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?

i don’t study anymore, apart from wk, but i’m still learning, and expect to continue to learn for as long as i live.
picking up new vocab is something that just keeps going automatically.


Life long learning!!

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Of course you never stop learning. You never stop learning your native language. Even if you were somehow able to reach a state that you knew “everything”, languages are constantly evolving and changing. Comparatively few native Japanese can speak more than one of the regional dialects, if they can speak one at all, for instance.

The JLPT tests and learning the Joyo Kanji are arguably just the very beginning.


I’ve passed N2 and there’s a long long long road ahead


I did N2 this past December. I started learning 2 years and 2 months ago. I go to Japanese class a couple times a week at different levels. They all still teach new me things every time.

I do interact with natives on a regular basis (one tells people I am fluent​:confounded::joy: She is a private teacher of Japanese herself). And we have Japanese conversation only lessons at my school regularly as well (1-3 hours talking about specific subjects; i.e. last month it was about the existence of God).

I am still often searching for the right words, or not understanding what I’m hearing, but I have the tools to ask for clarification, and I am enjoying myself using the language. I do not read often enough, but depending on the level of text (and my mood) it takes little or more look ups of vocab and grammar.

The hardest part right now is knowing when and how to correctly use keigo. I am still being forgiven if I don’t use it, but soon I will have to get good at it, since I have an opportunity to maybe start working with Japanese people.

Long story short: even if you are N2 level there is still a lot to learn, but depending on the amount of practical hours you’ve put in, speaking, lustening and reading will start to feel natural even if you are very aware of all the mistakes you make and how much there is still left to learn.

Start living in the language and it will become yours eventually!


oops, got so overconfident in my English skills that I totally missed that part


yeah, the struggle never ends. but I think you can choose how you approach learning a language. :hugs:

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Do you think you passed? I started learning four years ago and I only took N3. I might be able to pass N2 non-listening (barely), but I’d certainly fail the listening.

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I think living there helps, I lived there six years total (five in the remote countryside on JET). Still havent passed N2, but my conversational Japanese is pretty good, I used it everyday with non-English speaking Japanese at my work and hung out with Japanese people a lot. In terms of how comfortable i"d say pretty well. I basically used Japanese to survive there, NHK, car repair shop, banking, gas bills etc etc. Over the years, I had to deal with the police a couple of times and car insurance company on the phone without too much hassle. Wouldn’t have been able to do it without practice and being used to talking a lot from actually living in the country I think. I’ve left now, so my spoken ability has probably bombed a lot! I’d say after about a year of solid living in Japan without any English, I started to feel a pretty comfortable in everyday tasks.

EDIT JLPT level is not a good indicator of proficiency in terms of ‘comfort’ level - I guess Japanese in daily life/business situations?. If you wanna see an example of this, here’s a sad story of how N1 passer was not comfortable with Japanese in everyday sitautions, check out Matt Vs Japan’s interview (“JLPT N1 and Not Fluent”), about a guy who tragically worked his ass, for years and years and passed N1, but wasn’t very conversationally fluent. So if you wanna speak and be comfortable, then JLPT alone unfortunately wont get you there.


I’ve been comfortable with Japanese about one year after I started lessons with a tutor (100% only Japanese, after one year of self study ), before I even thought of taking the JLPT. Having regular conversations on day to day subjects with someone really boosts your language ability and trains your brain to see the language more and more from a native perspective.

Now I’ve been learning for 5.5years and have passed N1. I can’t say in actively studying anymore but every time I see a new word and look it up it’s a learning experience :man_shrugging:


Have been N1 for ~4 years and you never stop learning new stuff :man_shrugging: I still learn new words in English all the time, and I’ve been using that for much longer.


Cautiously optimistic. I think I dozed off during the listening section for a bit. I didn’t miss any questions, but definitely more unsure answers than I would have wished. I think.


Loosing proficiency in a language happens earlier than you think. As a kid I grew up with two languages at the same time - Hungarian + German. At one point a teacher told my mom to stop talking in any other language to me than German as this might cause confusion (though I was one of the kids with the best grades back then in German and I didn’t have any problems at all with German but it was a conservative area).
Sadly, she listened and as I didn’t have anyone else to talk Hungarian to, I lost the ability.
I only catch up a few words and phrases and I know how to read it as I got taught it once how to pronounce the letters and such but well… I understand next to nothing.
Actually I have proof that I was fluent at one point (on that age‘s level) as my parents made many videos back then. I can’t understand anymore what I was saying.

So never ever stop studying even if studying only means reading books and watching movies in that language. Otherwise you forget a lot and eventually 99% of it.


Thank you guys for all your replies and versatile views. Overall, as far as I understood it now, it really comes down to learning new words when you’re good enough without extensively studying them. I mean, you possibly can’t know all the words in any language but if someone uses a word you don’t know you can get it from context and thats where the proficiency comes in.

It’s kinda like programming languages - you can learn all the (basic and advanced) structures but you’ll never know, say, all the external libraries there might exist but you can pretty easily pick them up if you are good enough at said programming language.

I’ve also read somewhere that professors at universities know around 5000 Kanji but that doesn’t mean that a person who knows “only” 3000 isn’t proficient in Japanese, it’s just that you can always improve.

My original thought process was under the operation that I don’t want to intensively study the language forever but I want to learn about it as much as possible. And the rest comes down to “Use it or lose it” I guess.

