Comparative Chart of Achievement

I wanted to try to start putting together a roadmap that would show, given roughly average learning patterns, with an even learning (no strong, nor weak points) where one might be at given different benchmarks, and how they compare to one-another. So here’s my attempt, I’m looking for feedback in the comments and I’ll adjust as people make suggestions, and fill in the gaps.

Description J-Cat JLPT Hours* College
1 Ignorance 0 - 0 - - 0 0
2 Introductory 50 N5 - 80 pts 100 1 10 300 100
3 Basic 100 N4 - 90 pts 300 2 16 1000 300
4 Fundamental 150 N3 - 95 pts 700 5 35 2000 650
5 Functional 200 N2 - 90 pts 1300 9 48 6000 1150
6 Basic Fluency 250 N1 - 100 pts 2000 14 60+ 10000 2150
7 Full Fluency 300 - 3500 - - 20000 3000
8 Accademic 350 - 6000 - - 30000 4500
9 Perfect 400 - 10000 - - 50000 6500

This graph grew too long, so I’ve split it up:

Appropriate Book Listening/Speech Capacity Other learning
1 - -
2 - Greetings, a few other words カナ
3 Graded Readers lvl 1 & 2 Synthetic sentences Verb conjugation/Particles
4 Graded Readers lvl 3 & 4 Careful, slow conversation
5 青い鳥文庫 Halting, natural conversation
6 ライトノベル Natural conversation, TV
7 村上春樹 Fast natural speech, puns 敬語
8 Esoteric speech
9 源氏物語 -

* For a native English speaker
** 18 week semesters, with in and out of class time totalling 250 hours. Quarters are worth 2/3 of a semester, and a high school year might be worth a college semester.


Interesting, and both accurate with my own experience and fairly commensurate with what I’ve seen for people studying English. Only part I’d question are the hours going from basic to basic fluency. 500 hours between each yet int - basic fluency has a jump of 5000 words and 600 kanji versus half that for the previous gap.

Edit: I might suggest (for hours spent) something more like: 100 - 300 - 650 - 1200 - 2000 **

** My numbers are based on absolutely nothing

Edit 2: How do you stop a single asterisk from turning into a bullet point at the start of a new line?


* Use a backslash (\) to escape special characters.

\* Use a backslash (\\) to escape special characters.

Updated the chart. Rather than using your suggested hours, I tweaked the vocab sizes slightly. Now it’s like:

  • Intermediate -> Basic Fluency: 5k words, 600 kanji, and 500 hours.
  • Basic -> Adult Fluency: 10k words, 900 kanji, 1000 hours.

Does that make more sense?

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I guess that 10000 hours as a benchmark for advanced is too much. I know that this number is commonly associated with the acquisition of expert performance (If you want to know where this number come from, check, but I think it is a bit unrealistic. If you study Japanese for 4 hours a day, every day, you’d only achieve advanced level in almost 7 years of practice. And I think you can reach an advanced level before that even studying less hours a day. Of course, the more, the merrier, so if you keep studying, you’ll keep improving.

But I think it will require you less hours to reach each benchmark. According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (, learners need to accrue around 500 guided learning hours to reach intermediate proficiency level in a foreign language. Now, Japanese is not an European language, so it may take us more time to reach intermediate level, but I think that after 1500 hours you’d be pretty much fluent.

Did you see what he called “Advanced”? It’s far beyond N1 level. A lot of people call anything beyond N3 advanced in other contexts. This Advanced level is something few people would ever hope to achieve.



I think it makes more sense.

Also, I just checked this article and found it interesting for vocabulary size:

Apologies. Force of habit.

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There’s been chat about this before on here. My personal opinion is it’s horse shit. Not the numbers, but what they mean. Understanding 90-95% of something may sound like a lot, but it’s not really. Even 95% means you’re missing one word in 20. In other words, one word every other sentence, or somewhere between 10 and 20 words per page. That’s a lot. And keep in mind, while some of those might be unnecessary adjectives or adverbs, the majority are going to be the key words. With just a few dozen articles, prepositions, conjunctions and pronouns in English, you probably “know” close to half of most English sentences, but that doesn’t mean you’d understand a thing.

As Leebo said, there are different definitions of labels like advanced / intermediate etc, but I can’t imagine any definition of fluent that would could be applied to someone with a vocab of 3-5,000 words.

Edit: By the way, this isn’t aimed at you, more the article


Speaking as someone with ~1800 hours in Japanese study, I can tell you for sure, my ~8k word vocabulary is not enough to make me feel fully fluent. I mean, I have really wonderful, and sometimes deeply meaningful conversations in Japanese several times a week, but I would still hesitate to call myself fluent. When I can get through an hour long conversation without reaching for the dictionary every ten minutes… Or maybe even every half an hour, then I’ll call myself fluent. I think 10k is a good marker for fluency. You’ll still miss words pretty frequently but most of the time it won’t be a problem. I think 20k is what we might call ‘lowest common denominator’ in marketing terms for adult native speakers, and most college educated adults will be around 30k. I feel pretty good about that.

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Just noticed you leveled, congrats on hitting 60! I’ve been keeping tabs on your progress these last few months, it must be exciting!


