People who have passed (or are around the skill of) N1, N2 or N3, how comfortable are you with Japanese? Do you really never stop learning?

Hi there!
My question above stems from various statements I’ve read. Something along the lines of “Language learning is a life long endeavor” or “You never stop learning Japanese”.

I am curious how that is meant? I mean I have a huge passion for the Japanese culture and language but at some point I want to say “I can speak Japanese on a reliable level without the necessity of studying. Maybe not perfect but proficiently enough to be comfortable.” I mean in my first language German even native speakers make mistakes regularly and always could be better but is it meant the same way in Japanese?

I am playing with the thought of getting lifetime but statements like these scare me off honestly haha

That’s why I ask people who already have had success and thus pretty high level of Japanese - how comfortable are you and when did you get to that comfort level?


I am not at the level of being able to hold an entire conversation about mostly anything casual in Japanese (which would correspond to N3 I think :thinking:), but I can assure you that statements like these could apply for any languages, and that learning can take many many different aspects. I used to do formal learning of Japanese (lessons and stuff), then I found out that I got bored too quickly by it so I switched to just doing whatever I want with Japanese, be it native material or just reading the simplest graded reader.

Even without being able to speak it fluently, I can manage to check out whatever I want (mostly news articles, blogs, youtube videos and anime) without being frustrated, as long as it’s not academic that is. And so far it has been a joy to acknowledge being able to do one thing you couldn’t do before, or read an article without furigana/dictionary. It took me around 2-3 years of on-off learning to achieve that level. In detail, that corresponds to one year of formal lessons where we did the first 15 lessons of Minna no Nihongo I, did the first 12 levels of WK then dropped it, spent a year reading NHK easy news article maybe once a week but still reading/watching content in Japanese once in a while, then coming back around 8 months or so, resetting to level 1 and increasing my dose of Japanese content once again.

Basically, you could do whatever you want and be however diverse you want, you’ll still learn things. I don’t think i’ve ever been frustrated learning Japanese for now, the only frustration i’ve had is missing a WK review (which is normal :eyes:) and not being able to learn more Japanese due to work/study constraints.


I am nowhere near N3 but still have a thought for you. You still regularly use German in daily life yes? If so then guess what, you’re learning German right now. Practice is a big part of learning, and at some point in learning a language it becomes THE way to continue learning. By which I mean eventually learning will stop being ‘pick up 10 new kanji’ and start being a side effect of ‘read a japanese novel I like’. If you want to maintain your language skills you have to use them or they will atrophy. This can happen even for native speakers who go too long without speaking their home tongue.


Of course at some point you’ll be at that level, as you seem to be for English.
Right now you could stop actively learning anything further about English and still understand most stuff in English, right?
You can get there in Japanese too, may just take longer.


That’s assuming @LastStand isn’t an English native :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I’m around N3 (still waiting for the test score but assume I’ve passed). I feel there’s still a loooong way for me to go. It’s just an intermediate language ability. Can understand and talk about everyday things but not in a lot of detail. Quite often I need to pause for some time to build a sentence in my head before I can say it. Reading native text is also tough.

But as non-native English speaker who uses English every day I can think I’m pretty good at it. I am at a very close to native level in understanding (both spoken and written). The biggest struggle is expression thoughts and opinions. Of course I’m able to do that but I’m not going to be as eloquent as a native with the same level of education.

So, you can get fluent after you’ve been learning and actively using a language but still expect to use a dictionary once in a while. And with Japanese I guess you can expect to discover new kanji as well. But that goes for Japanese natives as well.



though i think it would even apply to english native speakers, who for example stop learning technical terms, loan words, theory, etc. after high school. They can understand any TV show, but they’d have trouble reading a scientific article, and even in literature there will be unknown words here and there, which to be fair will happen for basically anyone.


How do you feel about English and German? Do you feel “proficient enough to be comfortable?

Edit: To expand on this, yes you can achieve that level with Japanese. If you focus on how you sound by mimicking natives and cultural differences then you’ll get there sooner. Speak to improve speaking


It took me five years to reach B2 level at English with my native Ukrainian.
I can watch TV shows, movies and understand almost everything.
I still doubt that Matthew McConaughey speaks English in some of his movie though.
With little speaking practice my conversations are minefield s with wrong prepositions and definite articles ready to expose me at any moment.
Considering that B2 roughly corresponds to N1 JLPT optimistically it will take 8-9 years of study to achive the same level.


