(About) How long does it take to get to an exclusively Japanese level?

I guess I should more clearly illustrate my question: Just a moment ago, the word “epiphany”, wouldn’t come to me, so I searched for “discovery synonyms” to find it.

English is not my native language, I had a good basic understanding by 15 or so, and I was fluent by 19 but I never really studied it. I just kind of picked it up due to it being the de facto language of the internet. I’m a really good passive learner and a terrible active learner. I have no doubt that once I have a good amount of basic knowledge, I’ll have no trouble becoming fluent, but I just realized, I have no idea how long or how much effort it takes to get that basic knowledge.

About how long(what level/how many months) does it take before I can watch anime or read manga without the need to translate anything to English?


Depending on how much you study, maybe level 60 and 2+ total years of study. If youre on the slower end, it could be 4+ years.

Its very hard to give an estimate for this sort of thing due to the fact that everyone learns at very different speeds. Furthermore, what anime or manga youre consuming will have a pretty big impact as well. Some are far more difficult than others.


WK won’t teach you lots of things you need for that:

  • Listening skills
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary (it teaches a lot, but only in the service of helping you memorize kanji)
  • Cultural knowledge (necessary for reading or understanding some materials)

You didn’t say what your native language is, but Japanese is difficult because it is quite different from most other languages (except Korean). See Japonic languages:

… more attempts have been made to link Japanese with other language families than for any other language. None of these attempts has succeeded in demonstrating a common descent for Japonic and any other language family

So unless your native language was one that is vastly different from English, your experience of gaining fluency in English may be misleading (Japanese will be harder).

In addition, there is the challenge of the writing system, which WK will definitely help you learn.

You can burn everything in WK in 2-5 years, depending upon how much time you put into it. But you can find people here on WK forums who have reached level 60 and relate that they have poor listening skills, or that they have not yet progressed beyond JLPT Level 3.

That said, if you also gain enough grammar and listening skills, you should be able to consume Japanese material (with some difficulty) after level 40 or so.

There are book clubs here on WK forums for readers at various levels (but even “advanced” here is not that advanced; they read slowly, and the materials they choose are limited.

All that said, I suspect it will take more than a certain number of months for you to be able to consume original japanese materials. Two years would be fast.

There are two aspects of learning Japanese as a second language that are easier than most other languages:

  • it is phonetically simple, and therefore pronunciation is relatively simple
  • it has extremely few grammatical exceptions

From Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You:


I’m Hungarian. The cliff-notes version is that it’s phonetically trivial; every letter is [almost] always pronounced the same, the grammar is brutal, and it includes the entire English alphabet with a couple of funky letters(áüűúóöőéí,sz,zs,dz,dzs,ly 'think that’s all of 'em) on top. So it’s already a bit more difficult.

However, my mother is a contractor who translates English TV shows to Hungarian and when she doesn’t understand something, because of the background noise or the person is slurring their words, she calls me and I’ve had 100% success rate, so far, with figuring out what is being said, so I’d say I have a good ear for listening.

I can already write down what I hear in kana while watching anime with subs, but I don’t really understand anything besides the occasional は or です or maybe 何.

2 years is kinda’ demoralising, but my 母 didn’t raise no quitter!


You did say it took you 4 years from ‘knowing’ English, to fluency, so 2 years when starting from basically zero (and with less opportunity to encounter it in daily life) seems to me to be a motivating number!


Well, the good news for you is that Hungarian is very distant from English (but not as far as Japanese), so learning English would have been much harder for you than for most Europeans. Your experience of acquiring English pretty easily is more relevant than I had imagined.

In any case, stick with it! Japanese language is really fun, and can open up lots of amazing experiences.



I’m not so concerned about becoming fluent because I play enough Japanese games and watch enough anime for that to just happen by itself with no conscious effort on my part. I just hoped for a short eta. for how long it takes to get to that point where my lazy ass doesn’t need to put in any actual work anymore. ^^


Are there any sources I should be looking at for vocab? WK does teach a lot of vocab from the looks of it, the 6000 most common should be plenty, people only use 2-4 thousand words in normal daily life. I already started bunpro and kaniwani for supplementing, and houhou for getting the words that I already know to some degree(短刀, 猫, 先生 for example) really nailed down.

Ah that changes matters! Hungarian along with Japanese are both agglutinative languages. Your mind is already hardwired for this type of language. So I’d expect you to learn Japanese far faster than a native English speaker could. I’d be very interested in your progress. Keep us updated!


I mean, I know that one googol(10**100) is ten doutrigintillion, a word that even my spellchecker doesn’t recognize. A toddler with 2000 words can ask for what a new word means. And understand when it’s explained to them in that language. You can have a full conversation about pretty much anything with 2000 words. What size of vocabulary you will have and what you need to have are two different things.

