How on earth did you come to be competent?

Those who are confident in their Japanese language ability.
Could you share your insights into the learning process? Would you be so magnanimous as to offer us, mortals, a nugget of your infinite wisdom?
-What would be especially interesting to read, are the things you wasted time on only to realize, “I’m not getting anything out of this.”
-What resources did you use and how often?
-What are the books/comics you used to further your studies?
-How long did it take?
And by golly, please tell me why I can’t understand a majority of the Japanese I come across, even though I’m halfway through N2 on Bunpro.


Try this:

I’ve been studying since October 2010.
I mainly studied with Pimsleur, then Japanesepod101. Then I moved to Japan in 2013 and read a lot. Working in a Japanese environment, where Japanese is required, also does wonders for your language skills.

And WK of course, even tho I reset 2x, maybe I can pull through this time.


I’ll resist the urge to take a jab at bunpro and just kinda point out that it’s good to have multiple different resources to learn from, as often one or the other tends to leave out some detail or miss some edge case that maybe you’ve come across and don’t know how to handle. I’ve heard that bunpro apparently has links to outside resources for most of the grammar points it covers, which you’re supposed to go and read maybe? I’m not sure. It definitely takes a long time to get comfortable with reading, how long it takes I think depends on the person and how “studious” you are. It took me many years because I take things slow and I was absolutely convinced that I’d never learn kanji until I tried out wanikani.

For grammar stuff, I’d definitely recommend imabi and the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar books. Also just start reading and watching stuff without subtitles. It’s gonna suck at first, but you gotta convince your brain that this “japanese stuff” will actually be useful for you. It’s mind blowing how easy it is to completely ignore japanese audio when there are english subtitles there to read. Same kinda thing with reading, if you never actually read through stuff (however painful), it’s hard to develop reading skills in your target language.


if you figure it out tell me too :sob:


Once you’ve hit the intermediate stage (the B level in CEFR terms), progress naturally feels slower than it did before. If by “competent” you mean becoming a competent language user in all four domains (listening, reading, speaking, writing), for instance to an extent that you meet the C level (“proficient user”) of the CEFR, you will probably require some kind of immersion in a native context. There are always exceptions to the rule and the success of language learning is influenced by individual factors that may work incredibly well for some but might not do much for you, but generally speaking, the majority of language learners won’t get to such levels of competency without some (extended) form of immersing themselves in the target language.

That doesn’t mean that you’d have to move to Japan (there are also plenty of examples of people whose move to Japan has not significantly increased their competency in Japanese), but since productive immersion (speaking and writing) is a lot more difficult to achieve than receptive immersion (watching television, reading the news, books etc.), it does require more effort to seek out opportunities when you’re outside of the country where the target language is spoken.

I’m not pointing this out to add to your frustration (I’d very much like for my own Japanese to be at a higher level than it is as well and my productive skills unfortunately lag behind my receptive skills), but I think it’s important for each language learner to set goals for themselves that are realistic within their personal learning context so their motivation won’t be impacted negatively by the frustration of not moving forward “fast enough”. I may be reading this into your original post by the way so feel free to disregard this if it doesn’t apply to you.


I studied Japanese at university and also lived there for some time. So this is the obvious reply. I was constantly pushed to learn. So, having daily conversations, picking up new words and phrases and repeating them in daily life helped a lot, of course.

Anyway, what I found to be a waste of time was later then using some apps or websites where I would just repeat vocabulary without any other context that helped solidifying the words I learned. Years after university in a time when I didn´t really had much exposure to Japanese, I sometimes got an energy boost and I learned vocabulary for weeks on the readthekanji website. Which is very good. But shortly after I stopped everything was deleted. So try to get context, speak out the things you learn (ideally with a native speaker) and keep the flow of repeating what you learned.


Well that’s an easy one. Bunpro tests English to Japanese. So when you see something in English you’ll think of one or more (possibly incorrect) ways to say that in Japanese. But when you see the Japanese, your brain hasn’t made the connection to implicitly understand it. I stopped using Bunpro largely because it felt like I wasn’t retaining most of what I was “learning”.

I think the “what” is less important than “how much”. Obviously if you read something too far below or above your level you won’t learn much. But just reading and reading until more and more grammar (etc.) clicks is beneficial.

The first full manga series I read was 放浪息子, which was a good experience. There wasn’t much furigana, but the language overall was relatively everyday and not too complicated. So for me it was a good series to really focus on, as before I’d just read a volume of random series here and there. I read やがて君になる more recently, and that was similarly not too hard. Aria the Masterpiece is also a relatively easy read. Both of those have furigana.

If you like female cast slice of life manga/anime, I’d also recommend ご注文はうさぎですか and こみっくがーるず, but these are much harder than the other series I mentioned due to kanji usage and dialogue density. Because they are harder, they act as a good benchmark though. If you can read all these series I listed with relatively good understanding, you can probably understand most series that primarily use everyday language.