Me too! I understand almost anything in English, even “ghetto slang” etc., but Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar has completely mystified me as to what the sounds he produces are supposed to represent.
(I know it’s a heavy Texas accent)

Of course it depends on how much time you invest per day,
so i’d rather put it as 3000-4800 hours of study for N1 or 950-1700 hours for N3, like Wikipedia.


At least 3000 hours for N1…an hour per day…8.2 years


Yes, in that case about 2.7 years at 3 hours per day.
Just wanted to mention that a number in years depends on how much you study per day.


I remember watching a documentary about an English woman who went to prison in France for around 8 years. They interviewed her and she spoke English like a French native- not just accent but also syntax. It was really jarring.

Use it or lose it is the order of the day with languages. I think there is a point where they settle into your brain to some extent (like you’ll be able to remember a number of words and grammar patterns even after many years), but finer details will be lost and your level will slip.

With things like kanji, apparently many native Japanese people who study or work abroad struggle to remember them, especially when it comes to writing.


though i think learning is almost never fully lost.
In almost all cases, having learnt something at some point, even many years ago,
makes it very easy to learn it again, or at least much easier.
People often neglect this when they lament how they forgot something they learned some time ago.
It just takes a little effort to get there again.


N2ish here

probably more uncomfortable than when I started

I miss the days when you’re only expected to say これはペンです and get a 日本語上手 in response. Now it’s the awkward stage where I can use japanese but its just, horrible and getting to the level of a native speaker or fluent seems like it’s further away than n2 is from where I started.

It’s nice to read and consume native material though.


Not just the effort but the ego damage again. Learning a skill in the first place can really hurt your ego; especially things like language learning or music as an adult because you know how crude you sound. Pushing through that embarrassment takes a lot.

It’s the same with revisiting old skills. I used to be much better at drawing because I did it every day. Now when I draw I have to get over the ego screaming “you used to be better than this rubbish!”.
Add in external pressure, for example someone saying “oh, so and so lived in Japan 3 years ago, they speak Japanese!” and the whole situation can be quite painful.

Maintenance takes conscious effort but is less painful in the long run.


yeah, to be honest, i think that’s something broken in our society.
Everyone has to be an expert (at everything) once they’re adult, and if you’re learning something new or relearning something and are not yet on a high level, somehow that’s embarassing and frustrating, to a degree, because you translate your high standards to everything.
I think that’s a very hurtful and not very reasonable attitude, but that’s how society often is. I guess halo effect and so on.
Personally i stopped caring about that sort of thing and started learning viola (violin) when i was 23. I knew i sounded terrible, but i knew i’d get through that, given enough time. Now i play in an amateur orchestra and enjoy it immensely.


Well, that’s where I am right now. I haven’t really done any active study last year and I can read about any novel I pick up without opening a dictionary (that doesn’t mean that I know 100% of the content, but I do know 95+ and can guess the rest from context). As others have stated before in this thread, though, it does count as learning, I guess. It’s just more passive and enjoyable.

As a comparison, it took me 8 years to reach that point in English (which is not my native language). It took me 8 years to “simply” get the N1, then another 2~3 years to get to my current level, so 10~11 years total.


I feel you. I started learning ukulele at 22. I’m still not very skilled because I haven’t put enough time in to learning rhythm properly but I don’t really care because I enjoy it.

And it’s the same with Japanese. I don’t really think I’ll ever be fluent in Japanese. But right now I’m at a stage where most day to day situations I understand, and I can make people laugh which is really important to me! Will I keep up this lifetime learning commitment? Hmm probably not. But it’s been such a good experience that I don’t mind.


A friend and coworker of mine is a solid N1, and they admitted that they still feel incompetent and stiff in conversation. This is a person I’ve never seen stumble in day-to-day Japanese.

Related: some of my Japanese coworkers don’t know certain kanji or advanced vocab I pull up in the dictionary. And they’re teachers!

To me it’s inspiring, because if people who are fluent, can be nervous in conversation and can learn things from talking to me, then in a way we’re all on the same level. It’s a very abstract level, but a level just the same!


I’ve passed N2 a couple years ago. I live in Japan and work in a mixed environment (I have to use both Japanese and English daily, both aren’t my native languages), hang out with Japanese people regularly.
I hear a word or two I don’t know about once or twice a week. (Not a couple hundreds time a day as it used to be haha). I generally feel comfortable in a conversation and very rarely feel I can’t express what I have on my mind. When I just moved here it was easier to talk to people one-by-one, now I’m fine with several Japanese people talking at the natural speed and not simplifying things.
I still get lost in serious literature (I haven’t properly studied it) and young people slang. So life-long learning - yes, but your comfort zone significantly increases with time - also yes.