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Hungarian only helps when learning the pronunciation and the kana. For the kana I mean that it’s read as it is written.
Maybe with some phrases. But not much with the grammar usage and none with the kanji. (and I’m saying this as a fellow Hungarian).

Also most of the learning material is in English, however, you’ve got that covered it seems.

I’d recommend enrolling in a language learning school if you’re really interested in advancing in Japanese (there are some in Budapest).

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Why did this get so hostile so quick? I merely pointed out how the vocabulary a native speaker has isn’t the same as the vocabulary a language learner needs to learn. Was anything I said wrong? Was my tone wrong? I do not feel like I wrote anything that would solicit this kind of reaction.


I am enrolled in a night(high)school, starting tomorrow actually. I’m a blacksmith by trade but I’m looking to become a farrier and eventually a veterinarian. Doubt they have a Japanese option though, I’ll probably just graduate early with English and save myself some time.

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Some personal experience speaking Japanese while learning Japanese -

too lengthy :)

The more Japanese you know, the easier it will be to understand the answer to your questions. While you do learn how to ask what something means quite easily, understanding the answer will be more difficult. Unless you’re, say, speaking to a teacher who is used to adjusting the way they speak to their students abilities.

Of course, I am a bit uncomfortable talking to strangers under the best of circumstances, so maybe take my opinion with a bigger helping of salt.

Anyway, yeah, the bare minimum for that would be maybe the 2000 words you said (arguably less than. You really only need to know how to point out what you want to know and how to make one or two questions. That sounds tedious for you and the other people involved though). For a more comfortable ride, maybe n4 level grammar as well. For talking and listening you obviously don’t need Kanji at all.

For reading and consuming native material in general, n4 level grammar and 2000 words isn’t going to enable you to pick up the rest easily. For one, unless you limit yourself to certain media aimed at a certain (young) audience, there’s not going to be that much furigana, meaning you need to know at least the roughly 2000 jouyou kanji that kids entering high school will be expected to know. Even then, sometimes guessing what a word means simply based on the Kanji used is really difficult, even with the context provided.

If you’re reading in a web browser or e book reader, there are dictionary extensions that take care of that though. Not quite effortless, though.

That leaves you with grammar. There’s lot’s of grammar to learn. I’m going through n2 grammar right now, and I’m coming across grammar points I’ve been not recognizing in books all the time! It’s crazy the nuances you miss when you simply don’t know better.

But I’m also being a bit impatient about my learning. If you give it time and immerse yourself, you might be able to pick it up naturally the way you picked up English.


Here’s an outline on reddit by a person who spent a year of intensive japanese study:


I just don’t know what you were trying to say. 40k passive vocabulary means nothing. There’s probably a thousand names in there, if not more. A few thousand words you’ll see a total of 5 to 10 times in your entire lifetime. Most of the rest are somewhat obscure synonyms. You’re left 5 to 10 thousand that you ever actually say or write, and even then, you don’t need half of that to have a conversation or understand the gist of what someone is saying. You do only actively use(as in say or write) 2-4k words in daily life, that is a fact and it’s universal for all humans because of the brain’s limitations.

Like if you just count the unique words in a book, “precarious” will show up 3 times and “the” will show up thousands of times, but they both count as one unique word. They obviously don’t have the same value to a language learner.

I just honestly don’t see what your point was, this is what came across for me. I’m sorry if it sounds rude.

Honestly, it might be because you insist the language will just come to you with minimal work because of anime, which is a very common archetype of person encountered when one learns Japanese.
I’m already consuming Japanese material and I’m having to look up less and less but it’ll probably take years for me to get to an “exclusively Japanese level”, in fact I don’t think I’ll ever truly master the language. I’m almost on year 2, using WaniKani and a textbook and I had a tutor (but she was getting to always be fully booked </3 and my studying has majorly suffered). But you make it sound like it’ll just come easily to you so maybe it won’t take you so long.

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I actually feel it’s the other way around, 40k seems like a very low number. If I open an English dictionary with 200k at random it feels like I have a 80% or higher chance to at least know the word and roughly know what it means. The are tons of non-everyday words like timetable or spreadsheet or something that you still need to be barely functional. (I’m not an English native speaker)

Exclusively Japanese level sounds more ambitious than “I need to look the word saucepan up while cooking”.


I don’t, did I not make myself clear? I know for a fact that after a point it will be easy because I’ve done it once. What I asked is how long to get to that point. I never had to go through that beginning part, I had a head start and now I have no idea how far that milestone is.

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