For books, I can’t say I’d recommend any of the kids books that I’ve read for quality, but 魔女の宅急便 was the first book I read and it was a good learning experience. From everything I’ve read, I’d say my favorites have been コンビニ人間 and 獣の奏者. Both of those are enjoyable stories, but are among the easier books I’ve read overall.


I don’t why but reading this a bit scared me to be honest…


I don’t consider myself that competent yet, but I feel like my major progress has come from good old fashioned exercises. Like with a textbook and a teacher.

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There comes a point in time where you will get diminishing returns on textbook study. You can learn all the grammar and all the kanji and still not understand Japanese.

There’s a difference between understanding every word in a sentence and understanding what is being said. Spoken language is after all, a conversion of thoughts to sounds.

Reading or listening does not rely on you remembering what a textbook once said, but rather instant intuition.

Getting good at comprehension can only be done with practice, and it seems like you are missing a good chuck of reading and listening.

You’re only going to get better with hours upon hours of active and passive input.

  • Netflix + VPN (to get Japanese Subs/Dubs)
  • Bilingual News Podcast
  • Appropriately leveled books
    • NHK news
    • Manga/Light Novels off

I wouldn’t focus too much on speaking, until you get pretty good at understanding. If you make mistakes with no one correcting you, you’re just going to learn bad habits.


For me personally? Honestly, dozens and dozens (by now hundreds) of hours of listening and reading, even while I felt like I understood almost nothing for months.

First I was reading and watching things that I was familiar with, so that I wouldn’t feel lost on story-lines. I listened to a number of things on repeat, and it really helped to be constantly recognizing grammar right after learning it. As well as recognising and learning vocab words.

Playing through three Ace Attorney games did wonders for my understanding of sentence structure. With the first AA game that I played, it felt like I understood about 5ish% during the first case (was just starting N4 grammar at that time). I felt like I understood 80-90% of what I read by the time I finished that game. It took me a long time to finish it, because my grammar still needed to catch up some more.

Then I moved away from re-watching known things, and watched a lot of Japanese let’s plays, since it’s often someone talking about the things happening on-screen. The visual feedback and context made it easier to follow along, and was entertaining to me when I couldn’t follow along. I also read my first light novel with the help of Huge help!

And the more I did all this, the easier it all became. And most importantly: more fun! First it was frustration. Then a sense of accomplishment at being able to follow more and more bits and pieces. Now I understand enough to follow along on shows and topics that interest me. I can actively enjoy certain native stuff as relaxing entertainment, on top of being good practice time. Things are more and more fun with every passing month, feels like.

Basically, every time I started a different “phase” of immersion (from known stuff to unknown stuff, from scripted to unscripted speech, from manga to novels), it felt like banging my head against a solid brick wall. But so far, the wall breaks every time, as long as I keep exposing myself mercilessly alongside my studying efforts.

This was my ramble. ^^ I should probably not contemplate questions like this when tired.

Best of luck, and I hope you can find some tips or methods that work for you!

Edit: oh, and the word “competent” still feels like an overstatement. I just know that I’m more competent than I was.


As someone who had the same problem, it seems kind of obvious in retrospect. Producing a Japanese word or phrase to complete a sentence (i.e. English to Japanese) is a completely different skill than reading Japanese and understanding what it means (Japanese to comprehension (not necessarily translated to English)).

It was actually a revelation when I started putting the complete sample sentences from Bunpro into Anki with no blanks or English and just practiced the skill of going pure Japanese to comprehension. This is the skill of reading. Filling in the blank from an English prompt is not going to make you better at reading comprehension.


I’ll let you know if I become competent.


This is interesting. Do you just add sentences as they naturally appear in reviews, or have you gone back to add things as well?

It’s definitely important to practice productive skills with a competent speaker of the target language to ensure that the interaction is meaningful and that you receive feedback. Other than that, there already is a receptive-productive gap in second language acquisition that you’d rather keep as small as possible by beginning to train your productive competency (both for vocabulary as well as grammar, using the two as umbrella terms for simplicity’s sake) early on.

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As my daughter once learned in primary school: “practice, practice, like a cactus” :cactus:

Nothing new to add, but I second reading native material (join a book club!) and listening to native speakers.


You gonna graduate from level three any time soon?


This is currently helping me a lot with listening comprehension. After months of trying to listen to podcasts and other random content, nothing managed to keep my attention. It wasn’t until just recently when I began watching JP let’s plays of my favorite games that I began to notice progress. It’s currently the only thing that I can (actively) watch (binge, even) without getting frustrated over not understanding 100% of what’s being said! Bonus points if you can find an LPer who’s funny!


