Efficient use of Japanese study time?

A couple of months ago, I came to the conclusion that I was spending too much of my study time using SRS, like Wani Kani and Anki. I think I was developing unbalanced skills. In my Japanese class, I would often be ahead of other students in kanji skills and maybe some of the more obscure vocabulary, but I felt like I was falling behind in other areas. Also, I wasn’t able to use the vocabulary and kanji I was learning from SRS, and was not learning it in context.

So, I’m taking an unscientific survey on study methods. We all have different amounts of time to study, but given X hours a week to study, how should that time be broken up?

For example, here is what I currently think (give or take):


  • Advanced beginner or above
  • Self study time only (interaction with native speakers not included, passive listening, etc. not included)

40% - taking listening tests online
25% - reading
15% - studying grammar
10% - using SRS
5% - writing
5% - shadowing

What do you all think?

What do you mean by shadowing?
Also, listening tests? Not just listening practice of varied sorts (radio, read-aloud stories or audiobooks, videos, various media, read-aloud article (e.g. Satori))?

I personally would put grammar at a higher percentage, as well as writing.

But I think it depends on where one’s weaknesses and strengths lie, as well as what motivates them and what they enjoy (to some extent).

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Definitely true. I think the main thing is to keep doing something. Doing anything at all is better than getting burned out and quitting.


I think that people study japanese for different reasons. I am someone who is interested in reading japanese. So I care less about understanding spoken japanese or listening. In fact, I do very little to none of that now.

40% WaniKani
20% Grammar (Genki+ Dictionary of Japanese Grammar)
40% Reading (Light novels. websites etc and looking up things I don’t know)


Right. Like my number one weakness would actually be speaking. But right now that’s not a priority for me, so I consider my main weakness to be grammar.

What I consider to be an efficient use of my Japanese study time depends on my goals for the month and any longer-term goals. Today I posted in the first time in the Monthly Progress Challenge (and I also have my own progress thread, though I track different things in it), and I’m hoping that will help me figure things out and make better use of my time.

Some threads I’d recommend checking out if you haven’t yet:

There are others I’m forgetting…

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Oh right! And I was going to ask if you’ve taken the J-CAT. I feel like that would, aside from speaking/writing, help you determine where your strengths and weaknesses lie, so that you can decide if you need to redetermine your priorities / percentages.

Your study breakdown should depend on your goal - fluency is a dumb goal. What do you actually want to do? Do you want to get a good grade in class? Do you want to read manga? Do you want to be a JET candidate? and so on.

Assuming that your class is graded, you should definitely focus your attention on that vocabulary/reading/grammar/etc and I would say that wanikani should make up like 5% of your total study time (just to supplement study).

If your goal is to be a Japanese conversationalist, wanikani is pretty garbage. I’d focus on listening materials and kaniwani and putting yourself in situations where you need to talk (language partner).


Why is fluency a dumb goal?

(I might be misunderstanding something.)

As someone who is living in Japan, speaking and listening aren’t really part of my practice time, as they occur all of the time.

I probably spend 60% on Kanji [Wanikani but also writing practice]
and then the other 40% on grammar, using various textbooks and aids.

I tend to also read on the way to and from school in the train, so roughly an hour a day.

I would say that’s impossible unless you either have a decade to finish WK or you’re studying Japanese full-time (plus putting in some pretty major overtime). From reading the forums, I think most people put in about an hour per day on WK - with anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours still being unexceptional. Using the lower amount, that still could only work out as 5% if someone studied for 10 hours per day. For someone who studies Japanese 2 hours per day (which would be a lot for most people), 5% for WK would be 6 minutes per day.

I also don’t think fluency is a dumb goal. You’re quite right in saying different people have different goals and if your goal is not fluency, there’s no point worrying about it. But for some people, fluency is the goal and (unless @Shiawase and I are both missing something) I don’t see why anyone would consider it dumb.


My best guess is he means fluency is a tool, rather than a goal in and of itself. As in, a goal is being able to talk to native Japanese people with no strain, and fluency is the tool to achieve that, rather than just having fluency in a vacuum and not doing anything with it.

But that’s just semantics.

So I declare it’s dumb to say fluency is a dumb goal, because using it for stuff is implied.

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Fluency is not a dumb goal.

But 1. what is fluency? What kind of fluency do you want?

  • Fluency in speaking?
  • Fluency in listening?
  • Fluency in reading?
  • Fluency in writing?

Also 2. my guess is if you are living in Japan, there might be time that fluency is still not enough… like you still need many technical / fancy vocabularies.

Linguistically, fluency doesn’t really refer to much beyond fluid speech. Though you do need listening to properly converse, it’s not called fluent listening. Those are elements of proficiency.