Similarily to @eszter, when I was a child I was able to fluently talk Italian but over time I sadly lost that ability. However, my mother talks mostly in Italian to me and thus, I can understand it pretty much perfectly at family gatherings or TV shows. Sadly the neurons in the brain aren’t the same ones when it comes to passively understanding a language (reading, listening) and actively using it (speaking, writing). You have to practice all aspects if you want to use them all. Well, most of my media consumption (or studying for that matter) is in English. Thats why I got comfortable on it over time in the passive parts of Italian and English but when it comes to talking or writing (as an example on WaniKani…) I become really insecure.

Well, I hope Japanese will get me out of that comfort zone.

@jneapan, wow, isn’t N1 in 5.5 years preeeetty fast? Impressive.

@dispense I think thats around the level I strive to be, did you study Japanese before moving to Japan?

I wish I could reply to everybody but thanks to all of you. The worries are gone.


If you are german shouldn’t you have learned at least two other languages besides japanese (unless you are one of the lucky ones that have japanese classes in school) and therefore have experience with learning other languages? So the quote “Language learning is a life long endeavor” shouldn’t be that unfamiliar. Or maybe you are just a genius lol
Personally I don’t think japanese is special, it is just like learning any other language. Languages changes and evolves so things you learned 4 years ago might be “outdated”, there are always new words that you can learn. And as someone who learns a language without being in the country where it is spoken you can always learn new things about the culture and the relation between language and culture (of course you can do that too if you live there but it will be much faster and more passive).
Besides you forget languages really easily if you don’t practice regularly. And listening/understanding is something entirely different than using a language.So you always need to repeat things. I doubt there is anyone that learned a language once and then doesn’t have a problem understanding/talking etc. 10 years later if they didn’t do anything in the meantime. It is not like riding a bike where nothing changes and you just need to jog your muscle memory.


I started learning basic Japanese roughly 6 years ago in middle school but never even got as far as to studying a single kanji. I started studying Japanese seriously a year and a half ago and I took the N2 test last december (I’m semi-confident I’ll pass). I saw a lot of people talking about uncertainty at N2 level but I feel pretty okay with my current language ability. We have Japanese native exchange students as assistants at our university’s Japanese courses and I’m able to hold a conversation with them over lunch
(of course with a little help of English at times). I’ve also been able to read a lot of manga in Japanese after taking the N4 test a year ago in december, and currently I’m thinking of reading my first light novel in Japanese. I bet being comfortable / uncomfortable with using the language is highly related to the amount of producing the language yourself and going out of your comfort zone. I remember self studying at some point by only reading, listening and doing some writing when studying kanji, but I never produced my own sentences on paper or orally. At that time I felt really uncomfortable, but once I got into a Japanese language course and was forced to produce my own sentences and to speak the language it started becoming less and less uncomfortable. Probably the fact that our teacher is Japanese and only speaks Japanese in class is also a factor which really threw me outside my comfort zone, and allowed me to get more comfortable with the language over time.


I was planning to get to a proficient-y level and move on but sigh after taking N3 I realize I enjoy it too much and there’s always more to know. I mean, sure you can slow down learning, and kind of have to for school or work or whatever gross real life things. But you can never stop because there’s always more knowledge to pick up, not just for language but for any field, science, code, music …

Specifically for language, I studied English for a long time, maybe four years, everyday. I think I’m at a pretty good level now where my accent sounds natural and I can communicate like I am right now and people usually assume it’s my first language. I would still consider myself to be studying English but maybe not at such an accelerated rate. I learn new words and grammar nuances everyday. Hopefully someday I can reach this point in Japanese too but keep using it so I don’t lose it. Practice in English is easy for me, living in Canada and reading online and forums like this for writing.


I’ve passed N2 in Dec 2018, 4.5 years since I’ve started in Sep 2014. A friend of mine who started together with me passed N1 during the same exam session. N2 was challenging, but the feeling was kind of okay - which corresponded with the final score (123/180). What does that mean from real life perspective?

Well…nothing in particular.

It’s challenging to read still, so I am stumbling around the reading clubs. Even Intermediate one is too hard to keep the pace.

It’s challenging to speak as well, since I have no regular practice. A friend of mine is coming to my place in a couple of months and I am pretty nervous already.

So the end result is as people already said above - that’s only the beginning. Apart from that, JLPT results might say nothing about your real language ability, be it good or bad :sweat_smile:


How many lessons a week did you do during that year? (Or just a rough total if it was irregular)
Did you or your tutor do some prep ahead of time on the topic or you just went with whatever when you started the lesson?

I’m N3-N2ish here and I share this sentiment. When you start learning, your goal is usually to be able to understand and say basic phrases - enough to say… introduce yourself, order at a restaurant, ask for directions, etc. things that are enough for a tourist. It’s a very reasonable “end”-goal for many people who are travel-bugs.

Once you reach that though and want to go beyond, what’s the next goal? Being able to hold a conversation outside the basics? For me, that’s becoming fluent and I don’t feel like I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here. There are times where I can understand native content completely, which makes me proud/happy to know as much as I do. On the other hand, there are constantly times where native content just straight up kicks my ass and makes me question how much I really know. I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away. As long as that feeling persists, I don’t think learning ever stops.