Learning Japanese is not an easy undertaking. In fact, it’s one of the more challenging languages for English speakers to learn because of its different writing system and grammar. But with a little motivation and patience, anyone can learn to communicate in a foreign language quickly enough. Even Japanese! One of the most common questions we get from learners is how long does it take to learn Japanese? Let’s dive into this question and explore some of the most important factors to consider!


Check the Stats: How Long Does It Take to Learn Japanese?

According to the FSI (Foreign Service Institute), which is a great reference for language learning, it takes about 88 weeks (or 2,200 hours) to learn Japanese. Because – it’s true – Japanese is considered one of the more challenging languages for native English speakers to master!

Another study, performed by the Japanese Language Education Center between 2010 and 2015, found that it would take 600-1,000 hours for students learning full-time (about 33 hours of classes per week) to learn the basics of Japanese and to communicate confidently in everyday scenarios.

HOWEVER, these figures are just estimates.

Don’t get discouraged.

Remember that there are many factors involved in learning any new language. Your motivation levels, whether you’re in an immersive situation or learning from home, the amount of time you’re able to dedicate, etc. There’s no one answer that applies to everyone.

It’s rare, but some people will be able to grasp the basics very quickly—within a few months, even.

Others might take 6 years to reach the same point.

The spectrum is very broad! But none of this really answers the question… How long does it take to learn Japanese, actually?

We’ve collected testimonials from several sources, and it seems like the average is close to one year if you’re working on a regular basis and stay highly motivated the whole time. This would get you to a point where you could talk with Japanese people in the street, and have a good foundation for professional exchanges.

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Keys to Learning Japanese

Evaluate your goals

Before answering the question “How long does it take to learn Japanese?” you need to have a good idea of what your goals are.

  • Do you want to learn a few handy phrases to get by during a trip?
  • Are you applying for jobs in Japan?
  • Do you need to be well-versed in written Japanese for academic purposes?
  • Are you interested in writing to a Japanese pen pal?
  • Are you only looking to be able to communicate in spoken Japanese, or will you also need to read and write?

Once you have a clear idea of the skills that you want or need to prioritize, you should be able to optimize your learning approach (and get a better idea of how long it will take you to reach your goal).

It’s pretty simple, in fact. If you want to know a few key phrases when you’re a tourist in Japan, it’ll only take you a few hours or a few days.

On the other hand, if you want to perfect your knowledge of the language, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you to continue picking up Japanese vocabulary. Because who can say they’ve completely mastered their mother tongue? Personally, if someone were to approach me with specialized maritime vocabulary, I’d be lost. Do the words chandler, dunnage, or chock mean anything to you?

Stay on top of your motivation

One of the most important factors is motivation. Any reason to learn a language is a good one, whether it’s a desire to travel, curiosity, or work. But without motivation, you won’t get very far. So it’s important to “feed” that desire.

The more motivated you are, the faster and better you’ll learn. And when you see your results, your motivation will grow too. Which will make you want to work even harder!

On the other hand, it can be easy to lose motivation overnight. If this ever happens, it’s important to keep at it so you don’t lose everything you’ve done so far and have to start all over again.

Perhaps it’s time to mix things up! You could concentrate more on things you enjoy doing (reading manga, for example). That way, even if you’re not acquiring much new vocabulary, grammar, or anything else, you won’t totally give up on Japanese and your Japanese language learning.

Make it part of your routine

A recurring piece of advice that you’ve probably already heard from the MosaLingua team is to learn in small, regular doses.

There’s no point in learning 3-4 hours a week all at once. Yes, you’ll surely learn, but you’ll quickly forget much of what you’ve just crammed. Your brain will quickly become saturated, and you’ll risk burning out.

We usually advise that learners spend between 10 and 20 minutes a day on their target language. For Japanese, it wouldn’t hurt to spend a little more time, as it’s a very different language from English. Though pronunciation shouldn’t be too difficult, there are three writing systems and the grammar is totally different. For this reason alone, you’ll have to adapt, and it’s not as easy as learning French or German.

Our advice: Start with 20-30 minutes of practice per day.

Immerse yourself however you can

Here, the question “How long does it take to be fluent in Japanese?” takes on its full meaning.

If you go to Japan and totally immerse yourself in the language, or spend 3-4 hours a day listening to, pronouncing, and reading Japanese, it’s highly possible that you’ll be able to get by on your own in as little as three months.

Now, not everyone can pack up and head to Japan. So how can you immerse yourself in the language from home, whether you’re a student or a professional?

Well, it’s easy: by taking advantage of all that the Japanese language has to offer! Not sure where to start?

To immerse yourself in the Japanese language, you’ll need to create an environment that helps you learn Japanese effectively.

Listen to Japanese music, read manga, listen to Japanese radio, watch films, TV shows, or anime in Japanese (even with subtitles), etc. This will help you put the vocabulary you’re learning into context, and give you a better understanding of how the language works. Plus, it’s way more fun than sitting down with a dusty textbook. It’s a win-win!

In short, in addition to dedicated learning, spend time listening to and reading the Japanese language. Even if it’s not pure, active learning, you’ll retain new information better and improve faster. Because it’s still exposure to the language.

