From Advanced to Native

Hey guys,

I’m currently at an advanced level trying to get to native level. I’ve passed the JLPT N1 but I still feel like I have a lot to learn. Does anyone have any tips on reaching native level? I’m currently using FluentU and I like it a lot, but I’m still open to suggestions.


Learn Japanese as your first language? :stuck_out_tongue:


Haha, can I borrow your time machine?


Move to Japan and only use Japanese? Even then it takes a concentrated effort to really achieve native level since you’re trying to make up for missing all that cultural background that you absorb as a child to provide context. It’s not impossible though, but if you can make yourself understood and are able to grasp what others are saying 90% of the time you’re probably good.


Basically. That’s what it means to be native (well, more specifically, learn Japanese from early childhood).

It’s possible to reach a higher proficiency in the language than most natives by continuing to study, but they’ll still find tiny clues that you’re not native somewhere in your speech or word choices.

So not only does “native” not have anything to do specifically with how proficient you are (a 5 year old native is a native but you already know more than them), it’s definitionally unattainable for a non-native.

If you want a goal beyond N1, how about something like the 日本語検定1級?


Now really related - and I don’t have much to contribute as a beginner, I’m just lurking - but do you mind me asking why are you reaching for the native level? Just for the heck of it, as a challenge?

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I’ll be graduating from grad school soon and I’d like to use my Japanese as a resume booster.

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Your Japanese is probably already better than most citizens in Japan. Most people can’t pass the N1. Regular people don’t use the language that intensely, just as most native English speakers don’t use English so intensely. Common folk tend to use simpler words when speaking. You will probably never 100% know what somebody is talking about from any region, even in your own native tongue. Go to a different region, and they use different words and anachronisms. But hey, learning is fun! You are the Goku of Japanese lol…always one more level to reach.


I trust you would already have “Japanese - Fluent” on your resume, together with your N1 status?
If a Japanese recruiter calls you, they wound normally speak to you in Japanese and understand your level pretty quickly. There are a lot of people who put “Fluent” on resumes as a “get foot in door” measure, but few are actually fluent and fewer have N1. (Not that N1 and Fluency are necessarily co-dependant either).

If you want a job that uses Japanese, you can target Japanese recruiters and companies also.
Or was it to impress people with the skill, as a sign of intelligence?

To answer the question though, mix with natives and gain native qualifications.
You would become the next best thing to your aspirational “native”, that is “just like a native”.
You may not be able to pass in person, but the trick would be to pass on the phone.
(I use “pass” here in the same sense as cross-dressers do).


I think that’s an exaggeration. I think any high school graduate who took the test seriously would pass quite easily. On the flipside, I doubt most N1 passers would pass college entrance exams for natives.

They do enjoy telling people how hard the stuff they are studying is though. (The same people who will say 日本語が上手ですね! the first time they hear someone say anything in Japanese)


Or the “日本語が上手ですね” response you’ll get when speaking even when you know you aren’t really that good at it, but you can tell the person is trying to be polite.


While I’m definitely not there yet with Japanese, people have (for some reason, I personally don’t feel like I’m that good) guessed that I was from the UK a few times, so I guess I can chime in with what I did while learning English. Or well, I would have if I actually knew myself :sweat_smile: All I’ve done has basically been to first reach a level where I could read, write, listen, and speak somewhat comfortably, and then I kind of just continued doing those things, and slowly got better as I picked up more natural ways to phrase things and developed a bit more of a sense for what sounds natural and what doesn’t.

Also, I just want to mention that I’ve had experiences that seem to disagree with this. I’ve definitely met people who weren’t Swedish natives that speak/write Swedish well enough for me to not have guessed if they hadn’t told me(and probably were better than many native speakers in some regards…). I do think it’s extremely difficult and time-consuming, but I don’t actually think it’s completely impossible either. (That said, reaching that level would probably be much harder for Japanese than for Swedish, probably making it near-impossible in many cases. I do admit that much)

I should probably add the disclaimer that I don’t actually know for sure if the same is true for Japanese or not, but it does seem possible for some languages, at least.


