When Did Japanese "Click" For You?

For those of you who consider yourself fluent, when did Japanese “click” for you? It would be helpful if you could explain by some reference point, like after reaching a certain level in JLPT or Wanikani. I know basically all of the JLPT N5 vocabulary, most of the kanji for it, and nearly all of the grammar, and I’ve also spent 6 years years in Japan, and I live with two native Japanese speakers (wife and child), but I still feel pretty far from it “clicking.” I just want to have a better vision of what lies ahead.

Individual concepts and things can click, but I don’t know that the enter language will ever feel like that. If one day I consider myself fluent, I don’t think it’ll have been a click feeling.


It depends on multiple factors:

-First, how old are you? If your under 25, it will “click” in a couple of years, over 40…maybe never. Its simply how are brains are wired, not much you can do about it.

-What do you speak at home? My wife is Japanese and doesn’t speak English, so we only speak Japanese at home. While this sounds like a good idea, just remember, your spouse will be using Japanese that she knows you understand, not the “normal speed/normal speech pattern” Japanese.

-How much are you using English? I spend months using nothing but Japanese, but if I go visit my parents in America for two weeks, I return to Japan with significantly degraded Japanese skills. I attribute it to the fact that the structure, sounds, etc are so different; unless you grow up using both languages, its very difficult to switch back-and-forth.

-If you only use Japanese at home, and study every day, and can get all the N3 level words, I would say in 2-3 years in will “click”. BUT, the amount of time you use English in your daily life will cause that timeline to extend.

Hope that helps.

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How does one spend 6 years in a country and only manage to learn the basics of the language? :frowning: :open_mouth:

No mean intent, just honestly curious.


You just don’t need a very high level of Japanese to live in Japan. Especially if you have natives who are willing to help you with anything difficult. And if your job is English teacher (I’m not sure what his job is, but that’s a common one), then you can be actively discouraged from using Japanese for huge chunks of the day.


How does one spend 6 years in a country and only manage to learn the basics of the language? :frowning: :open_mouth:

I worked on a Navy Base where most people spoke English. In fact, probably less that 1% of the Americans there spoke fluent Japanese; even those who had been living in Japan for near 20 years. I have learned that simply living in the country does very little compared to study. During that time I also studied, although maybe not more than 400 hours total (guessing). This seemed to be true even for those that lived off-base and didn’t have jobs on base, unless they studied a lot.

To answer the other guy’s questions, I’m 28 now, and we speak English at home.


Less than 1%? I would say less than .001% the only people at Yokosuka, Atsugi, or Sasebo who are Americans and Speak Fluent Japanese are the ones born in Japan. Even those who are trained at DLI (of which I am one)
are no where near fluent.

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Switch to Japanese at home…as long as you speak English at home, it will never “click”.

I just have a hard time speaking it at home because I always feel that I need to know more grammar and vocab to do that. I just feel so stupid using broken, inaccurate Japanese. I know I should, but I just can’t get there psychologically for some reason. I feel like I would be more comfortable doing that if I knew how to express myself a little better.

This is a rather outdated view of how the brain works. Recent research shows the brain remains rather plastic well into adulthood, and continuing until you are pretty much elderly.


This is a rather outdated view of how the brain works. Recent research shows the brain remains rather plastic well into adulthood, and continuing until you are pretty much elderly.

I have also read that is debunked now.


So, I take it your wife is better at English than you are at Japanese?

Japanese isn’t a language you can just “pick up”. It’s the exact reason you’re here. To essentially learn the “alphabet”, because that alphabet has thousands of letters.

The vast majority of Japanese people have incredibly poor English skills. Some of the worst in the developed world. They probably can’t help you learn a Japanese word if you asked them, because they don’t know the English. Also, pretty much everything in Japan is written with Kanji. No English. No katana. Just kanji, and whatever the supporting hiragana are called.

So, if you’re out and about in Japan, and you see a shop, or a label, or anything written, unless you know your kanji, it will pretty much register in your brain as, “Yup. That’s Japanese”. If you don’t know what a specific kanji means, you can’t look it up. You can’t research it. You can’t teach yourself what that word means. You can’t learn how to pronounce it. There is no information you can gain from it on your own. It’s just a completely foreign set of symbols that might as well be gibberish.

Now, take a Japanese person studying English, on the other hand. They have to learn 26 letters. After that, they can immerse themselves in English to a much higher level than someone who can’t read kanji can immerse themselves in Japanese. If they see an English word they don’t know, they can easily look it up. They can easily teach themselves more vocabulary by just going out into the world, and looking up things they come across a lot.

The same goes for an English learning learning any language with a Latin alphabet, especially Romanic or Germanic languages, since they share a lot of things in common with English. You can throw yourself out into the world, and slowly pick up things you encounter in the environment.

You absolutely can’t do that with Japanese. The only way to learn Japanese, is to deliberately study Japanese


Yes, she definitely is. My kid is bilingual already.


Also, hasn’t it been studied that studying languages can help preventing alzhaimer’s and essentially to keep your brain ‘young’? :slight_smile:


I agree with that, and I agree that immersion is overrated as well. It did very little for virtually everyone I knew living in Japan, although living in Japan does a good job of reinforcing things that you have learned through study, so I think it helps with retention.


Lived in Japan for two years. Barely learned a thing. Was too burned out from all of the simplest of tasks being 1000 times harder than they need to be in Japan all the time. Just wanted to relax at home.

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I feel like I should clarify what I mean by “click.” So basically most of us study vocabulary, grammar, kanji, etc. separately for the most part. It’s difficult to put all these different concepts to use together to where you feel like you can easily have conversations or easily read a book. I basically mean when you feel like you’re just starting to feel “literate” or “conversational” since the word fluent is a little too strong for what I mean by “clicking.”

You’re not counting yourself as immersed, are you? Living somewhere doesn’t equal immersion if you aren’t actually communicating in the language all day every day.


I know different people can interpret immersion differently and all, but I would definitely say I was immersed. Hearing Japanese all day long and seeing the writing everywhere definitely seems like immersion to me. I worked on base, but as I mentioned, my wife is Japanese, our apartment was off-base, anything we did for fun was off base, the TV channels were all in Japanese, the radio as well, etc.