When did you become semi-fluent?

It should be interesting to see when all the superstars on this forum who went the distance and have achieved some level of fluency in Japanese realized they had made it that far. Since actually making it any distance into the language already puts one into a vast minority group, I’m hoping for some really diverse experiences that might be of use to the curious learners who lurk the forums.

The poll below is public so we can see if any low-level/nonfluent accounts troll vote. Please remember that its purpose is to collect medium data and not seemingly rank individuals’ by learning-speed, as that would be wholly unfair and innaccurate given how differing all our circumstances and motivations are. Please only vote if you can reliably comprehend most standard Japanese when reading/speaking/listening.

If you would, please share below any of: how long you had studied Japanese before discovering you were semi-fluent, the ways and methods you used to learn, and what your reaction was to realizing you had learned the language. Any and everyone is welcome to comment in this thread about the topic at hand, regardless of their learning stage.

Only vote if you have become semi-fluent in Japanese
  • Six months
  • One year
  • 1.5 years
  • Two years
  • 2.5 years
  • Three years
  • 3.5 years
  • Four years+
  • Five years+
  • Six years+
  • Seven years+
  • Eight years+

0 voters

Don’t hesitate to show off if this thread applies to you, either :birthday: :smirk_cat:


How do you know this would be a troll vote? Plenty of people use the WaniKani forums to hang out, ask questions, share knowledge, or join book clubs, and are level 1 because they don’t actually use WaniKani itself.

P.S. You forgot to make the poll public.


I am interested in seeing the replies, because I have a feeling that there is a big variety of how comfortable people feel with the label fluent, or semi-fluent.

I have known two languages besides English (not Japanese) for two decades, and at various stages have written and read academic work in those languages, and with some practice on the ground would have no trouble living daily life in those places… and I would never call myself fluent. I don’t know what it would take to call myself that.


I think the phrase “conversationally fluent” is useful in cases like this. If you can go about day to day tasks and interactions with relative ease, you could be considered conversationally fluent, even if you wouldn’t actually describe yourself as fluent.


I would think that one person’s idea of semi-fluent would be different to the next.

I guess I am semi-fluent. It took about a year and a half of part-time/not-so-serious studying. Now I am about 3 and a bit years in… still semi-fluent (don’t think I’d ever use the word fluent).


I think that’s probably what OP means by semi-fluent, but I think it does a disservice to people who are reasonably fluent in reading but not so much so speaking which is relatively common with East Asian languages.

Take Deborah Smith for example, she’s translated multiple novels from Korean to English and even won awards for them but she can’t speak one lick of Korean.


I’m certainly in that bucket (though I really still wouldn’t use the word “fluent”). I’ve read dozens of volumes of manga and a handful of books in Japanese this year alone, but I’ve never held a conversation in Japanese, so… definitely not conversationally fluent. :laughing:


I’m nowhere near semi-fluent conversationally or otherwise but I do feel a tingle of pride when I open up Tobira occasionally and can read the example sentences without much trouble.


I have a friend that sounds like your polar opposite [in Japanese]! Would struggle to read hiragana and katakana. However, would be quite happily understand news broadcasts and be apart of conversations.


I’ve learned that fluency has multiple definitions, but it took me about 9 months of full immersion to have conversations in a range of subjects while being able to keep the pace with native speakers. Of course, if you are fully immersed (living in Japan in a non-foreign bubble) it will take you a much shorter amount of time to reach various levels of fluency than if you were relying on a textbook.

Started learning Japanese around 3 years ago, but only in the last 6 months or so have I got to the point where I feel conversationally fluent. I’m FAR from being “actually fluent” but I can navigate most daily life situations now and have conversations with strangers without having to constantly look up words in a dictionary.

Kind of got into a slump and stopped actively studying over the past few months, but during that time I ended up spending a lot more time going outside and talking to people (living in Japan makes that part easy at least) and I’ve noticed that my speaking ability has actually skyrocketed during the same time that my kanji and vocab learning has mostly plateaued. Just started jumping back into Wanikani again this week and am working my way through a backlog of nearly 2,000 review cards.


