I’m gonna do this! 

I’m gonna learn Japanese!

Then you start researching a bit. You start learning about hiragana, and katakana, and kanji, and weird-o grammar, and pitch accents.

And thus the seed of doubt is planted.

So you hop on Google, and search for, “Hours required to learn Japanese,” or something like that.

I will tell you how many hours it probably takes to “learn” Japanese…

But first, I highly recommend that you read my explanation of why this question is detrimental to your studies.

Why Are You Asking This Question?

Not too sure if I can do this, yo...

Not too sure if I can do this, yo…

Dude, I google this question, too.

I’ve searched for “hours it takes to learn…” well, pretty much every language out there.

Just this morning, I found myself searching for “hours required to learn Thai.”

And I caught myself.

I thought, Niko, you baka, you scaredy-cat, you 弱虫 (yowamushi, literally, “weak insect”). 

Here’s the problem:

The only time I have ever searched for “hours required to learn Japanese,” or any language, it was because I did not have faith in my ability to learn the language.

If you really want to learn something, if you have this sick feeling in your stomach, like, I MUST do this, then why should it matter how many hours it will take?

If I said 10,000 hours, would you quit?

How about 500 hours?

What price do you put on learning this language?

I’m not saying that some people out there are wrong to give up in the face of overwhelming challenge… depending on how badly they want something.

Life is short. We don’t have time to waste on things we don’t care about. I get that. But what if this is something you do care about? Now what?

Enjoying the Journey

Me enjoying... uh... "language exchange"

Me enjoying… uh… “language exchange”

Many of you may not know this about me, but I’m not only a Japanese-language nerd–I’m also an internet marketing nerd. I guess that’s why I have this site to begin with.

In studying the world of online marketing–of entrepreneurship–I notice strange similarities between learning a language and starting a business.

For example, the other day, I was listening to an amazing interview of Vishen Lakhiani on the Foundr Podcast.

Vishen Lakhiani is the founder of the uber-popular website Mindvalley. And in his quote, he said one thing in particular that really stood out to me:

To move towards your goals, you have to recognize that you cannot tie your happiness to your goals.

This is called the paradox of intention. And it basically states that your happiness cannot be tied to your goal. It must come before you attain your goal. In other words, you must live life finding happiness in the journey.

If you decide that you want to be the most amazing public speaker in the world… and you are telling yourself that I am only going to be happy when I get there, the whole process of getting there… is gonna be unbearable for you, because you’ll never be able to wait until the end.

But if you start to connect your happiness to the journey–seeing the learning aspects, the growth, the failure, as beautiful experiences–you are more likely to reach your goal sooner.

And there is evidence for this. There is evidence that shows that happiness creates better performance.

– Vishel Lakhiani, Founder of Mindvalley,

From “Episode 68: Building The Best Workplace in The World” of the Foundr Podcast

The same is exactly true of Japanese.

If this is some big race to the ever-elusive idea of “fluency,” then you’re gonna hate studying Japanese.

But if you enjoy the journey, it’s going to be awesome.

How Long Does It Take to Become Fluent Japanese?

A lot of you are thinking, Okay, nice pep talk, Niko. Make with the numbers!

That’s harsh, man. T_T

But yeah…

Here’s the thing.

There are so many problems with this question:

  • The word “fluent” is used for so many different levels.
  • Everyone has their own language learning goals.
  • We have to measure this in hours, not some ambiguous “amount of time.”

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) says that it takes 2,200 hours, or 88 weeks. (Source)

That level is for “general proficiency in speaking and reading.” Whatever that means.

I have my own system for judging required (productive) study time.

Time required to…

…take a lesson using only Japanese: 10 hours.
…have a painful conversation: 25 hours.
…have a somewhat enjoyable conversation: 200 hours.
…have Japanese friends that don’t speak English: 600 hours.
…pass JLPT N2, get a job, and handle most situations: 1,500 hours.
…really enjoy TV shows, books, and talking about everyday topics: 2,000 hours.
…effortlessly enjoy TV shows, books, and talking about complicated topics: 3,000 hours.
…be indistinguishable from a native speaker: 10,000 hours.

And before you even ask–yes, I just pulled those numbers out of my… uh… unmentionables. Because–as I hope we’ve already established–it doesn’t matter and it’s not measurable.

One more thing to consider:

The “As Long As It Takes” Philosophy

My young, idiot self. This chump did NOT believe he could learn Japanese.

My young, idiot self. This chump did NOT believe he could learn Japanese.

If I’m really going to commit to something, then my main approach is to commit to doing it no matter how long it may take me.

I will study as long as it takes.

If you can really commit to that one statement, you’re done. The rest is just execution.

Good luck with your studies, everyone!

Keep swimming. Keep swimming for as long as it takes,

Niko ^_^

p.s. If you are thinking of really committing to your studies, start here:

Further Reading

People love to talk about this stuff. Here are a bunch of other resources related to this topic:

(Note: Before you read these, remember that every minute you spend reading articles like this is a minute that you DON’T  get to add to your “time spent learning Japanese.”)


Yo! I'm Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I'm also a Japanese translator, writer, and all-around language nerd.

I created this site to help as many people master Japanese (any language, really) as possible.

Uh, what else? Well... I live in Tokyo, Bangkok, Sapporo, Saigon, San Diego, Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Portland, Oregon! So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I'm probably down for that. Or a coffee. Learning Japanese is tricky-tikki-tavi. But we're in this together. ファイト!

Good luck with your studies!


p.s. If you like my articles, you may very well love my daily lessons.