In doing so, you can easily increase your practice time from 20 minutes a day to perhaps an hour a day. But you won’t feel like you’re learning, because you’ll be having fun!

A storefront in Tokyo full of different Japanese manga.

Choose engaging practice resources

It’s the 21st century—learning a foreign language doesn’t have to be rote and boring. Yes, discipline is important, but if you only learn with dry “traditional” materials, you’ll lose your motivation quickly. So use resources you enjoy!

At the risk of being repetitive, listen to music, watch shows, play video games, read articles on subjects that interest you… but do it all in Japanese. No matter what it is, just make sure it’s fun. Learning shouldn’t be a chore.

You can even use these resources (song lyrics, transcribed spoken phrases, short articles) to pick up new vocabulary or see how sentences are constructed. You’ll learn new grammar rules in a natural, intuitive way.

Another way to immerse yourself in Japanese is, unsurprisingly, to speak the language. We really recommend chatting with a Japanese language partner, even if it’s only for half an hour a week. It’ll take your speaking and writing skills to the next level, fast. And who better than a native speaker to correct your mistakes?


Can I Learn Japanese in a Year? Important Factors to Think About

On a deadline? Here’s what you should take into consideration to determine if it’s possible for YOU to learn Japanese in just 365 days:

Knowledge of other languages

One important thing to consider is your knowledge of other languages. The more languages you speak, and the more diverse they are, the more your brain has been trained to recognize recurring patterns.

And it’s also easier to learn a new one because you know the methods that work best for you when learning a new language. So it won’t take you as long to master it.

For example, if you have experience learning Mandarin, the vocabulary and writing skills you have can help you learn and write Japanese kanji. This is an advantage that a person who has never learned any language other than English won’t have.


Not all learning methods are created equal. Someone who decides to immerse themselves completely in a country’s culture by going there and talking to locals will learn Japanese much faster than someone who learns a few vocabulary words every other day at home in the U.S.

Learning methods play a very important role in your learning process, so spend a little time up front thinking about your goals, learning style, budget, time, etc., and find a learning tool (or several) that will meet your needs!

It’s all about you

We can’t say it often enough, but your learning depends mainly on you. Your motivation, the time you choose to invest, how you organize your study time… it’s all up to you. No one can make these choices for you.

Here are some useful questions to ask yourself:

  • What level do you want to reach? Do you just want to visit for a week and be able to ask for restaurant recommendations? Or do you want to land a full-time job in Japan? These are important questions to answer.
  • How motivated are you? If you’re self-taught, it can be easy to take a long hiatus. Enrolling in a course can help you to stay regular in your learning. If you find that it’s taking longer than you expected, will that discourage you?
  • How long does it take to learn Japanese? How much time are you prepared to set aside to learn the language? One three-hour chunk per week? 10 minutes a day? Be careful how you go about it!
River boat cruise at sunset in Kyoto, with light pink cherry trees in full bloom over the water.
Photo credit: Traveling with Kristin


Tips From Our Teachers: How to Learn Japanese Faster

Set goals

Whether you want to travel to Japan for a week or make it your new home, it’s important to set incremental goals. For example, you could say to yourself:

  • At the end of one month, you want to be able to chat in Japanese for 5 minutes. Or describe yourself in 5 minutes and work on a short monologue.
  • Learn 20 new words per week.
  • Learn 15 new kanji per week.
  • You can even separate the different skills: learn vocabulary for three days, then kanji for two days, and finally grammar rules for the remaining two days.

There are lots of ways to learn. Setting small, achievable goals throughout your learning journey will help you stay motivated. And motivation is important! Quantifying things will help you to improve more quickly and keep track of your progress, feeding your motivation to keep learning.

Prioritize what will be most useful

According to the Pareto principle, we only use a small portion (about 20%) of what we know in the majority of situations. In other words, it’s best to concentrate on what’s most useful first, before you start learning in greater depth.

In Japanese, the basic level (for those in the know, this corresponds to the JLPT N5 exam), which corresponds to an A1 level on the CEFR scale, requires knowledge of 600 to 800 vocabulary words, 100 kanji, and a solid grammatical base, as well as being able to understand a little spoken Japanese.

But don’t be afraid of these numbers. They may seem high, but learning a new language is well worth the effort! If you learn the basics of Japanese and revise regularly, you’ll make progress in no time.

Practice as soon as possible

To progress, you need to practice. And while many people can understand a language without knowing how to speak it, there’s really no point in that if your goal is to interact with Japanese people. Especially since the Japanese aren’t known for their mastery of English – quite the opposite, in fact (depending on your destination). So it’s essential to know how to speak the language, especially if you’re planning a long stay in the country.

Even if you only know how to say “Hello, my name is…,” start speaking in Japanese right away! Get comfortable making mistakes – this will help you improve more quickly.

You can also start corresponding with a Japanese pen pal to improve your vocabulary and written expression. Learn the hiragana and katakana first, then gradually introduce kanji into your learning process.

Learning to speak and write will help you immensely as you learn and master Japanese to the level you want. Knowing the different writing systems may only be for reading, but you’ll need to be able to recognize the characters. In fact, did you know that fewer Japanese people know how to write characters than know how to recognize and read them?


Next Steps

If you’re interested in learning Japanese, here are a few other articles that might be useful: