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Fastest possible rate to learn Japanese?

#1
What is in your opinion the fastest time/rate (humanly achievable) in which Japanese can be learned? (N5 to N1)

Assuming one had unlimited time and all the right resources: would it take about 18-24 months?
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#2
There have been reports of people clearing N1 in 18 months. That doesn't mean you've "learned Japanese", though - you've just gotten the preliminaries out of the way.

If you have the free time, then by all means, go for it Smile But also don't get discouraged if it takes longer. Truly mastering another language is a project to which you can devote an entire lifetime. Passing a test like the JLPT is just a single milestone on that path.

This has been discussed before - here are some other people's answers, along with some tips:

How long did it take YOU to pass JLPT4/3/2/1?

From scratch to N1 in 2 and half Years - good practical advice on how to accomplish this feat.

drdunlap's story - how he did N1 in a little under three years

If you're just getting started, I'd also suggest the Methods page on the Wiki, which contains a summary of how some legendary members made their way (some in very compressed time frames).
Edited: 2017-07-04, 10:07 am
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#3
It's quite common to see Chinese&Korean people go from 0 to N1 in one year. At about 8-12 hours of day study pace. 

It really depends what you mean by learning and by Japanese. If it's just passing the N1 (a fairly easy, heavily standardised multiple choice test) then sure. But that hardly means you could carry a conversation.
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#4
if your are judging based on the JLPT test, some people claimed they got N1 within one year of studying.
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#5
(2017-07-04, 10:06 am)Zgarbas Wrote: It really depends what you mean by learning and by Japanese. If it's just passing the N1 (a fairly easy, heavily standardised multiple choice test) then sure. But that hardly means you could carry a conversation.

This. I've heard many stories from iTalki teachers about Chinese etc. students who have N2 or N1, but can barely speak. It's good to be clear about what your goals are.
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#6
I pushed pretty hard on studying, I'm a good test-taking learner, and it still took me about six years to get all the way to N1 (old 1kyuu) - I started studying in October 2003 and took the version of 1kyuu that I eventually passed in Dec 2009. But I got to a barely-passing level of 2kyuu (now N2) already by Dec 2005, so the majority of that time was reaching a higher level of reading fluency. (I still don't think my speaking ability is much above N3.) And, while I haven't studied as hard since 2010, I still feel that my skills are not where I'd like them to be, so the road after N1 is long.

After passing 2kyuu the first time in Dec 2005, I retook it for a higher score in Dec 2006, took a year off in Dec 2007 because I wasn't near ready for 1kyuu, took 1kyuu and failed in Dec 2008, and finally passed 1kyuu after I took it in Dec 2009.

I have no idea how anyone could possibly pass N1 after only a year; it would have to be someone with a strong base already (e.g. a Chinese learner with better than average starting kanji knowledge).

Reading at the N2 level is doable within 2 years if you really push, but fluency will take longer. YMMV. My reading has always far outpaced my other skills, but then that's always been true of me as a language learner (eg when learning French as a kid).
Edited: 2017-07-04, 10:21 am
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#7
How fast depends on how urgently you need to be able to.  Remember Midnight Express?  The guy (played by Brad Davis) apparently had to learn Turkish pretty quickly in order to survive in prison.
Edited: 2017-07-04, 12:59 pm
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#8
I got ~75% right in the written part of the N1 workbook at 9.5 months, and better than that in the listening part a month later. No JLPT-specific studying.

I guess less than six months would be extremely hard.
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#9
I think that the US Government has a good track record of getting people fluent in foreign languages in a fairly short amount of time.

A former coworker enlisted in the army and got selected to become a Korean translator. I forget how many months the program was, but it was intense: small classroom size, several hours a day. And, as he said, "Because we were in the army, we spent our free time studying too." I believe that this is the place: http://www.dliflc.edu/. It's in Monterey, CA.

Also, I think that you can enroll as a private student in their language program. I'm not sure the details, but it at least looks like their language program overlaps with Middlebury: http://www.miis.edu/.

