The Amount of Daily Study Time Needed to Learn Japanese

Learning Japanese is a process that takes many hours, and the question becomes how much or how many hours should I spend learning Japanese per day? The number of hours you are able to commit per day is ultimately what will have the largest impact on how many years it will take to reach your Japanese fluency goals. So, you will want to spend a good chunk of time learning every day.

In general, it is recommended that learners spend 2 hours per day studying Japanese. This rate of study will enable a learner to achieve general professional proficiency in Japanese in a time frame of 6.2 years. Increasing or decreasing study hours will shorten or extend the time frame respectively.

The following table indicates the number of years it will take to reach general professional proficiency based on the number of hours per day you spend learning. For the purposes of the calculation, one year is assumed to be 50 weeks.

Hours of Japanese Study per DayHours of Japanese Study per YearYears to Reach General Professional Proficiency in Japanese
The number of years it takes to reach professional working proficiency in Japanese according to the number of study hours per day.

General professional proficiency is a language skill level on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. In terms of a learner’s speaking ability, general professional proficiency is defined in part as: able to speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations in practical, social and professional topics [1].

Achieving general professional proficiency is a good goal to aim for because it means that you can work and carry out your daily affairs all in Japanese! You are quite fluent in Japanese at this point, but still have some limitations. You may make some errors and you may struggle to talk about specific topics for which you have not acquired the domain specific vocabulary.  

The Interagency Language Roundtable scale starts at level 0 and consists of 6 main levels, with some intermediary levels between the main ones, resulting in 11 total levels. General professional proficiency is main level 3. At level 0, the language learner only knows a few words. The highest level, level 5, is functionally native proficiency in which speaking proficiency is functionally equivalent to that of a highly articulate well-educated native speaker.

What Japanese Skill Level Can Be Achieved in How Many Hours?

On route to achieving general professional proficiency, you may wonder how quickly you will be able to achieve some of the levels that come before it. The graph below shows how long it will take to progress through each of the levels starting from 0 up to level 3. We can see that by dedicating more hours per day to learning Japanese we can dramatically cut the number of years it will take to achieve general professional proficiency.

Hours of Study of Japanese per Day vs. Years to Achieve Professional Working Proficiency

These hours are calculated based on information from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). The FSI trains U.S. foreign service professionals and provides them with intensive language training. According to the FSI, Japanese is one of the languages that takes more hours to learn for English speakers compared to other languages more closely related to English, such as French.

For Japanese is takes 2200 class hours to achieve general professional proficiency [2,3]. FSI classes are 25 hours per week, but in addition to class hours, learners usually spend 3-4 hours on self-directed learning per day [4]. Between class hours and self-directed study, learners would spend about 39.5 hours per week studying. Classes span over 88 weeks, and it takes 4356 total hours to reach general professional proficiency.

The table below shows the number of hours it takes to reach various language skill levels in Japanese on route to general professional proficiency.

Language Skill LevelClass HoursTotal Hours including Self-Directed Learning
The number of hours it takes to reach various language skill levels in Japanese.

We can use the data presented in this article to answer some related questions about the time it takes to learn Japanese. One common line of questioning is “can I learn Japanese in 1 year? Or 2 years?”. These are exceptionally fast time frames. Ultimately it comes down to how many hours you are able to commit to studying per week, which in turn determines what level you can achieve.

Over the course of 1 year at 8 hours per day of study, on average Japanese can be learned up to level 2, limited working proficiency, on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. At this level, learners can get the gist of most everyday conversations and speak in a minimally cohesive manner.

Learning Japanese in the span of 1 year is a tall order. With many hours of study per day, you can progress quite far, but it is very unlikely that within 1 year you will reach the level of fluency you had envisioned for yourself when starting your learning journey. Allowing for two years of learning is a more reasonable time frame, but still requires a very high number of study hours per day.

Over the course of 2 years at 8 hours per day of study, on average Japanese can be learned to over level 3, general professional proficiency, on the Interagency Language Roundtable scale. At this level, learners can confidently participate in most types of formal and informal conversations.

As mentioned, learning Japanese is all about investing hours towards study and practice. For many learners, it is likely that they can’t spend 8 hours per day studying, 1 or 2 hours is more realistic. So, with these amounts of daily study, the question becomes how long will it take to learn Japanese? The answer is measured in many years, which is a reality for language learning.   

Japanese can be learned in 1 hour per day, but learners will be much better served if they increase their study time to 2 or more hours per day. At 1 hour of study per day general professional proficiency is achieved in 12.4 years, whereas it takes 6.2 years to reach this level at 2 hours per day. 

These numbers can seem demotivating, but they are realistic. And if learning Japanese is important to you, then it is worth committing to the journey of many years. At the time of writing, I myself have spent about 12 years learning Japanese. I am nowhere near native level, but I am certainly at least a bit above general professional proficiency.

I have spent most of my time learning Japanese outside of Japan. Initially, I front loaded my effort by taking intensive classes over the course of about 12 weeks. I probably had about 400 hours of study before I went to Japan for an 8-month internship. During my internship I was working full time, mainly in English, so I was not learning and practicing Japanese full time, but I did accumulate about 1000 more hours.

When I got back from Japan after my internship, I studied outside of Japan for about 9 years. On average, I was probably studying less than one hour per day. There were periods where I did not study at all. But I did continue to study because I enjoyed it and I did make slow improvement. At this point, I am able to do my job and talk to customers in Japanese.  

