How long does it take to get fluent?

Ok, maybe I should describe my goals a bit differently:
What I actually aim is being able to communicate in Japanese without any (major) problems in one or two years. My ultimate goal is being fluent at Japanese, and while I will probably never sound like an actual native, I want to get as near at sounding native as I can get.

I know that learning a language is not just “learn X in Y time”, as I am not only learning Japanese right now, but I’ve already been learning Latin for two years and English for basically my whole life, and I can guarantee you that I know it’s not as easy as I said. When I started this topic, I was a bit over-excited at getting perfect at Japanese in a short time, but I think you guys gave me the reality punch I needed.

The reason I am learning languages is because I think it’s fun, and Japanese won’t be the last language I will learn, that’s for sure! But I chose to learn Japanse as the first language I learn by myself becasue I think it’s the most beautiful sounding language out there!

So again, thank you for reminding me that it’s not that easy to learn a language.

Back to my original question, but know said a bit more carefully:
Is it possible in 1 or 2 years to get to a level where you can communicate mostly without problems?

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I was just thinking about that, I saw a video from a British guy who does stand up in France and learned to speak French at a native-level (I can vouch for his accent, even knowing that he’s not native I can’t really spot anything foreign or unnatural) but he explains that sometimes it creates issues because people assume that he’s French and make “deep” cultural references to pop culture that he knows nothing about, like that one TV host that was popular in the 90’s or that urban legend that made the rounds in 2003 or the embarrassing scandal that involved that politician that one time.

Very true. You see that with songs too, many foreign speakers don’t seem to have an accent while singing but definitely do when speaking.

Yeah it’s a very blurry line and the same issue would be true for Japanese, but I guess for many languages you could probably define a “prestige” dialect to target, such as Tokyo Japanese or Paris French. Might be trickier for English though. There’s RP for bri’ish I suppose, but if you target American English I’m not sure what you’d consider the “standard” dialect. Whatever news anchors speak I guess?

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Language is a tool not a performative act, and making mistakes is part of learning and part of interacting and communicating. Fluency does not mean perfection.

Language is like an ocean, you don’t need to go through the entire ocean in order to get from point A to point B. So like other said here, small goals are the way.

It took me decades to achieve fluency in my second language (not japanese) But then it took me probably a decade to achieve fluency in my mother tongue…
It was never my goal with either. I just needed to communicate and consume and create content, because life.
And fluency is overrated, i still suck at reading the room, and that’s way more important than grammar in any language.

Not sure if this helps, or just raining on your parade…

Find things you’re passionate about (for me it was music and writing) or really need to use (i had to learn web design and tones of apps/programs and such and it’s all english… so) it can make it shorter. Unless you have a photographic memory, that’s a game changer… lol.

Anyway - good luck, and don’t hate time, it flows anyway.

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It sometimes gets called a ‘midwestern accent’ but I imagine that causes a few arguments :stuck_out_tongue:

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If you work 2h/day on average for two years you’ll have ~1500 hours of Japanese under your belt. If you’re efficient that should bring you somewhere between N3 and N2, at that level you should be able to consume most modern Japanese content and you should be able to express yourself fairly freely, but you’ll still have to look things up all the time and you’ll probably get lost if people speak fast or speak in slang/dialect or about a specialized topic you know very little about.

At that level you will be able to use Japanese productively to do things you enjoy but you’ll still have a long way to go before you can use the language completely freely without it feeling like a hindrance. The good thing at that level IMO is that you get to the point where you can stop doing textbook stuff and app reviews and really just focus on using the language and learn organically, that’s a lot more fun IMO.

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Here is a reference link that shows foreign language learning relative difficulty for 1st language English speakers. Japanese is in the most difficult category. I think it would be the same for native German speakers.
https://www.state.gov/foreign-language-training/

Then again Jason Bourne seemed fairly handy in a few languages and I never saw him study, so there is that.

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He does his daily Duolingo course to maintain his streak.

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yes you can

me for example, before going to Japan for the first time I roughly studied N5 level for 6 months and getting there, to do daily stuff like asking for directions, where is it such location, how much is it, how long does it take to do this or that, everyone could understand me when speaking and I could understand their reply.

In short, short sentences, not real real long 10min conversations I couldn’t do back then, for that you need intermediate grammar to “connect” points in your convesation.

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As others have already mentioned: The way you want to be fluent is normally not archiveable in a year and in 2 years… I’d say this would still be a really hard grind, but could be manageable to get to something like N2.
Maybe you are one of the gifted few who have such a strong will and dedication, that this alone leads them through all the struggles, but don’t get too high on that thought or you will be disappointed.