If they don't overlap somehow, then it's a funny coincidence to have two intense language programs in the same small city Big Grin

Here's a direct link to Middlebury's language program: http://www.miis.edu/academics/language/programs

I have occasionally daydreamed about enrolling and becoming a Japanese language ninja overnight. But as a practical matter, Japanese is just a hobby for me, and so I'd never really do that Big Grin

That being said, I'm certain that if you emailed or called MIIS and asked this question, they'd give you a "real" answer.
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#10
(2017-07-04, 4:34 pm)ariariari Wrote: I think that the US Government has a good track record of getting people fluent in foreign languages in a fairly short amount of time.

A former coworker enlisted in the army and got selected to become a Korean translator. I forget how many months the program was, but it was intense: small classroom size, several hours a day. And, as he said, "Because we were in the army, we spent our free time studying too." I believe that this is the place: http://www.dliflc.edu/. It's in Monterey, CA.

I've heard this too and knew someone long ago that ended up doing the same thing (Korean in Army). Something I've always wondered about this though is how much of it is aptitude. They have the aptitude test that they give everyone entering the services and they use that to help judge the most likely place to put them. If they (the military) are actually good at figuring that stuff out, then maybe the only people going into the program have a knack for easily picking up new languages and that's why it seems like they turn out fairly fluent people quite quick.
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#11
(2017-07-04, 6:51 pm)vix86 Wrote:
(2017-07-04, 4:34 pm)ariariari Wrote: I think that the US Government has a good track record of getting people fluent in foreign languages in a fairly short amount of time.

A former coworker enlisted in the army and got selected to become a Korean translator. I forget how many months the program was, but it was intense: small classroom size, several hours a day. And, as he said, "Because we were in the army, we spent our free time studying too." I believe that this is the place: http://www.dliflc.edu/. It's in Monterey, CA.

I've heard this too and knew someone long ago that ended up doing the same thing (Korean in Army). Something I've always wondered about this though is how much of it is aptitude. They have the aptitude test that they give everyone entering the services and they use that to help judge the most likely place to put them. If they (the military) are actually good at figuring that stuff out, then maybe the only people going into the program have a knack for easily picking up new languages and that's why it seems like they turn out fairly fluent people quite quick.

Yes, there's a Defense Language Aptitude Test that they give. I took it in Marine Corps basic training and did not do well I believe. It was basically testing how well you can change out grammar rules and vocabulary then keep those rules in your head as the questions were asked (this was 24 years ago so I forgot a lot about the test). You're right that they want to teach people that tend to be receptive to that type of teaching. 

Look up Zer0range's post on the forum as he did attend the Defense Language Institute for learning Chinese. What's cool is that he utilized many techniques brought up here with regard to Japanese and he did quite well. Yeah, it was still a lot of studying both in class and on your free time.
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#12
Yeah, besides aptitude I think that there's also a "this is your career" aspect to it.

My friend wound up passing the final proficiency exam but then did something completely unrelated to language in the army. But by maintaining his proficiency he was able to earn extra money every pay period. I can't remember if he had to take the proficiency exam once a year or every 6 months. But he kept up his language ability in order to pass the exam and earn the higher salary. That was a carrot for him.

The people who went on to become linguists had a "stick" motivation as well. If they ever got below a certain score on the exam, they wound up in trouble in their career.

I just mention this to emphasize how different his foreign language experience was from mine. Of course I did JET, and was living in Japan for a while. But now it's just a hobby for me. I've just never had an experience where my career progression was tied up with my foreign language ability. From what I can tell, most people on this forum are closer to where I am (a hobbyist) than my friend was (a professional).