What I am saying is, there is no reason to think that if you can only spend 1 hour per day or even only 30 minutes per day studying that you will never be able to learn Japanese. It will take many years to get there, but it can be done. Consistency is the key. It is better to study 30 minutes every day than one 7.5-hour study session once per week.

Squeezing Out More Daily Study Time to Learn Japanese

If you are feeling really short on time, fortunately there are ways to squeeze more time out of a day than you may have thought. You just need to look for the opportunities. One of the most important things to focus on when learning Japanese (or any language) is to take in a lot of input. One of the best ways to get input is through podcasts.

You can listen to podcasts while you are doing other things, such as when you’re commuting to work, preparing meals, doing household chores, working out… Identify the activities where the demand on your focused attention is low enough that you can put on headphones and focus on listening to Japanese content.

No matter your current level, even absolute beginner, I highly recommend going to to get your podcast content. They have an amazing system to give you content appropriate for your level. Another source of podcasts I recommend is Nihongo Con Teppei. If you are upper beginner or above, Teppei’s podcasts are ones you can enjoy in all Japanese.

One tip about podcasts is to make sure that when you put your headphones on, you can just press play and listen. Make sure you have everything queued-up in advance. Besides podcasts, another way to squeeze out more daily time is through apps. Try to identify the times of day where you can pull out your phone and spend 10 minutes or more learning from an app. Are there times where you are waiting for the train? Do you have extra time on your lunch break?

I have found apps to be really great particularly for flashcards and learning kanji. For flashcards, Anki is the gold standard and I recommend spending the money to buy their smartphone app. You can easily make you flashcard decks in advance or on the fly, and when you have those precious few minutes, you can pull out your phone out and review a few words. One big tip for acquiring new words is to learn them as part of an example sentence.

For kanji learning apps, there are Wanikani and KanjiBox. Wanikani is an amazing mnemonics-based system for learning kanji and associated vocabulary words. At the time of writing, it is technically a desktop only app, but mobile app developers in the Wanikani community have made mobile interfaces for it. I recommend Tsurukame.

KanjiBox is all about learning to draw kanji. The app has several other kanji review features as well, but the one I find most useful is the kanji draw feature in which you draw a character on the screen and you receive instant feedback on whether you drew it right or not. Kanji is an aspect of learning Japanese that takes considerable practice. Apps are a great way to help you squeeze out the time you need to get your practice.

Making Time to Study Japanese

Another way to increase your daily study hours is by making time. I recommend doing a time audit of your day. What are all the activities you do over the course of the day? Every fifteen minutes, write down what you have been doing for that fifteen-minute time block. Once you have your data, have a close and hard look at it and decided what activities are not absolutely necessary and eliminate them.

For example, if you watch any TV or Youtube content that is not contributing to your Japanese learning, eliminate it. Also, really be honest with yourself about areas in which you may not be the most efficient. Can you schedule yourself so that you read and respond to emails and other messages just twice a day? Once you’ve made your time, you can now dedicate it towards learning Japanese!

My top recommendation is to adjust your schedule so that you get up early, say 5AM, and spend one to two hours on focused learning. If you can get your focused learning done first thing in the morning, you can go about the rest of your day just finding the places where you can squeeze out more study time without the guilt of not having dedicated time to a focused study session. With this strategy you can easily get the recommended 2 hours of study per day or more!

Another great way to make time for Japanese is by working with a private tutor. You can easily work with a private tutor online, so you have total independence of location. The reason I recommend working with a private tutor is because it is an advanced commitment that you have paid for. It can be easy to break a commitment to yourself and skip a study session, but its harder break a commitment with your tutor. Can you commit to 3 one-hour sessions per week?

I should also mention that working with a native-speaking private tutor is a great way to accelerate your learning. The reason is because your tutor can easily identify your weaknesses, and help you work on them. The best place to find a tutor that you want to work with and at very reasonable cost is italki. I have written about the benefits of working with an italki tutor here.

The Fastest Way to Accumulate Japanese Study Hours

If learning Japanese really is important to you, the best thing you can do to accumulate the hours you need in a short amount of time, not to mention have an amazing life experience, is to go to a language school in Japan and study full time. In this case, you really could be learning for about 56 hrs per week, and it would take you just over a year and a half to reach professional proficiency.

Going to a language school in Japan is a big commitment and you do need to arrange your life in very significant way to be able to do it. It also has a cost both in terms of tuition and the opportunity cost of not working. But in the end, it’s not a cost, it’s an investment in yourself. Once you get to a high enough proficiency in Japanese, it will open other career opportunities for you, including working in Japan!

To learn more about the cost of attending a language school in Japan and the cost of learning Japanese through other means such as self-study, I have written in detail about it here. If funds are tight and you are really hoping to just learn through self-study, I have also written about how to do it completely for free here.

If you have not yet gotten started on your Japanese learning journey, please let me recommend a great resource for absolute beginners which is the Genki textbook series. I have written all about the benefits of using Genki here. These books will be a great way to build your foundation and get your first 200-400 hours of Japanese learning under your belt. Happy learning!


[1] Interagency Language Roundtable. ILR Speaking Skill Scale.

[2] Foreign Service Institute. Foreign Language Training. U.S. Department of State.

[3] Expected Levels Of Absolute Speaking Proficiency In Languages Taught At The Foreign Service Institute.

[4] The Foreign Service Institute – Language Learning Time Table.

Colten Dumonceau

My goal is to provide information that will help you learn Japanese as quickly and effectively as possible. I have spent more than ten years learning Japanese, mostly self-taught, from absolute beginner to an advanced level. I believe its possible to go much faster than I did. Please let me share with you the best learning strategies I have uncovered.

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