I’m going to shy away from answering the “How long did it take?” question, both because I don’t really know how to answer it and don’t feel my experiences there are helpful. I took classes in high school and through sophomore year of college (up through a 300-level class, the last offered), then didn’t use it for basically six years, forgetting all or most of that last year of university classes. Then came to Japan and studied very hard while living in a native environment for three years. (Passed N1 at the end of my second year, and would say I maaaaaybe felt competent sometime after that, even though I still kind of don’t.)

-Nothing I’ve read has felt like a waste of time. That includes adult-oriented novels and short stories, news articles, all-ages manga, text-heavy games, and even some all-kana Famicom-era games. (Which is/are the woooorst. Those might not be particularly good study time, but there are at least still new words to be found.) If I had to rank how effective I feel each is as study/acclimating me to Japanese, I’d probably put prose fiction at the top, since you’re really in the language that way, and it hits probably the largest range of descriptions, levels of formality, etc, but none are useless. Especially when first diving into native material. (I don’t really consider manga and games study time anymore, but that’s kind of silly, because I’ll still pick up new words and phrases on occasion.)

If you feel you have enough of a foothold to make some piece of native-writing not completely inaccessible, go for it. When I first started reading manga and prose in Japanese, I’d accept a “mostly understood” page and move on. Now I know enough to pinpoint occasional new words and phrases and look all of them up before moving on, am able to attention to particular phrasings that might be useful, etc. How you interact with texts and to what level of completion will change as you grow, which is natural.

-I’m only going to focus on post-college self-study resources (so bear in mind these were all bolstered by living in Japan at the same time): Wanikani, iKnow, Nihongo Sou Matome book lines (N3-N2), 新日本語500問 JLPT quiz books (N3-N2), Shin Kanzen Master book line (N1). Plus watching and reading native material each day. At my heaviest amount of set, daily study, around the time I took N2, I would do and type up notes from a section in two of the five Sou Matome books each day until I finished them (then replace that with quizzing from 500問 or other practice exams), clear Wanikani and do two sessions on iKnow, watch at least one episode of a drama in Japanese, and read at least a set number of pages of prose. This took hours and I don’t think you actually need to do that much, but it’s what worked for me at the time. Recently my study has been less structured and more just naturally integrated with leisure time–so long as I’m doing my reading, watching, and gaming at home in Japanese, and taking notes on new phrases. (I’ve also used some native kanji-writing books and translation-practice resources for both E->J, as JPN writing practice, and J->E as actual translation practice, but that’s all probably in the post-“competent” phase.)

Here’s the thing, though: It doesn’t matter what you use, and it doesn’t matter how long you study each day. Those can also both change as you go. The only important things are having a consistent, daily routine, and effective note-taking so you can check back on phrases and grammar points when needed. Experiment with what is both successful and maintainable for you.

-The first manga I attempted to read in Japanese was Dragon Ball, a little bit ahead of my move to Japan as I was picking study back up with Wanikani. Probably would not recommend it as a first, because of Toriyama’s loose dialogue, but I’m also at a loss for what I would suggest as a first. I do remember that I got through a Toriyama short-works collection near the start of self-study (maybe the short-piece format was more motivating). At the end of the day, pick something you’re familiar with to start, maybe, and enjoy, and just dive in. The first prose book I finished was a magical-realism short story collection, 嵐のピクニック, by 本谷有希子, and that I totally would recommend, although it’s something I picked up between N3 and N2, I think. I skipped graded readers and light novels, so I’m probably a bad person to ask. I genuinely have no idea what native material you should start with. Just pick something you’re into that doesn’t feel impossible at your level, and slog through the slow start, even if you’re looking something up every other sentence and spending half an hour on a page at first. Gotta rip off that band-aid sometime.

Also, do not underestimate the power of Japanese dramas with Japanese closed-captions turned on.

Edit - Actually, you know what I weirdly would suggest as beginner native material, now that I’m going through one? A Japanese Pokemon game, especially if you’ve played its English version. The modern games offer toggles between kanji and all-kana, and the dialogue tends to be bite-sized and pretty straight-forward, while still being written by and for natives. Though if you’re already into N2, I might say skip it. There’s probably stuff that’ll be of better service to you, even if it’s a harder start. Better to aim too high and struggle up to meet it than to aim too low and waste your time. (None of it’s useless long term, but if you’re looking to improve, some things will offer more than others.)

I can’t speak to how successful an all-Bunpro learning diet is, but it could also just be because A) You haven’t put enough practice into reading or listening to native material, which is different from just learning isolated grammar, and involves comprehension skills you simply have to build up. B) N2 actually isn’t that high a level in the grand scheme of comprehension. You should absolutely be able to start slogging through native material until it starts getting easier at this point, though, since you should have solid footholds.


Hard, boring work…
Followed by periods of fun and exploration…
Then, more hard, boring work…
More fun and exploration…

Be as efficient as you can be. This path is the only one I’ve found to competence. We can only be competent in so many things, though. 10,000 hours can take 10 years. It’s just as important to choose wisely what it is we want to pursue.

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