But reflecting on this story is a great reminder to me that if language learning does become a "career must-have" then you can wind up in a professional intensive environment and make really rapid progress. I think that it's hard to replicate that type of experience self-studying. Especially as a hobbyist.
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#13
Ah thats a fair point ariariari, on "this is my career." There is probably even a bit of a parallel in there between someone feeling the push because of the career and a similar kind of push that children get with learning their L1. We can't ask a kid how he feels in the process of acquiring, but there is probably a strong carrot and stick urge behind getting it down.
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#14
Speed = distance over time.
If time is infinite ∞
S = (n1-n5)/∞
Or s = 0
assuming unlimited time the fastest possible rate is 0
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#15
Kids definitely have a lot to lose if they don't learn. At my kindergarden, our L1 wasn't allowed. Some kids cracked and had their parents withdraw them, but most of us were gone from 0 to speaking after about a month: the threat of isolation was a *very* motivating factor.

Teacher was a peach so she reminded us at the end of the day that no one is talking to us because we can't English yet, not because of some flaw of our own. Then she proceeded to ignore us throughout the next day until we could ask her something in English.

Similarly, being thrown into an environment where your L1 just isn't an option, or where your future depends on learning? Greaaat motivation. Went from N4 to N1 in 2 years when I realised it was something I needed, after it took me 2 years just to pass the N5 *blush*.

Japan is very accomodating to non-Japanese speakers, so the urgency isn't there as much. Maybe that's why I haven't really met anyone who actually learned any Japanese in this country...
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#16
(2017-07-05, 5:39 am)Zg arbas Wrote: Japan is very accomodating to non-Japanese speakers, so the urgency isn't there as much. Maybe that's why I haven't really met anyone who actually learned any Japanese in this country...
I get that you are probably [half] joking. They are hard to find though mainly because when you are highly fluent, you aren't restricted by the language bubble anymore. Building relationships with other Japanese becomes easier (still cultural barriers in some cases), which is what really restricts some people that land in Japan and never improve *cough*English Teachers*cough*. They end up only floating around in scenes they can communicate (ie: international bars). I know a guy that went to Japan though sub-N2 and eventually got his N1. I know another guy that went to Sophia Uni for 4 years low Japanese skill at the start, graduated, did the typical Japanese job search and was hired at a banking firm.

But ya, Japan is very accommodating and it'll only get "worse" as time goes by as the Japanese govt. realizes their English curriculum and general populace expertise is crap. Use to be that English lessons weren't mandatory until like 6th grade, now that's been pushed back to like 3rd. I eventually expect it to start in 1st and maybe even see a push to have English bleed over into other classes (Social Studies, Math, Science).
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#17
I'm not joking. I'm sure some of them are around, but in my exp they're far from the norm: mext undergrads, people who came here on a japanese studies scholarship or who are majoring in Japanese, people who were outright told by their bosses/advisors to pass the N1 or go back home... (i do hang out with foreigners a lot, albeit not the western gaijin bubble.)

I'm not saying Japan is inclusive or anything (if anything they're helping build the segregation), But unless you're a JET who lands on a tiny island, chances are you can always find a way in English/Chinese/Portuguese. and that lowers the stakes and immediacy of learning Japanese...

On top of that, I find Japanese speakers quite good at getting the gist of things despite the mistakes (unlike, say, brazilians or chinese), which is what got me and many of the people I know stuck on a neat plateau since day 1. I swear my Japanese hasn't improved, and it's the same for many of my colleagues: we joke that coming to Japan is when you can finally take a break from studying the language (our advisors disapprove of this :p). I speak a lot faster but I've been making the same mistakes since day 1, and my newly acquired extensive knowledge of gay slang just replaced my previous knowledge of non-daily Japanese.

I haven't really met many advanced speakers who started from scratch and did all their studies in Japan. Most advanced speakers I know got most of their knowledge abroad and simply got to practice it here, simply because of the lack of incentive, the fact that you don't feel like studying after listening passively to it all day, and at times just genuine lack of interest or reason. Taking 10 minutes a day to study kanji at this point just feels like *such a pain*, and the only downside to not doing it is slight embarassment when I get caught while handwriting.

university life makes the bubbles particularly strong, so maybe I just have a biased sample to compare with... Basically everyone hangs out with folk from their own country, in neat little bubbles. the chinese bubbles, the korean bubbles, the latino bubble, the brazilian bubble, the english bubbles, the indian bubble, the sri lankan bubble, the arabic bubble... We have them all :p trust me, I tried fitting in with almost all of them at some point to get that bubble diaspora feel.