That is the most important thing here: Try it, by any means. But don’t be disappointed in the end. If you learn a lot during 1 year, when you look back you should rejoice with how far you came, not how much you still don’t know. Everything else is really setting you up for failure.
Learning a different language, on top of it one that is in structure and culture very far away from your own, is nothing that can just be learned with dedication. Your brain needs to adjust to it, you basically have to have the time to think differently to form sentences in that new language. You will need to learn 10k, 20k, even more new words for being really “native-like” and you need to know how to use all these words in a myriad of different contexts and social situations.
If you want to be “perfect” at grammar, you will probably have to do grammar for the rest of your life and it’s a skill that’s totally useless if you don’t work in the field of linguistics. I doubt there is anyone that even knows all the grammar there is for english. :smiley:

Not writing all this to discourage you, but really: Take it slow, see how it goes for a few months and try to adjust your goals and what you can manage. There is so so so much fun to find with a new language, so many great things to discover and get excited over, and for a lot of them you don’t need to be perfect, you just need to explore them. Maybe you even realize after a year, that you already reached what you wanted and will start adding a new language, who knows. No need to plan the future out! :slight_smile:

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If you want to communicate in japan, from my experience you can use Pimsleur. They’ve changed their content lately, and added Ai for pronunciation, i just pay for a month at a time, otherwise it’s crazy expensive. even just the first 30 lesson for a basic starting conversation point. And the point here is conversation, little formal semi formal and casual. And it’s fast.
I was able to communicate with short sentences and read menus in japan after a few months using wanikani, lingodeer, pimsleur and doulingo (it used to be awful but it also changed for the better now, way better).
You can get all the resources links here

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Thank you all for trying to answer my question, I really appreciate it a lot! As I’ve already mentioned, Japanese is the first language I am learning completely by myself, so I really appreciate it that you guys responded so quickly!

@2tea Thank you for your recommendations, I’ll definitely take a look at everything :slight_smile:

@Sadia Thank you for your tips, I will keep that in mind, and I will surely learn even more languages in the future, after I can consider myself good at Japanese :wink:

@simias Thank you again for reminding me what learning a language is actually about and what challenges it holds!

@evandcs I’ve never been to Japan, but I’d like to visit it one day. How did you like it there and how was your experience?

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Always great.

Even living as a student and as a tourist. Also I am already planning to go again next April for the Sakura season.

The only thing I thought missing was “free time” that a native Japanese could do to help you with studying the language.

For example I live in Brazil, almost 99% of foreign tourists that come here learn a lot by meeting people and brazilians here are always available to teach them a lot of basic stuff for daily life (speaking). Specially europeans learn really fast basic conversation.

But in Japan they are always “oh, no time, no time!” so I had to rely on books when I was there, not having the small talk that I believe is great to improve your fluent conversation in the end.

When I went there a second time, having more vocab and ways to speak they realize you can understand already basic stuff and they only want to speak in Japanese with you, even you living in a international dormitory :sweat_smile:

I started wanikani 3 years ago, just hit lvl 60 and I firmly believe I can understand way better now than I was in 2015.

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Yes, but: You can not learn to talk in Japanese purely by listening. Certainly, learning to talk will be easier after learning to listen to Japanese. I see Pimsleur mentioned in this thread, it’s one way to practice speaking without having a real life tutor available, though there are other, and a tutor (or language partner) is highly recommended after a certain while. To be able to have unguided conversations more effortlessly, you must first have unguided conversations with trouble. 'Tis the way the cookie crumbles.

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One thing that hasn’t been mentioned. Most people who haven’t learned a second language think that this goal requires more perfection than it does. But actually, being able to communicate at a basic level doesn’t require a huge vocabulary or complex (or even 100% correct) grammar. We just put this pressure on ourselves as adults to not make mistakes.

The thing is, verbal communication “mostly without problems” doesn’t require perfection at all because your speaking partner adjusts to match your level. For such a goal, 2 years is reasonable at 1-2 hours a day - you need to cover beginner grammar, get a start in reading, ~2000 word vocabulary, and a weekly tutor to get used to speaking and listening in real time. As soon as you let go of needing to be perfect and accept you’ll make mistakes, you’ll learn faster and get more satisfaction out of your new language abilities as they improve.

Just food for thought!

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I have not reached that level yet and I’m already started to (conveniently) forget how long I’ve been studying Japanese in total.

That said I have not studied everything as a whole, which leaves gaps. Something I wish to bridge.

I haven’t scrolled through every reply yet so not sure if this has already been said, but regardless of your timeline getting talking will be important for your goals. Consider looking into tutoring platforms like iTalki! For me it also helps with retention since I have many more opportunities to put the vocab I’ve learned to use. In addition having a tutor can provide some structure to your studies if you like that sort of thing, and tutors can often push to challenge yourself in helpful ways that you may not have attempted independently.
Good luck :slightly_smiling_face:

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Actually, I have already learned a second language. In fact, Japanese will be my fourth language.
I get what you mean tho, but I think this is a general “problem” that I have, I always try to bring everything to perfection, and while I do always manage to achieve that goal if I really want to, it takes me a lot of time, which is not what I want, so this time I thought I could get a solid basis of Japanese “quickly” that doesn’t have to be perfect, and I will bring it to perfection over the years by simply practicing it a lot. That’s how I did it with English, at least, and while I’m still not perfect at it, I am pretty decent IMO.

Sounds like they don’t want to talk to people who don’t bother learning a new language hehe
I hope you’ll have a great time in Japan again in April!

