How realistic is getting to N1 for a casual learner?

Some details, just rambling about myself, not essential for the question

I’ve been thinking about how realistic it will be for me to get to N1 for a while now. I understand that

  • N1 does not equal fluency and that one has a long way to go after even after reaching N1 but I would worry about that when the time comes
  • I don’t have to decide this now but I just like having a long term plan of what I’m trying to achieve
  • We are here to learn a language, not to reach certain levels of some test (unless you need the test for e.g. job applications which I don’t).

However, I enjoy having measurable goals that I can work towards in a given timespan instead of a vague “I’d like to be able to hold a conversation/read signs in a train station/…”. Having the JLPT to prepare for, with a fixed deadline, has pushed me to study vocabulary and grammar harder and more consistently than I would have without it. (And when I say I “enjoy” it means sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it and I just want to be done with the stress and pressure that I’m putting on myself because of the JLPT. But I partially feel like I can not truly move on from this topic until I haven’t reached N1; I know this is not reasonable… but we can’t all be reasonable all the time! :woman_shrugging:)

Just yesterday, my Japanese teacher told me that N2 is a good goal to have and “most people stop after N2” since afterwards you have to get into business Japanese and she sounded like she does not expect me to ever attempt it.

So I’m wondering if it would be worth the time investment to prepare for N1 since people keep bringing up how “rare” some grammar points are (while others say they are not rare at all) and how you need to get into business Japanese in order to be able to succeed. And then there are people who obviously have been studying hard for quite some time and fail the N1 anyway so I’m not sure if I should even set my goals that high.

Given that

  • I don’t live in Japan and don’t want to change that
  • I neither study Japanese nor need it for business purposes
  • I’m quite busy with work, can not study and consume content all day long

… how realistic or stupid is it to have N1 as a goal?

On the plus side, I feel like I have good reading skills in general and am used to reading content quickly in a language that is not my native one. Japanese has been surprisingly easy, at least compared to what I expected. Maybe I have at least that one thing going for me?

What do you think? What are your experiences with N1? Or if you haven’t attempted to take it yet: what are your goals?


First, ignore what other people are doing. Some people who study hard do so inefficiently and don’t actually master the material. Also, different people have different language learning ability. So some people may not be able to pass N1 no matter how much they study while others can do so easily with an adequate amount of preparation.

Personally, I’m aiming for level N1. I’ve lived in Japan but don’t currently live there and have no current plans to go back. Although I do have a vague fantasy about doing a triathlon in Japan because I read the book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running which was written by a Japanese runner doing triathalons in Japan and it sounded fun. And I set arbitrary goals like that. Actually, that is how I ended up living in Japan in the first place. Anyway, I studied Japanese (in Spanish - because I was living in a Spanish speaking country at the time (native language is English)) before moving to Japan, but did not study Kanji. I was pretty shocked to get there and realize that I was functionally illiterate. I learn languages because I enjoy getting to know people and find it frustrating to be unable to do so because of a language barrier. And I like languages.

The question, as I see it, isn’t so much a question of whether learning Japanese has some inherent worth but 1. are you enjoying studying it and 2. is there something else you would rather be doing with you time.


Speaking as someone who is at about the N4 level, I’d say that given your "Given that"s, you probably will never need that level of Japanese. What do you want to do with your Japanese ability? Talk to Japanese people? Read manga/watch anime? Travel to Japan? You said you won’t feel satisfied until you hit that arbitrary level, but what if you set a different arbitrary level instead? Like, reading a Japanese novel and summarizing it before reading a translation? Or traveling to Japan and using as little English as possible?

I live in Japan and my goal is to pass N2 before I leave so I have the option to return or work in a Japanese setting if the opportunity ever arose. I am learning so much faster here than I ever was before I came.


From your question it sounds like you don’t have N2 yet (?), why not go step by step? You can still go for N1 when you have a better view what you will need in addition to what you got for N2. No time is wasted because N2 is a subset of N1.

The people your teachers mentions stop on their own, probably the cost/benefit is not worth it for them.


It’s definitely not unrealistic, assuming you mean “passing N1” (and not “completely knowing all N1 grammar”).
I managed to do it, and I didn’t spend 2 hours a day stressing about specific N1 grammar points (only kind of starting to do that now, to get a better score in 3 weeks). I don’t feel like I knew that much N1 level grammar either, back then (not even that much N2 specific grammar tbh), but it seems that often it’s about luck in the actual test. (I can tell you more about my experience this time around after the JLPT in Düsseldorf ;))

It can seem like an extra time investment and you can choose to invest more time for N1, but I feel like I didn’t invest that much more time in studying than usual. And it worked out fine.
Reading speed and vocabulary will probably sort themselves out with anki decks / reading native material; but if you attempt N1, I assume you will do some sort of JLPT specific reading practice anyway :slight_smile:

I do agree that you need more business-y Japanese for the listening section (and partly for reading), so really knowing lots of keigo expressions (and especially being able to understand jukugo - just by listening, without kanji :sob:) is very helpful and important. And business stuff like that is sometimes hard to come by in your daily routine.

I do realize that lots of people struggle with N1, and it kind of makes me feel bad that I passed right away without much (perceived) extra effort. But I guess that means you have at least one counter-example to “N1 is impossible for a casual learner”.