I would say that’s just a matter of the volume you were exposed to then. The longer a native and a non-native interact, the higher the probability that something that exposes their non-nativeness will slip. It doesn’t take much.

In writing only, it’s probably a different story. I wasn’t referring to writing. You can really take your time and be careful with writing, and it also doesn’t include intonation etc.


Just like @Ditto20 I can’t speak for Japanese, but I can also speak for English, although I would never call myself native level, only fluency.

My first question would be: how easily do you produce Japanese?
Can you think in Japanese naturally, aka it isn’t noticeably slower than your native language, perhaps even same speed? Are there things you actually prefer to do in Japanese? Have you had dreams in Japanese (I don’t actually know which language I’m dreaming in, but I know other people who are)? Would changing your OS language (Windows/Mac/Linux/etc.) to Japanese be a problem? Can you search for things online with Japanese and how well can you read the websites that come up?
I could put more questions here, but I’m sure you got the idea about question #3. :stuck_out_tongue:

If producing Japanese is not easily done (N1 doesn’t necessarily mean that), then that would be the next step I’d think.

But assuming you have that, next step would be to learn more things that natives do, more specifically meaning: idioms, sayings, particular structures (English example: the answer to the question “Do you mind?” is backwards. “Yes” when you mean no I don’t mind and “no” when you mean yes I mind.), slang, recognizing dialects (aka where they are from, not necessarily producing them), common stories (aka fairy tales (and similar) just like more or less everyone knows who little red riding hood is in English) and more such things.

Basically the things that gives language more of its cultural roots, more of its color and the things that tend to stump non-native speakers.

As for my tips when it comes to learning that? Consume, consume, consume. Produce, produce, produce. It takes a native speaker all their life or at least all of their childhood to learn this by hearing the fairytales read to them every night by parents, to watching kid cartoons (/animes), to learning in school, from friends, from family, etc.

Read widely, but start with your favorites (manga or novels or a specific genre of novels). Watch widely, but start with your favorites (movies, anime, tv-shows, whatever). Write and speak as much as possible, that way you also get replies. Osmosis basically.

I guess some of it can be studied too, and there is nothing wrong with reading/watching/listening to resources on idioms, sayings, slang, etc. if you find that interesting.

I can produce English without thought. In fact I stopped translating even a little in my head a decade ago or so. In fact words just mean things, they aren’t in a specific language in my head and that produces its own problems if I speak with someone who only knows one of my two main languages (Swedish (mother tongue) and English (learned to fluency)). (A great problem to have and it only happens occasionally.) I never have to think and structure what I say or what I write. I sometimes change it, just like I do in Swedish. But then perfection is not fluency.

Remember that even natives produce their own language wrong, by choice and by mistake, in writing and in speaking. But if you can understand and produce idioms/sayings/culture-references, then that is the next level of fluency after being able to use the language with ease. (MY OPINION, just wanted to mark that with caps to make it very visible.)

PS. I should really learn to be brief. >.<


I think the best you can do is to interact with natives as much as possible, to learn the ins and outs of a language that you wouldn’t find in a book.

I recently started using the HelloTalk app. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s an app that let’s you chat with people in the languages that you are learning. You can do text chats or voice calls! Of course, since you’re chatting with normal people they might not be able to answer all of your questions, but at the very least they can tell you if something sounds unnatural or not!

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Made me think “self-directed brainwashing (in the true and non-devious sense)”

Yes, a universe of in-jokes, and some linguistic secret handshakes.