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But if this is your fourth language, even when this is the first time you go full self study, you should know how you can learn it. :slight_smile:
Just do what worked for you before to make the language stick, even if you do it alone this time. You should have a lot of experience in general already, don’t let the self study discourage or confuse you. The same things will work in the end, so just keep at it and maybe in half a year, look back and see if you should change something or are perfectly on track for the speed you want!

You should naturally arrive at the conclusion if it’s possible for you in time, you got so much experience to look back on already! Planning years out in advance might actually be counterproductive here :frowning_with_open_mouth:

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I think everyone’s more or less given you the ‘reality check’ already, but just to give you a basis for comparison, take a look at my experience:

  • English & Chinese native speaker – i.e. kanji are rarely a problem for me in Japanese – with my English being better than my Chinese (main language)
  • Spoke French at native level for 2-3 years (accent included, perhaps some minor adjustments aside) before starting Japanese
  • Had already done some German and Spanish (~B1 level) before starting Japanese

In other words, Japanese was my sixth language, though it’s now my fourth most fluent language. It took me 4-5 years to get to this point, and I’m currently past the five year mark. I started in mid-Jul 2018, and I’ve just skipped retaking the N1 during the Dec 2023 session for a better score (I wasn’t feeling too well and didn’t feel like travelling to take an exam I couldn’t get full marks for). What I can do/have achieved so far:

  1. Passed the N1 with something like… 119/180 in Jul 2022 (not a great score, and honestly the N1 is B2-C1 standard – pretty variable, and you don’t need to understand absolutely everything to pass)
  2. Can write long formal emails in excellent keigo (though I’ll probably pick a few weird expressions here and there) – I’ll be doing an internship for half a year in Japan starting early next year, and although it’s supposed to be in English, I got hired after writing business-style emails back and forth for over a year
  3. Can understand at least 60-80% of most anime (especially in the isekai/fantasy and rom-com genres) without relying on subtitles, and by that I mean ‘I know 60-80% of the words that are being said and what they mean’
  4. Can hold long, complex discussions with my Japanese friend – including about university studies and social issues in Japan – with fairly little difficulty, though I will get stuck searching for specific words that I don’t know in Japanese
  5. Can write medium-length essays in Japanese (600-900 characters) about topics such as government welfare provisions and the importance of technology in society
  6. Can muddle my way through news articles, including editorials, and Japanese middle school biology textbooks (cell division etc.) with a little dictionary help
  7. Can push through the moderately technical stuff in linguistic studies on Japanese grammar and usage from Japanese universities, again with the help of dictionaries here and there (but that’s because I’m a language nerd and a lot of the terminology is familiar)

Stuff I still struggle with

  • Onomatopoeia and expressions that usually aren’t written in kanji – there are just too many of them for my current frequency of exposure
  • Literary expressions – with enough context, I should be fine, but I don’t read enough books to know them well
  • Field-specific vocabulary – I’m not familiar enough with words you might see discussion political or economic phenomena in the news, even if context might sometimes help

In short, I’m vaguely at a C1 level, I think, but not much more, and I’ve been here for about 1-1.5 years.

My main immersion methods/sources of exposure:

  • Anime (lots of it, especially isekai and rom-coms – see why I’m confident I’ll understand those genres?)
  • Monolingual dictionaries
  • Articles on Japanese, Japanese teaching and business writing and speech

Caveats:

  • I’ve been consistently very busy over the past 5 years (~25-35h of classes a week + the assignments that go with that), so I probably could have gone faster if I had had a little more time (e.g. like a typical university student not in engineering school in France). If you’re more available than I am and have the freedom to organise your time (e.g. skipping classes because you know you can learn faster on your own), then maybe it won’t take you as many hours to get this done

Bottomline: I think getting to a level where you can handle everyday conversations without trouble is possible within maybe 2 years? Really depends on exactly what sorts of topics you’re expecting. However, if your definition is closer to what I can do – and I sincerely think I have a lot to improve on – then I think you’ll need at least 3 years, never mind the fact that kanji is often a sticking point for a lot of new learners.

I’m also one of those ‘fast learners’ – getting to native level in French took me 5-5.5 years (I could understand almost everything I read and heard, and I would have passed my C2 exam on the first try if I hadn’t misunderstood what would be considered plagiarism), and I could have gone faster if I had understood how to learn a language effectively in the first three years. That’s part of why my Japanese level ticks me off – it’s been five years, and I’m still not as fluent as I was in French. However, see, I think that goes to show that setting goals in terms of time, while useful, isn’t always that meaningful: decide instead what you want to do, figure out how to learn it effectively, go as fast as you can enjoyably, and you’ll probably end up progressing a lot better than you expect. I set myself a deadline because I have past experience learning a language to native proficiency, but I think that for most people, it’s far more rewarding to set ‘can do’ goals and watch as they get fulfilled. Timed goals can be a guide, but since they might not be realistic, you’ll often have to adjust them along the way.

Just my two cents. Take from it what you will, and perhaps use it to calibrate your expectations. All the best!

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