How long does it take to get fluent?

Hello, dear WaniKani Community!

So I very recently (on Nov 30th this year) began to learn Japanese. My goal is to become fluent (or at least very good) at it in one year.
I am a very quick learner: I was able to learn Hiragana in 2 hours and Katakana in 1 hour, and I was able to recall every character as well (this includes all charakters with Dakuten and Han-Dakuten as well as all the combination kana).
With this learning speed, do you think it is possible for me to get fluent at Japanese in one year? Note that my only access to Japanese media is currently Japanese songs.

Also, if you’re already fluent, how long did it take you to become it? And what ressources of Japanese media, text, etc. would you recommend for me? (I live in Austria so it’s a bit harder for me to practice Japanese in everyday life situations)

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The problem with asking this question is that everyone’s definition of “fluent” is going to be slightly different.

Are you imagining a level of Japanese where you can travel and order food?
Are you imagining having in-depth political discussions with groups of people?
Are you imagining giving a speech to a crowd?
Do you care if you have a thick accent?
Do you care if you make lots of small grammatical mistakes as long as it doesn’t impact understandability too much?

Without knowing those kinds of things, it’s not that easy to answer your question. There isn’t one unique state of “fluent” that exists. Speaking and listening are different skills from memorization as well.

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It depends on your definition of fluent. By my definition, no.

As for how long it took me to become fluent it depends again on your definition of fluent. Sometimes I’m not even sure I am.

Rather than “fluent” you could maybe start by outlining some actual goals with some specificity to them.

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One year can be a lot or very little depending on how much time you’re willing to dedicate to it. Even if you’re a quick learner somebody spending 4h a day learning Japanese will go faster than you if you only spend 30m a day.

At any rate unless you’re willing to dedicate 8h/day learning Japanese for 365 days I think that “fluent” is not a reasonable goal, for any meaningful definition of the word.

Also while I commend your motivation, be careful not to set the bar too high early on. This is a marathon, not a sprint, if you start too strong you’ll burn out before the first kilometer.

My advice would be to focus on intermediary goals and take it one step at a time. The road to fluency is a long one, the most important skill to get there isn’t being a fast learner, it’s discipline and focus. You’ll get fluent when you get fluent.

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Short answer: longer than you think. I recommend focusing on the process more than the long term goals. Keep your long term goals in mind, but enjoy the way you’re using Japanese. Then, when it inevitably takes longer than you think, you won’t get frustrated and give up.

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If you have access to this website and a desktop or mobile device, you should have access to podcasts, YouTube, the Internet Archive, free BookWalker manga…

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Took me 18 years of my life to realize this. When I was younger I was the “gifted kid” who skipped a grade and was a quick learner. But after picking up and dropping various skills (including Japanese twice) I looked back and realized I had really accumulated nothing of value to me. Just some good grades that really didn’t mean all that much to me outside of some pride.

Shortly after that I picked Japanese back up determined to not make the same mistake again and have been going strong for over 6 years now.

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Here are my goals for Japanese:
Pronounciation: It is ok if I don’t have 100% perfect pronounciation in the beginning as long as nobody has a problem understanding me. I think it will get better by itself with enough practice and listening to native speaker or using it in an acutal conversation.
Grammar: To be honest, I want to be perfect at grammar.
General usage: I want to get good enough so that I wouldn’t have any problems in Japan, regarding the language. I want to be able to watch anime in Japanse, read Japanese books like I read books in my first language and I want to be able to use it without any problems in any conversation of any type (except for handwriting maybe, I’ve never been good at drawing komplex structures xD).

To answer another question, I am very dedicated and motivated to learn Japanese, as it has always been my dream to speak this language.

In short: I don’t want to spend 6 years to learn Japanese at a high level, two to three years are my goal to sound like a native speaker.

@simias Thank you for your tips! I will remember them during my journey of learning Japanese :smiley:

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I’d say a nice ballpark to expect for that will be roughly 10000 hours.

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Almost no one who is not native can end up sounding like a native. Something small can always give you away. And even if that was attainable, 6 years would be far too short a time to aim for it. (Since we already established you’re not immersing in Japan or anything, right.)

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Yeah no. Here’s my honest to god recommendation - start learning using a variety of resources and come back to the above statement in a year. I’m not trying to be mean, but what one sometimes needs is consistency, will and time and not “I will achieve X in Y time”.

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Yeah I would consider myself a “fast learner” too, which is great for some things but not really that big of an advantage for language learning. It’s just not one of those skills you learn over a weekend while binging Youtube videos and Wikipedia articles.

Gifted or not you’ll still have to memorize tens of thousands of words and expressions, thousands of kanji and all sorts of grammatical constructions and idioms. There’s no shortcut. Being smart may help you spot some patterns earlier and use that to make it easier to memorize some things but in the end a dumbdumb who powers through 5 hours of Japanese daily will always progress faster than a gifted diletante.

Learning a language is not like learning quantum physics. It’s not difficult, it’s just very long.

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I would argue that it is possible for a non-native to sound indistinguishable from a native but it requires an insane amount of work specifically dedicated to removing any hint of accent and it’s almost never worth it. You can find some actors who pull it off for instance, and of course for them it’s important to be able to pass for a native to get some roles.

Despite studying English for the better part of my life now I’m still nowhere near native-sounding and probably never will be, but also who cares.

At the risk of building a strawman I think being “native-level” is really something I only hear monolinguals aspire to. Which is fine I suppose if that motivates you to get started, but I think 99% of bilingual speakers realize how incredibly hard it is to achieve while at the same time not being a particularly useful objective.

I think it may be even more futile for Japanese where you’ll probably be considered a gaijin by most people regardless of your linguistic and cultural proficiency if you don’t look native. It’s not like you will be able to blend in unnoticed in an 居酒屋…

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fluent by listening? by speaking? by reading?

My main focus is reading japanese media (news articles, etc), so what I can say is I hit lvl 60 recently and the only sure thing I know is I am still very far away from being fluent in reading, let alone the other two medium.

But that’s the fun in learning a language IMO.

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Something like near-native I guess. When in Japan I saw a Westerner host on TV whose Japanese was extremely fluent and even accent-wise almost native, but what betrayed him a little bit was the “color” of his voice. In some rare cases I guess it’s possible to reach that level, but that’s not something one achieves within the span of 1+ years.

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AFAIK in general these people get coaches specifically to get a perfect accent, but it requires a lot of practice and is very hard.

I mean you see it all the time in American media when Americans try to fake a British accent or vice-versa, some do it really well (Hugh Laurie and Idris Elba come to mind) but others rather poorly, and that’s just an accent, not a whole other language!

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Both of them are British. Hugh can do a pretty decent American accent, though.

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There’s more to this than just learning language itself. You can understand that 桃太郎 literally reads as “Peach Boy,” but that doesn’t necessarily give you the cultural underpinnings to understand the reference.

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I was talking about them doing American accents (in House and The Wire, respectively)

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There’s a big * next to this though, in my eyes, and it’s that actors train to speak only certain lines in that accent, they’re generally not having spontaneous conversation. I think you to train to become native sounding in one of those skills much easier than the other.

I think this is a pretty healthy approach, I wanted to post something similar to OP but you worded it much better than I ever could. (the words ‘setting yourself up to fail’ was part of my initial draft).

What is sounding like a native? I sound nothing like someone from Somerset, but I’m definitely a native English speaker, and we can absolutely converse properly.

On a side note, I know plenty of middle-aged people who struggle with very basic English at the best of times, they’ve managed just fine.

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