Reckon I’m between N5 and N4 “Basic”. Still, I’ve come a long way from just picking out random words from anime. I was super happy the other day when I could read a simple letter from start to finish without looking at a dictionary. I haven’t really tracked how many hours I’ve studied though - most days I’ll study for a couple hours, with some breaks here and there.


Updated the chart, lots of tweaks, made perfect attainable.

Another set of tweaks, and figured out how to add charts in the forums, so now it’s formatted better for readability. Also, added college equivalencies.

Now the kanji are closer to the JLPT levels, and the vocab counts are set to correspond to the 1k, 2k, 6k and 10k decks. Tweaked the hours totals so that all of that still made sense, too. As an interesting note, if these numbers are right, when you know nothing it takes about 2 hours of study to increase your J-Cat score by 1 point. By the time your score is above 350, it takes 40 times longer! It makes sense, but it’s also blowing my mind a little!

Something I’m looking forward to doing now is taking my various assessments and lining them up, converting to hours to get a better picture for my progress thus far. Thanks so much everyone for all of your feedback!

I’m starting to feel inadequate now. It is nice to have a rough idea where I should line up against students. Stupid question since I’m not really sure how this stacks up around the world, but is there a reason why N4 is at 3 semesters instead of 2? I’ve been seeing plenty of claims that Genki I & II are sufficient for the N5 and N4 respectively, wouldn’t they just be a semester each in a university? Or is that accounting for the extra time for self study given 2 semesters per calendar year?

this is just my opinion〜 classical japanese is contain extremely obscure reading、even with help of my jiten it still whole mess〜 is like massive redesign from changed some grammar aspect、contain hentaigana and reading which no longer used、also manyogana problem from heian era〜 even for most japanese im sure they dont want have mess with those old japanese、that’s why book like easy genji monogatari for everyone exist〜 i can imagine people who studying classical japanese very deep must be bald-glasses professor〜

for level 9 perfect、probably you can add bone script in other learning section〜

again〜 this is just my opinion〜 in some point im feel the more new things im discovered、im feel all my knowledge feel so small because i dont know too much〜 again this is just my opinion studying old japanese is very total mess〜

is there a way to knowing approximately total words we already know? is there are a tool or some recorder for measure it? because in some occasion i’ve asked 「how many english word you know?」and im says 「i don’t know〜」so perhaps it can help me a bit to gave them some rough number of word〜

thanks before!!

This is called occhiolism which is a word I only recently learned myself. Life is all about learning, you should never stop, and enjoy the wonder of new thing you learn and discover. As I get older, this realization makes me feel young again, at least in my mind. It gives me a new purpose, I can learn, I want to learn, I will learn. It’s why I started to study Japanese after 40!

I like your question about how many vocabulary one knows. I have no clue for myself in English, I don’t recall a reported statistic from tests either. Very many words though, so much that I can go years without hearing a new one in conversation. When reading, it has to be about entirely new topics, and then most of the new words are jargony, and usually a variation on a meaning I already understand. However, if I open a dictionary and just start reading all the words, many come up that I’ve never heard used or even read, usually they are simply archaic or highly specific jargon for some specialty. I used to enjoy reading random pages in the dictionary as a kid.

Maybe this?
It estimated me at 30k. The last column on the 2nd page was embarrassingly sparse.


You might try this guy, although I somewhat doubt it’s all that accurate:

My estimate was based on doing some actual rough tallying of the words I can name and translate. That was an arduous exercise and I don’t recommend it.

As for 源氏物語, I put that in the “Perfect” category, which, for a foreigner, should really be limited to high-level scholars. I do think it’s an appropriate challenge for someone with 10k hours spent studying Japanese. I cannot imagine many 外人 would spend really any time studying for increased understanding much passed the “Advanced” level, unless they are scholars looking for higher-than-native levels of attainment. So, if I’m only referring to the most skilled one or two dozen total people outside of Japan, then yes, I would recommend as a reading challenge 源氏.

Hmm, I’ve never taken Japanese in school, so please forgive me if this is off base, but my assumption was that in an 18 week class, at 5 hours in class (1 hour per unit, as it was at my university), with roughly 2 hour of studying on one’s own (perhaps a bit generous…), that would be a bit over 250 per semester. I then divided the hours at each level and rounded down. I’m now doing some google searching and it appears to be backing me up, I think. Probably at 2 semesters, N4 is borderline. If you supplement your studies by any significant amount (say, 1 hour extra study per day for those 36 weeks) you should have it no problem, but simply doing two classes with their assignments doesn’t appear to be enough (for the average student).

I’ve also never much more than picked up a Genki book, so I don’t know how they’re used, nor what they cover. It’s entirely possible that they cover enough territory in terms of Grammar, but would be insufficient to provide an equivalent skill in, say, listening, or kanji. Probably if you covered Genki I & II, and attended two hours of conversation group per week, and had a once-a-week italki tutoring, and used wanikani for those 6 months, that seems to me totally sufficient, but that’s just a gut feel check. Still feeling these numbers out…

Do other people feel like 2 semesters is sufficient for N4?

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