The question that everyone wants to know the answer to when they’re interested in picking up Japanese language is: “how long does it take to learn beginner Japanese?” Whether your reason for wanting to learn the language is because of your upcoming trip to Tokyo or you want to watch anime without subtitles, it’s still a question that pops in your mind.
There’s no one straight answer to this question. There are a lot of factors that play a part in the duration of one’s learning journey. Read our other article to find what these factors are!
We’ll have a look at a general timeline of learning beginner Japanese in this article. This is provided that you work with a tutor and regularly practice.
Learning writing systems: 2-4 weeks
The Japanese writing systems are important. There are three: hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ) and kanji (漢字). Some might prefer to learn Japanese with romaji (ロマじ) but I definitely don’t recommend. You should learn the writing systems alongside learning basic grammar and phrases.
Learning the first two writing systems can take 2 to 4 weeks to ace. The key is to be exposed to the writing systems every day, whether you have a practice sheet to write them down or flash cards.
Kanji, on the other hand, is a long, long process. Pick up a few characters as you go along on your learning journey. I’d recommend learning from the JLPT lists from the easiest up, as they cover more basic and everyday kanji in JLPT N5.
Building vocabulary: 2-3 months
Of course, you’ve got to build up your Japanese vocabulary. Similarly, this is best learnt alongside learning basic grammar, but you’ll have to learn more than 200 words to reach a basic comprehension level. This includes greetings and numbers. Similar to learning kanji characters, learning the vocabulary words from JLPT N5 lists is the best way to start building your vocabulary.
You’ll soon begin to recognise these words used in conversation among locals and start to understand based on context clues. When you reach this stage, start taking down the words you hear that you don’t know and search it up after. This greatly helps you to know more conversational words.
Learning phrases & beginner grammar: 2-4 months
Once you know a few Japanese words, it’ll be easier to practice beginner grammar points. Even if you know some Japanese grammar and phrases, it would be difficult to put it into practice when you don’t know the Japanese words for certain things.
Beginner Japanese grammar gets easier the more you learn. At the start, it can be difficult to adjust to the sentence structure, especially if your native language is like English where the sentence structure is the opposite way. But the more you learn and practice, the more natural it becomes.
My advice is to not be too hung up on particular details. Don’t worry about which particle to use. If your aim is to be able to communicate at the basic level when you travel to Japan, then it wouldn’t matter as much. If you aim to take a proficiency test in the future, you should pay attention, just not obsessively.
Tips to learning more efficiently
Learning a new language can be a challenge. Rather than a challenge of understanding, it’s a challenge of effort and motivation. When our motivation is down, it affects our progress in the learning journey. We’ll give you 3 tips to learn Japanese more efficiently.
1. Consistently practice
Practice is the key here, and you have to do it consistently. The ideal situation is to set aside a couple of minutes each day to memorise the writing systems and new vocabulary words, and a couple of days a week to study the grammar points. It’s not too hard to set aside this time to study Japanese if you are really motivated to be able to speak it.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
From my personal experience, I get too self conscious about being wrong. It affected my potential to improve. So I advise you to be more daring than me and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t worry if you get something wrong. You’re just learning, anyway. The Japanese locals are always more than happy to help those who have interest in their language.
3. Make studying fun
Some people might think that studying is a chore. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be. Studying can be fun if you make it to be. If you think earning alone is boring, find study buddies to study together. If you don’t like writing, get flash cards to act as visual aids. There are so many ways to study. You just have to find the style that suits you and keeps you motivated to study Japanese!
6 Months For Basic Comprehension… Challenge Accepted?
A rough estimate to learn basic Japanese is 6 months. I’ve known friends who’ve done it in 3, and some others took longer. At the end of the day, it really depends on each individual. So what do you say, do you accept the challenge to learn basic Japanese in 6 months? Check out Nihongo Master for a fun and easy way to go from absolute beginner to fluent! Good luck!