Because fluency doesn’t mean anything. Goals need to be attainable, structured, feasible, and measurable. Fluency is not measurable. Goals with language should tie to intentions. When people say fluent do they mean, ability to converse about current events? Or do they mean ability to sell computer software since that is their job? These have entirely different sets of vocabulary and needs. My mother is perfectly fluent in French at having conversations about current events, but cannot do her job in French. On the flip side, she can do her job in Chinese, but when people start talking about current events she is totally lost. She knows complicated ways to say “diamond faced watch” in Chinese (my mom sells jewelry), but doesn’t know the words to talk about democracy issues in China.

Similarly, someone (generally like second gen Americans fall into this category) may be “fluent” in speech but may not be able to read a sentence in the language. Can we call them fluent then? Fluency to me implies that you are a native speaker (and therefore should have at least a high school level grasp of the language in all of the skills), but again, if your only need is to converse with your French grandparent and you can talk with people to get around France, you may not need to be literate and the typical French person would probably guess that you were “fluent” but you would be illiterate.

“Dumb” may have been a poor word choice but it is not specific as a goal and clearly you agree because you asked further questions.

Fluency has a meaning in linguistics, and it’s certainly not limited to native or near native abilities. Nor is it directly tied to vocab, though a large vocab is a prerequisite, particularly for being able to understand your conversational partner. It’s true that you can be more or less fluent in different realms, but you’re acting like it has no tangible meaning. Just because people sometimes are loose with the word in conversation doesn’t mean the concept is meaningless.

As an aside, literacy has nothing to do with fluency. Loads of people are illiterate and fluent.

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Regarding the percentage breakdown, I should say that wanikani makes up 100% of my Japanese study time. 5% may be low, but I picked that figure because the person said they were still in school and therefore, my opinion is that most of their attention should be on their class. If my Japanese study were more balanced I’d probably target a chapter a month which I consider about 5% and that would be 5 years (which is still a pretty fast speed for someone doing this in my opinion).

Fluency is not a goal as it has no meaning and means different things to different people. I know plenty of people who are pursuing graduate level degrees in their second language but would not call themselves “fluent” because they have an accent. This is absurd and why as a linguist I don’t accept it as a goal.

“Dumb” was meant in terms of specificity. A goal that is not defined has no meaning and really, frankly, cannot be achieved.

This is precisely why I say it doesn’t have a meaning and I disagree.

In every case-- An interlocutor will go down to your level, speak more slowly, etc. do you still consider that fluency?

In every case? It’s impossible to have a conversation between a native and non-native that happens at native level? Wha?

Your anecdote about the graduate students seems to be evidence for modesty existing, not for fluency not existing.

As a last note before I get on a plane, I wouldn’t say that just because someone hasn’t spelled out to your their thoughts on the matter doesn’t mean they don’t have concrete thoughts on it. If someone says they have fluency as a goal, you can ask for clarification, but I think it’s odd to expect they can’t provide it.

If I told you my goal was to be good at golf in a casual conversation, I doubt you’d jump down my throat and say “that’s dumb, it’s vague and therefore unachievable.” If you did I’d say, “oh, well if you want the details I’m trying to get to a 10 handicap so I can enter the state championship, why did you think I hadn’t thought about it?”


Mmm, to be honest, I don’t know if I would call it modesty because they aren’t wrong. Many professors complain about their presentation skills, and I’ve had students failed for this reason. However, in terms of written work product in English they are at graduate level and presumably in terms of listening since they do understand the material. They just have incredibly thick accents and are weaker than others at speaking and organizing ideas in speech. (This is an incredibly difficult skill after all).

Look, at the end of the day, I am a professional linguist, and I do not support the word because no linguists that I know can agree on it and generally, when I talk with students or with hiring committees, or with colleagues, they typically don’t use fluent to mean what they think it means. They usually are looking for something in particular and don’t care about near-nativeness. I should have elaborated, but my intent was simply to make the person recognize that they need to break down their study based on their intentions. Note - in their original post they never said anything about fluency, that was all me so it wasn’t a diss at them. Instead it seems to have been taken as a diss by everyone else. I used it because it’s a typical catch all and assumed that’s what they were going for, but targeting fluency may not be helpful to them in breaking down their study. If general improvement (which is a better goal than “fluency” in my opinion) is the goal, then looking at their weakest area and devoting 40% of study to that and an even break to everything else is my opinion. Fluency isn’t specific enough end of story.

As I said, the original poster didn’t say they wanted to be fluent, that was all me. I used it to articulate why they needed to be more specific in telling us their goals not to just answer something like “I want to be fluent”, in order to get a better study regiment.

This next thing will probably come across as petty, thanks to how text goes versus speech, but it’s really not intended to be. I wouldn’t have an opinion on how to be good at golf as I have no knowledge in that subject matter. I have a masters in applied linguistics from Columbia. I am literally a paid expert in getting people better at language. It would be like if UCLA’s golf coach happened to read your post about golf, I would hope that they would have you go more into strokes or whatever (I don’t know golf) and get deeper.