Other people have maybe voiced similar opinions, but I also really think you should think what do you want to do with your Japanese ability? Or do you want the N1 just for show? What will you gain from it? I’ve heard from a lot of Japanese friends that even they can’t pass the N1 without studying so you really shouldn’t feel pressured to think of it of some like ultimate goal of language learning ability. In the end a test can only tell you are good at taking that test, and does not necessarily reflct your abilities in any way. There are some Chinese students who have passed N1 in my University and their Japanese listening and talking is god awful compared to my measly ~N3-4.


What were/are your goals for learning the language originally? Seems that’d be a relevant question to ask yourself before deciding how far to go with it

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Depends on your goal and your motivation.

My goal is to be able to read manga. At N3, I can already do that, albeit still needing a dictionary. But as long as I can comfortably read, my goal will be reached.

Just define your goals. Motivation is everything.

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What is all this N1, N2 stuff anyway? I see it around the forums a lot but never found out what it actually is.

My own personal goals is to be able to understand the music that I’m listening to. So while I might never have to actually talk or type to someone in japanese, I just want to be able to sing along and know what I’m singing. :smiley:

EDIT: As a small side goal, I do plan to travel to Japan eventually, and being able to read signs and/or converse with people is also a nice bonus. But understanding their music is pretty much my #1 priority.

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The JLPT is a language proficiency test, and there are 5 levels: N5 (easiest) to N1 (hardest). Here’s a summary of the required proficiency for each level.


I find it hard to motivate myself to do something I don’t need or enjoy, which is exactly where preparing for such test will fall in my case.

For what you mention the need is not on your side either :man_shrugging: … So I could only ask you about your goals and what keeps you motivated for learning. I sense a test and a certificate could easily fall short.

I don’t find it strange to be the suggestion of a teacher, since is an objective measure of her own work as well and gives a clear pathway to prepare classes; but nonetheless I would like to hear about the why your teacher would think is a good goal to persue in your case.

I have no experience with JLPT, so I might be missing a whole lot about the benefits of it. In any case my goals, which are merely recreational at the moment, have found a path to keep improving in an orderly fashion as well. So is not like getting better and even having an objective goal is something you can only accomplish by means of a test.


It’s not a very useful goal for someone who doesn’t work in Japan. But there’s nothing wrong with setting up such a goal for yourself. As a gamer myself, I know some people who are busy and have full-time jobs whose goal in life (at least for the moment) is to be the first among their circle of friends to finish Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Reaching N1 is certainly going to be a lot more useful and satisfying than that (and again, I’m a gamer myself and I totally understand the obsession with finishing a game).


I think the only question that matters is if you’ll enjoy doing what you need to do to get there. If you do, you’ll just end up doing it, because you won’t have to force yourself and you’ll feel motivated.

If you think it would be a chore, then you probably won’t get there without those extrinsic motivators like a job or life in Japan.


I have read somewhere, and wonder if it’s true, that N1 is extra hard compared to the other level (not just double the difficulty of N2), because like the other levels it’s designed to have a success ratio of around 30% / 40 %, but compared to the other levels there is no level above. So instead of having people naturally moving to next level when they improve, in N1 you compete against people who will basically try the test again and again until they pass. Anybody heard something similar ?

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Depends what your timeline is. It would be impossible in the immediate future but over a period of years or decades it may be something you could achieve depending on how much you put in and when you put in the effort to learn.

The alternate is to define what you think fluent is and go for that. Is being able to watch a Japanese movie or television show without subtitles and understand it enough for you to be proficient. Is having a conversation with a Japanese person enough.

I note you have set your goal at N1 and realistically everyone dreams of that even me but what is your time frame.

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I think the only people who can answer this clearly are individuals not living in Japan going for N1. Of the people I know (one person), they are struggling to pass. I’ve wondered this myself as your “given that” scenario sounds very familiar to my own.

Edit: I forgot to mention there is the Gloriarya YT channel who gives tips on N1 without living in Japan.

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Not sure about having it as a goal, but I did start thinking about testing myself with the JLPT just to see how far I’d go. I studied hard for the N3 and passed that after 1.5-2 years of studying, and then every year I went for the next one. I had a really good result on the N2 with minimal study (just normally reading manga and watching anime and YouTube, if you can call that studying), then with the same lazy momentum went into N1 the following year after slacking most of the year, expecting to fail, and somehow managed to barely pass the N1. So I guess it’s possible for even slackers like me to get the N1. Honestly if I weren’t reading manga every day I’m pretty sure I’d have remained at N3 level, but that daily practice helped a lot I guess. Honestly I’m still shocked I have the N1, it feels like I didn’t deserve it, but :man_shrugging: しょうがない

Note: I live in Eastern Europe, don’t live in Japan, probably never will, but somehow managed to pass the N1 after 3-4 years of study


Just came here to say that I loved this book by Haruki Murakami, he has a way with words that makes you want to run a marathon or a triathlon, and it sounds possible. Learning japanese and passing the N1 is in a way a marathon, a very long one, so there’s that.


lol I am studying japanese and running my first marathon next summer so they are both marathons for me. I have run all my life though so the marathon shouldn’t be too hard unlike japanese…


I’ve no answer to that personally, but would love to know if anyone does have an answer to that.
I’ve got this hazy impression of N2 being ‘business level’ and N1 being ‘glutton for punishment level’ (I’d still like to get there someday!)

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