Self-studying to fluency?

Hello, guys. I really don’t know why I am writing this; I have been lurking in the forums for a while and I saw a lot of people studying Japanese with Japanese penpals, friends from Japanese-learning apps, in actual Japanese classes, or living in Japan. I really don’t have any of those mentioned, and probably my only main source of “natural” Japanese are YT videos, J-dramas and anime. I do have some friends who also study Japanese from time to time, but most of them are those absolute beginner levels (I mean, they’re just studying hiragana and katakana and can only say ありがとう or だいじょうぶですか at most).

My main goal for studying Japanese right now is to be able to read (especially novels!!!). Is it possible to read fluently in Japanese without the support of those penpals, Japanese friends, physical classes, etc (wholly self-study)? If there’s someone who have done it, I wish to know!

I’m very very sorry for this un-motivating post. I am, however, in no way not motivated to continue my WK journey.


Of course “fluency” isn’t well-defined and different people have different definitions. For instance some people would say that fluency implies a high ability in all four major language skills, namely reading, writing, speaking, and listening. To me it’s so difficult to define that it doesn’t really matter.

I’ll tell you my own experience. I studied Japanese for about 5 years before I moved to Japan, using WK, grammar textbooks, talking to people, a small amount of manga, and the occasional anime/drama if that counts. Eventually I had a fair bit of knowledge, but my motivation started to run out due to a few factors. Some were personal but one factor was that I never really got to use my Japanese in real life.

Then once I moved to Japan, I got to use my Japanese to do real things all the time, and although I did take some classes I didn’t spend such a large amount of time on them. But I noticed that improving my speaking and listening improved my reading and writing, and vice versa.

I actually do know one guy who never lived in Japan but reads very well. So I would say that the answer is yes, it’s possible. It just might be difficult to motivate yourself to keep on going when you don’t use the language very much IRL.


I think as already mentioned the most important thing is why are you learning; the strongest your interest in using the language and even more so when you actually need it to accomplish other things, then getting fluent becomes not a goal anymore but part of a bigger plan, so is easier to continue improving in the language, but more as a tangential thing related to achieving bigger goals.

I’m somewhat surprised by all people mentioning anime as their inspiration to learn japanese. Is there really so much untranslated anime?? do all those cultural references lost in translation worth learning japanese?? :flushed: … … I mean… of course they do :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

My experience has been that I pretty much started japanese as a hobby, weak relations with the language, most of my related interests had a translation to english, so I never felt I was missing a big deal. I decided to give it a shot for a year or two and see if it did sticked…if not, well… so be it…

Then gradually it has become a tool to get access to other activities, which actually are rather unique to Japan. So finally I’m just seen it as another language; I don’t really aim at fluency per se anymore, for now been able to undestand the material in japanese that interest me and talking to the people I’ve met and hopefully get to know more people that share interests without language been an obstacle seems to fill my bill. :man_shrugging:

I never aimed at fluency in english, I just wanted for things to get done; I’m kinda feeling japanese in the same way now.


While I wouldn’t call it reading “fluently” yet, I just finished reading a light novel that I started four days before that yesterday, so I can at least attest to it being possible to reach a level good enough to enjoy reading stuff without any of the things you mentioned. There are of course still a lot of things I have left to learn, and I definitely can’t read harder books that fast yet. However, judging from my experience so far, the answer to your question seems to be: yes!

(Well, I did have one thing to help me: the book clubs here. But anyone else on these forums can also join those :slight_smile: )


I’m kinda one of those people, but manga rather than anime. There are soooo many untranslated mangas out there and its really a sick feeling having access to some raws but cannot read it at all :sob:

This is motivating! Thank you!

It is really hard to motivate myself, especially when family and friends look at me like I’m a weirdo when I hum Japanese songs or when I try speaking some sentences in Japanese :sweat: but I always remember that I want to be able to at least read like how I read English swiftly; I don’t really care about anything else haha.


I picked up one of my fave manga in japanese and was surprised at how different the feelings/ideas were conveyed vs the translation! It definitely motivated me to properly study japanese to consume my favorite anime /manga in its native form xD

Hey! This was definitely me not long ago. My parents thought it was a waste of time (as i couldn’t really use it irl) and my family thought i was obsessed with anime/manga to the point i picked up a new language. A year later, they’re so impressed by my progress and i get called as the dedicated child lmao. Tl;dr live your life, do what you love! You wont regret it!


I do have chat buddies from HelloTalk, so maybe this counts as having “those penpals”, but anyway…

Apart from that, I successfully got to the point of being able to read novels in Japanese without taking classes or whatnot.

Wouldn’t call myself fluent, but there you go.


This is inspiring! Did you read that light novel without difficulty, or do you still look at the readings/meanings from time to time?

