How Long is the Intermediate Plateau?

Something that’s been bothering me lately is that I feel like I’ve been learning a lot of vocabulary, but not really progressing at all the amount I can read. I’ve read this over at Tofugu, and it basically is the feeling of being in the intermediate plateau. Essentially, while I am making progress, the rareness of the words I’m learning as well as how much I have to learn is weighing me down. I know that all I can really do is just bear with it, but I sort of wanted to know how long that this feeling would last. Essentially, when will new words stop overflowing and I can just pick up words without trying. Like, the difference between learning words like revival and words like chronic sickness (assuming you know chronic and sickness)

Also, here’s the Tofugu article I was referring.


I don’t know how long it is bc I’m still there… 一緒に頑張りましょう!


I think it’s important to remember that language levels can all be understood as comprising a cone shape. With each level that you go up, there is a lot more ground to cover before you can move up. In beginning levels, when you go from zero to basic competence, there is an acute awareness of progression. But that becomes less palpable as you move up.

Maybe one thing that will help to motivate you would be to challenge yourself with certain tasks. For example, reading a whole manga series or graded reader series is something tangible that you can check off. Or passing a JLPT level. Maybe mastering a professional self-introduction. Etc. Knowing that you can do certain things with Japanese might seem more real than say, being aware that you know x thousand vocabulary items.

Hope this helps!


Do you mean that you still encounter lots of unknown words while reading that slows you down? After you covered the basics there are lots of words in the “not so frequent, not so rare” range, but if you keep reading on the same topics (or same author) it should feel better after a while.

Ideally you would be reading content with only limited new words, then it is easier to remember things than looking up 5 words out of 10.

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I’ve been in the intermediate plateau for the last 5 years. For the first few years it really helped to set up a goal to pass the next jlpt level every year (I passed n4 five years ago, n3 four years ago, and n2 three years ago). Since then I’ve been really slow with my studies.


It’s mainly words that are not common enough that I can just memorize them. Like, if I were watching Attack on Titan, something like 巨人 would be something I could pick up immediately. However, stuff like 涅槃 and 杜撰 I would have trouble memorizing so easily. They simply do not come up often enough to memorize without SRS. It’s also mostly because I’m reading as much as I can that I run into such strange words so frequently.

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I was reading the Attack on Titan manga recently, I can manage but I don’t think it is that educational [in terms of Japanese at my ability level :wink: ]. There are lots of military terms, and even when I look them up I forget them right away, I just jump over them basically. I wish I had the ability the just skip over the blah parts without fear of missing some vital information.

I think that you learn best when you just have to remember one small thing. Like 巨人, 人 is a piece of cake, and I know some ◯人, so I just add it to the list. I finally really understood 実施中 recently, 中 is easy, 実 both as sound and meaning is clear, and I got 施 from WK, the missing piece (and hearing 実施中 with some vague idea what it means).

For 涅槃, it’s just too far off (knowing that black soil tub = Nirvana already helps, though), 杜撰 is a bit unfair towards 社 :slight_smile:


It kinda depends on why you’re learning a language, any language. Unless you’re a linguist…
You can feel less frustrated if you remind yourself the reasons for learning Japanese and reassess them. Having to read using a dictionary can be really depressing (I remember how it was for mii while learning other languages).
I know that my motivation drops down drastically when there’s no practical use for the language I’m learning. I don’t know what kind of learning resources you’re using, or what is the gap between the overall vocabulary you’re familiar with and the reading material you’re being exposed to.
It’s important to have a +1level source you can handle to maintain some active positive feedback in your brain.

It’s a combo of paitance, perseverance, tricking your brain to shift focus on the positive (that’s the hardest part) and accepting that sometimes it’s just plain boring…

I was trying to find a post here that actually quantified the amount of words native speakers know vs foreign speakers need to know to be somewhat proficient but couldn’t find it. Some people find statistics very grounding.

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Unfortunately, I think the intermediate plateau lasts just about forever. Although there are probably different sub-degrees within the intermediate plateau. And there are different domains within Japanese or any other language where you can have various levels of knowledge of vocabulary, catch phrases, etc.

As the tofugu article mentions, at this phase it’s vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary. Those in the intermediate plateau have likely already learned the 5000 most common words, or whatever, but there are a lot of uncommon words that show up infrequently on their own, but when counted all together make up a good portion of the language. For an example, look at the English text on this very page. The top ten most frequently used words are those that even beginner level speakers of English will likely recognize. Here they are ordered by frequency of appearance:

56 i
31 the
30 that
27 you
27 to
23 it
20 a
18 of
18 is
17 can

But in addition to these, there are about 100 words that are used only once, including (but not limited to) “acute”, “contextual”, “dashboard”, “encounter”, “feedback”, “grounding” and “wonky” as well as several idioms and colocations.

I think it’s best at this point to try and find a blog or website on a topic that interests you and try to work on deciphering that. And it’s always motivating to drop down a couple levels and re-read some easy Japanese you struggled with in the past to see how far you’ve come!


I’m curious to know what method did you use to extract the word usage stats in this page.
The only thing that comes to mind is using page source, but then you’ll have to get rid of all the extra data…

It’s a cool example, chapou!

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This. This made my English improve so much in a few months’ time and I wasn’t even in a “learning English mode”.


I agree.

Once you reach the intermediate plateau, the best thing to do is to just consume native media in large quantity.
I went with manga, because that’s the format I like the most, but it doesn’t have to be.

By the way, I would say I stayed in the intermediate plateau for about 5 years. And now it feels like I will be forever stuck in the advanced plateau :frowning:


First, I went through the entire Oxford Dictionary of English, and for each word in the dictionary I crafted a small wooden box and wrote the word on the side of the box. Then I drove to the beach and collected several truckloads of sand, after which I read through this discussion thread and upon reading each word I placed a grain of sand in the appropriate box. Once this wieldy task had been completed, it was a simple matter of tallying the grains of sand in each box, placing those tally numbers into a sorted list, and using my computer keyboard to input those selfsame digits into the input field for responding to this thread.

If I had to do it again, I may choose to use this website.


I feel the same way sometimes but I noticed that I pick up words faster when I keep reading similar source texts.
Like, I follow some Japanese celebrities and read new interviews when they come out. I learn something new every time, but I also encounter mostly the same words. This way, learning is really fun for me because it is not overwhelming but I am still slowly building vocabulary for a domain I’m interested in.
Maybe you can find similar texts that you are interested in and for which you can build your vocabulary over time?
(Watching the news semi-regularly helps, too. The same words come up again and again, but there is always something new as well… which will then come up again and again.)


LoL (⌒▽⌒)
Usually this kind of epic stuff get a yonkoma answer… sadly I can’t draw until no idea when (RSI).
Still laughing

Is there anything similar to this, but for Japanese? I wonder if it would work :thinking:


How long is the beginner plateau??? I am still hanging out in it. Not a bad place though…


Word count for Japanese? There are no spaces between the words…
I think they go with the grains of sand method…

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Exactly x) But somehow, they managed to do that on the 20k most common words thing (or something like that). Don’t recall the name.

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You can count characters and strings of hiragana/katakana that repeat themselves plus defining all the word markers (を が は の etc.).

Here is the answer

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