fluent?

The number of hours a day you need to study Japanese to become fluent depends on your personal goals, your current level of proficiency, and your preferred learning style. Generally, it’s recommended to study at least 1-2 hours a day, every day, to make steady progress. As a reference, intensive Japanese courses typically 3 hours a day. Studying 6 hours or more in a day may lead to burnout.

Can I become fluent in Japanese in six months?

While it’s possible to make significant progress in six months of intensive study, becoming fully fluent in Japanese within such a short period is unlikely. Achieving fluency in Japanese requires a deep understanding of the language, which takes time to develop. You can achieve conversational fluency in six months.

How long does it take to pass the JLPT N5, N4, N3, N2 or N1 level?

On average, it takes 6 months to 1 year of dedicated study to pass each level of the JLPT. However, some people may take longer or shorter depending on their individual circumstances.

Can I learn Japanese faster with a tutor or language exchange partner?

Working with a tutor or language exchange partner can help you learn Japanese faster and more effectively. A tutor can provide personalized instruction and feedback, while a language exchange partner can offer opportunities to practice speaking and listening skills with a native speaker.

How long does it take to learn Japanese kanji?

On average, it takes about 2-3 years of consistent study to master the basic set of 2,136 Joyo kanji (commonly used characters in Japan).

Can I learn Japanese on my own without a teacher?

Yes, it’s possible to learn Japanese on your own without a teacher. However, self-study requires a lot of discipline, motivation, and the right resources. You’ll need to find quality textbooks, online resources, and study materials, and you’ll need to develop a consistent study routine to make progress.

Is it difficult to learn Japanese compared to other languages?

Japanese is considered to be a logical and consistent language with a relatively simple sound system, but it’s considered one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers. FSI considered Japanese a “super-hard language”, categorizing it in the same group as Arabic, Korean, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

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