(I basically drew the short straw by not having anyone from my country to bubble with. 0/10 would not recommend. Did wonders for my spanish tho!)
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#18
(2017-07-05, 7:26 am)vix86 Wrote: But ya, Japan is very accommodating and it'll only get "worse" as time goes by as the Japanese govt. realizes their English curriculum and general populace expertise is crap. Use to be that English lessons weren't mandatory until like 6th grade, now that's been pushed back to like 3rd. I eventually expect it to start in 1st and maybe even see a push to have English bleed over into other classes (Social Studies, Math, Science).

I know that we've now strayed very far from the OP's original question. But I think that we've also answered it to the best of our ability, so I don't feel too bad going down this rabbit hole Big Grin

Last year I ran into a Japanese guy at a language meetup who mentioned that the age at which English is being introduced in Japanese schools is going down. He mentioned this with great pride, as though "this will finally solve the problem we Japanese have with learning English."

My response was a more polite version of this "Spending more time in a failed won't lead to success." 

My impression is that the Japanese curriculum is actually pretty good at teaching vocabulary, grammar and maybe even reading too. 

But when it comes to speaking or expressing original thought in the language, it just sorta ignores it. Couple that with a culture that values not making mistakes in front of other people (which is bound to happen when you speak a foreign language), and you get students at the end who, well, just can't speak at all.

I mentioned this in another thread, but I recently did some language exchange over Skype with a scientist who is going to Europe to do a poster session at a conference. I started the session by asking "What's your name?" There was a full 60 second pause before he said "My name is Tanaka". I thought to myself "Wow, this conference is going to suck for you. You invested all this time in your research, submitting an abstract, building a poster, etc. And you're basically not going to be able to speak to anyone about your work, or socialize with any of the participants."

I've often wondered why more Japanese don't use services like italki. I certainly recommended it to him. I think that if he took, say, one 30 minute, private conversation lesson with a teacher each week for six months then he'd see a large increase in his speaking ability. It's certainly affordable to someone who has a full-time job. And the potential upside seems so great to me (being able to actually speak about your work at a conference).
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#19
(2017-07-05, 10:39 am)ariariari Wrote: My impression is that the Japanese curriculum is actually pretty good at teaching vocabulary, grammar and maybe even reading too. 

But when it comes to speaking or expressing original thought in the language, it just sorta ignores it.
On the other hand, every town in Japan is full of 英会話 places, so there clearly is both demand and takeup for trying to get better at the spoken side, surely?
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#20
(2017-07-05, 11:51 am)pm215 Wrote:
(2017-07-05, 10:39 am)ariariari Wrote: My impression is that the Japanese curriculum is actually pretty good at teaching vocabulary, grammar and maybe even reading too. 

But when it comes to speaking or expressing original thought in the language, it just sorta ignores it.
On the other hand, every town in Japan is full of 英会話 places, so there clearly is both demand and takeup for trying to get better at the spoken side, surely?

Honestly, as adults, most people aren't *really* interested in learning a foreign language. They say they are, but when they realize how much time and effort it takes to actually get mediocre (not good, just mediocre), those language classes usually go on the garbage heap along with that exercise bike they bought for New Years. Foreign language programs have an incredibly high drop-out rate in the US; I can't imagine the situation is any better in Japan.

How many people have you met who discover you know Japanese say, "Oh, I'd love to learn a language someday!", but who never actually do it? Like others have said, unless you're a huge geek (present company included) or your job is on the line, there's not much incentive. It's much easier to binge-watch Netflix.

From the company side, investing in English education is expensive, and takes people away from their day jobs. I remember this last time we were in Tokyo we caught a variety show with a segment on train station workers who had to help tourists with questions. Their idea of "Eikaiwa" was get everyone together one morning and play a cassette tape of English phrases that everyone repeated out loud. Naturally, when this level of "training" came in contact with reality (an actual question from an American tourist), hilarity ensued. It was as amusing to watch as it was painful.

tl;dr - Until education at the elementary level on up improves, I don't think you'll see much of a shift.
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#21
(2017-07-05, 11:51 am)pm215 Wrote:
(2017-07-05, 10:39 am)ariariari Wrote: My impression is that the Japanese curriculum is actually pretty good at teaching vocabulary, grammar and maybe even reading too. 