(I really wanna join the book clubs, but WK subscription fee already takes a lot of money from my allowance. I can’t afford buying books at the moment :cry:)


I can’t speak for Ditto20, but personally I definitely see it as a good thing when I still have to look up definitions and readings. Otherwise I wouldn’t learn anything!
I mean, I could probably find a children’s book (but even those are easily underestimated) where I understand every single sentence, but I want to learn new words, from a book rather than in isolation.
Of course too many unknown words can be frustrating, that’s why you need to find a book with a good balance for you personally, that also interests you and keeps you going.

If you are fine with ebooks, you could take a look at BookWalker; sometimes they have sales so you can get books really cheap. Might be worth a look :slightly_smiling_face:


I learned some(maybe about a hundred words or so) of the vocab in advance (using ), but I didn’t look anything up after actually starting to read - and like Myria said, being able to learn stuff from what you’re reading can also be good, since it can bring you closer to your future goals!


@Ncastaneda made some great points about fluency and motivation, I’m going to +1 all over those. But going to the other part of your question…

You really don’t have to do without, you can find all of those online! There are websites and forums specifically for finding language exchange penpals. There are tutoring sites like iTalki (never used it but I’ve heard good things about it) where you can pay for lessons or just do a free conversation exchange with a Japanese person who’s learning English. And of course a ton of online textbooks and classes at any price ranging from “free” to “far too expensive.”

Also check your local library’s webpage. Some of them have subscriptions to online services that you can use for free (mine has Lynda and some language thing called Mango). Even if yours doesn’t, it might have old school language CDs like Pimsleur that you can check out.

And if you’re looking for some fellow Japanese learners to help keep you motivated, there’s this one kanji learning site that has a great forum community … I forget the name, Crabby Something? You can probably google it. Anyway, lots of nice folks there, definitely worth checking out.

Good luck!


Yeah, I’ve been using this for the past two years or so (recently passed 100 one-hour lessons!) and it’s been great for building confidence in speaking!

(I started italki after I started reading novels though, so it wasn’t a requirement for the reading part :b)

Even though it wasn’t directed at me, I’ll give you my unsolicited opinion anyway! :slight_smile:

I think it helps to go into it with the attitude that if you get the gist of the story then that’s enough.

I still come upon both words and whole sentences that make no sense to me, and when that happens several times in a row you can get the impression that you kinda suck at this :b. What I do then is to just remind myself that I’d have no trouble at all answering if someone were to ask me what was happening in the story at this point. (Conversely, if I find that I cannot do this, that’s how I know the book is still too difficult for me)

The specifics aren’t that important in the long run, and the really important stuff tends to get reiterated a lot.


I do get similar experience when listening to videos with Japanese conversation (I do get what they’re saying but I cannot translate it fully well) or when listening to drama cds. (My listening comprehension in Japanese is much much better than reading comprehension :sweat_smile:)

Thanks for the link! I’ll try it out; I’ve been always afraid of conversing online but maybe this will help in my motivation in the long run!

Thanks for this! I’ll check it out!


I’ve never had that in any language (well, except my native one)! As someone who’s having to work hard improving my listening skills I’m a bit jealous :slight_smile:


Japanese is after all one of the most difficult languages to read. I’ve met a few people who can speak Japanese fairly well but have difficulty reading.

Ah, yeah you’re right that there is a pretty substantial additional step to being able to read it, compared to other languages!

I guess having started WK early I tend to find kanji to be kind of a crutch… instead of having to guess which of the gazillion possible meanings しゅう has in a given compound word, the kanji just spell it out :slight_smile:


This is a very good awareness, if you will, of self-improvement. I left Japan in 2005 and have been studying Japanese constantly since the year 2000. I’d say that everyone I know, including Americans who haven’t a clue and to my Japanese counterparts in Japan, most would probably say I’m pretty proficient, however, once mentioned, proficiency is measured by relativity and there is no real way to compare, other than to work hard, learn from those that know and are really involved with the language., and to gauge the results in comparison or contrast to your own progression. I hope this makes sense. I can honestly say I have noticed a huge expansion of memory with the help of Its an amazing program and probably my favorite way to advance my already Japanese skills to a level of greater understanding. Stick with it, its seems impossible, but there are motivators out there to help you.I read entire dictionaries multiples of times and thought I had actually regressed in my Japanese vocabulary, but with wanikani, I can see these words and kanji many times in a systematic manner, and I am finding myself translating in my head what my American friends and family are saying. Absolutely a wonderful method! Thanks Koichi!!

Just a +1 on this: Pimsleur has really helped with my pronunciation and rhythm, just cause you do a lot of basic shadowing. It may have helped with my listening a bit too, but it’s mostly doing E->J production.

I do feel it perhaps leans too much on translation, which is a very different brain mode from just producing Japanese, but I do like the common phrases it teaches, as well as the general shadowing practice.

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It’s hard to remember now as adults, but if you try, you might be able to recall how much of the reading you did as a kid that you didn’t understand. Or even movies! We’ve all rewatched movies from when were kids and realized how much we missed, right?

We still all learned our native languages okay.