I didn’t vote because I’m not sure I would call myself semi-fluent by any stretch. I went to Japan in 2016 for my honeymoon and I was easily able to have basic tourist conversations and folks were impressed by how good my Japanese was. (I thought they were just being nice, but I’m generally hard on myself.)

Anyway, I’ve been studying Japanese (as a hobby since 1999), but more seriously after 2006, when I got My Japanese Tutor for the Nintendo DS for Christmas. I took 2 years worth of classes at the college where I work (and easily convinced the sensei to let me skip the first level by doing all the assignments for it in about a week). I’ve been doing the Duolingo Japanese skill tree since it debuted in 2015, though I find that a lot of times I seem to know a lot more than it does. (I’ve suggested a good many translations that were accepted.) I’ve just now discovered WaniKani and thought it would be a good way to buckle down and really work on my knowledge of kanji.

I still can’t watch an anime without subtitles, but I DO know enough to know when the subtitles don’t quite match up with what is being said.


I can watch shows without subs and read/understand everyday Japanese

But that being said, I still wouldn’t consider myself semi-fluent because of my inability to speak Japanese well at all! :sweat_smile:
I feel like “semi-fluent” is a weird concept, using “advanced learner” or something similar for your L2 language I think works better…
Fluency in general is very debatable. There isn’t an exact line you cross, like learning just the right amount of words and going “yep I know as much as a native now” because everyone knows different amounts…
Am I making sense? Probably not. This is a tangent.


I think some people would consider me semi-fluent and I’ve recently been trying to not sell myself short so much so I voted, but the more I learn the more I realize that I have a LONG way to go with Japanese. I can hold conversations and read basic things as long as it’s a topic I’m familiar with, and I think that’s what you mean by semi-fluent? I agree with the others that that phrase probably needs a bit of tweaking.

Starting from my formal Japanese learning (I’ve been watching and listening while vaguely shadowing the sounds of the language ever since I was little, but I didn’t count that), I’ve been studying for about five years now, although not all of those were me studying religiously. That includes two years of college classes, a study abroad in Tokyo, and this past year of JET and prepping for the JLPT.

I think the most helpful thing has (rather obviously) been the immersion I get through living in Japan, and other than that just being willing to take risks in speaking and composition during classes and with my coworkers. WK has definitely been an amazing resource as well, it’s really helped with my reading. In addition, shadowing dialogue in shows is really helpful to practice the sounds of Japanese, especially when starting out.


It took me about three years of actual study time (all self-study). I studied consistently for about 2 years (WK + textbooks, and a Japanese family to speak to about twice a week, plus text messaging), then maintained what I learned and went to Japan for a 2 week backpacking trip to test my skills and see the country. I was able to use Japanese to communicate in a lot of basic scenarios, which led to me getting a lot of free beer while I was there, so that was a boon. When I came back to the States I focused on my career for the next 3 - 4 years, only casually looking at Japanese news or anime periodically. Around the end of last year I decided that I would pursue opportunities to work in Japan, so I started studying again and now I’m mostly using mono-lingual resources now.

Probably the only things I use that have any English in them are the Shin Kanzen Master JLPT workbooks (English is still pretty minimal, even the instructions are in Japanese), WK, and the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar reference books. When I use language tutors on iTalki, we pretty much only speak in Japanese, and I’ve even tested out learning Mandarin in Japanese with good results (Mandarin tutors on iTalki that still live in Mainland China are quite inexpensive, and a decent few speak Japanese). I don’t really call myself fluent (I have bad days where I feel like my brain runs at half speed, and there are some useful / common expressions that I can’t use on command yet), but my language tutors and coworkers insist that I am, so I’m contributing what I can to this conversation. :slight_smile:


Someone’s WK level doesn’t necessarily match their Japanese level, especially when WK only focusses on kanji. I’m sure there are many level 1’s on here who can speak better Japanese than many level 60’s




Maybe OP isn’t really referring to WK Level, but instead saying “we’ll know what you claimed, so it will be apparent if you fibbed based on your other posts / future posts on these message boards”. I think anyone who’s been on these boards for a decent amount of time knows that WK level does not correlate with a user’s Japanese ability (in both directions).

1 Like

I’m level 3!

Also I’m not great at speaking. It’s the thing I spend the least time working on.


If you added all the levels you’ve actually completed together, are you level 243 now or something?