Beautifully said, language learners need this. Fluency is flow, and perfection takes time. Speakers who can really combine both are employed by Radio4 in the UK (but by no means represent everyone on Radio4), a rare breed of top-of-their-game first language speakers. And at the other end, and I generalise broadly (don’t get angry now), “Asia” by its sheer numbers and enthusiasm, is currently bringing about rapid evolution of the English language by this very fact; in a sense, too many “mistakes” to correct, (and maybe in a French sense: Nelson_Ha-Ha
(His name is Nelson though)

… but I was still sad when it ended.

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If the amount of time needed for someone to notice something starts reaching days, weeks, or even months, I’d say that it’s fairly pointless to make the distinction though. This may just be me being hopelessly optimistic, but I’d rather like to think that it’s possible unless there’s proof of it not being.

I also don’t really logically see why it would be impossible to at least reach a level where one could be passed off as a native speaker for extended periods of time, if someone studied long enough (which to be fair, probably would mean absolutely ridiculous - and probably somewhat pointless - amounts of time, in this case).

To be fair, it is probably pretty pointless to try to reach such a level regardless of whether it is possible or not, that much I can agree with. I also don’t think it’s realistic in most cases - I merely don’t want to believe it’s theoretically impossible. That’s probably a meaningless distinction to make in most cases, but :woman_shrugging:

You’re definitely right about it being harder to come across as a native speaker while speaking though :sweat_smile: Not because of needing extra time to think (because that eventually becomes pretty unnecessary), but more because of the other stuff you mentioned: intonation and stress and pitch accent and such things. Those things definitely do take time to learn! (That didn’t stop my 12 year old brother from being able to talk with some American tourists for a few hours per day over a few days without realising he wasn’t a native speaker though :sweat_smile:)

Being able to do this is something that seems to happen for people who have reached a high enough level in a language, so while it may not necessarily mean having reached a native-like level, this could probably be a useful benchmark.(I don’t have any actual proof that this statement is true though, but what I do have to back this up is that all the people I know that have reached a fairly high level in some language say they think in it while using it. I certainly know I do it with my languages)

I, as well as several other people I know, agree with you, so it’s not just your opinion :slight_smile: (even if you probably said it much better than most of us would have!)


Something you seemed to touch on was that it might be possible for non-natives of certain language pairs to have a better shot at lengthening the “pass for native” time. I’m sure there are languages closer to Swedish, and languages closer to English, than English (or most languages we speak here) is to Japanese. It’s going to be harder to fool Japanese people for English speakers, than for Swedish speakers to fool… I dunno, speakers of some other Germanic language.

And at the end of the day, it might be pointless to think about, because Japanese people start to lie about our Japanese abilities the moment we begin (no, that 日本語 probably was not 上手 yet), so could we even ever trust them that they couldn’t tell we weren’t native? :wink:


Another person proficient in English here. I came to Australia over 10 years ago and I was already fluent at the time (and have lived here since). I can do pretty much all the things described above; my personal benchmark was when I found myself able to make jokes (including puns) while talking to people - banter is part of life in Australia and probably one of my favourite parts of the culture. I also understand a lot of movie references etc. I have a job that involves a lot of talking, including public speaking etc.

Yet anyone can tell I’m not a native speaker - I have an accent. I’ve never done anything to reduce it and while it’s not an impediment to being understood a native speaker picks up on it after a few sentences or even words (depending on what I’m saying). And I realised I’m ok with it and I don’t really want to be taken for a native speaker as I’d rather learn other things than pursue the dream of being completely native-like in absolutely all respects (also doubt that it’s possible).

P.S. my native language is Russian which is probably more removed from English than Swedish but not much closer to Japanese than English.


On a different note, and this is complete hearsay, I heard a story from a non-native Japanese speaker who achieved higher levels of proficiency to the point where he had a native-like accent of a particular province and knew quite a few rarely used Kanji. He was saying that (some) Japanese people were somewhat disturbed by him being a bit too deeply immersed in their culture and didn’t particularly like it. I am curious whether it rings true to those who are fluent in Japanese and live in Japan; is being too proficient in Japanese to the point of being disconcerting to the Japanese people a thing?