But when it comes to speaking or expressing original thought in the language, it just sorta ignores it.
On the other hand, every town in Japan is full of 英会話 places, so there clearly is both demand and takeup for trying to get better at the spoken side, surely?

Eikaiwa is such a joke most of the time. If it's not repetitive af then a lot of japanese students get scared and drop out. My eikaiwa students are fortunately lovely&talkative, but a lot of the eikaiwa business baffles me. I substituted for a friend once and found myself in front of a japanese man too shy to even tell me his name. I got maybe 10 sentences out of him in an hour. I asked my friend of I had scared him or something but no, for the past two years this guy has been meeting with her one hour per week and basically staring at her trying to get him to say basic sentences. What a waste of both of their time and a good lot of money ($25 per session)!

It's like they like the idea of learning but have no idea how to do it. 'Conversation parties' where you have the exact same opening conversation a million times, eikaiwa classes where you say nothing, japanese english classes where you discuss how hard English is in Japanese.
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#22
(2017-07-05, 11:51 am)pm215 Wrote:
(2017-07-05, 10:39 am)ariariari Wrote: My impression is that the Japanese curriculum is actually pretty good at teaching vocabulary, grammar and maybe even reading too. 

But when it comes to speaking or expressing original thought in the language, it just sorta ignores it.
On the other hand, every town in Japan is full of 英会話 places, so there clearly is both demand and takeup for trying to get better at the spoken side, surely?

In my experience eikaiwa is geared towards adults.

When I said I "Japanese curriculum" I was just referring to what is taught in public schools for children.

Sorry if that wasn't clear. When I lived in Japan I actually taught at both (a middle school on JET and eikaiwa on the side).
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#23
(2017-07-05, 12:45 pm)Zgarbas Wrote:
(2017-07-05, 11:51 am)pm215 Wrote:
(2017-07-05, 10:39 am)ariariari Wrote: My impression is that the Japanese curriculum is actually pretty good at teaching vocabulary, grammar and maybe even reading too. 

But when it comes to speaking or expressing original thought in the language, it just sorta ignores it.
On the other hand, every town in Japan is full of 英会話 places, so there clearly is both demand and takeup for trying to get better at the spoken side, surely?

Eikaiwa is such a joke most of the time. If it's not repetitive af then a lot of japanese students get scared and drop out. My eikaiwa students are fortunately lovely&talkative, but a lot of the eikaiwa business baffles me. I substituted for a friend once and found myself in front of a japanese man too shy to even tell me his name. I got maybe 10 sentences out of him in an hour. I asked my friend of I had scared him or something but no, for the past two years this guy has been meeting with her one hour per week and basically staring at her trying to get him to say basic sentences. What a waste of both of their time and a good lot of money ($25 per session)!

It's like they like the idea of learning but have no idea how to do it. 'Conversation parties' where you have the exact same opening conversation a million times, eikaiwa classes where you say nothing, japanese english classes where you discuss how hard English is in Japanese.

This sounds familiar. I had similar experiences when I lived there back in the early 2000s. It was very frustrating.
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#24
(2017-07-05, 10:39 am)ariariari Wrote: My impression is that the Japanese curriculum is actually pretty good at teaching vocabulary, grammar and maybe even reading too. 
The problem is that the curriculum is actually split (unless its changed in the last 2-3 years). The elementary school curriculum places a huge focus on speaking and listening. When I was an ALT, they basically told us that elementary lessons should not require any reading or writing. You could write write on the board for the benefit of a few, but you couldn't expect anyone to know what it meant. This resulted in a lot of your lessons being games or activities that revolved around doing call and response type stuff. The reading and writing occurs when kids hit Junior high.

I was in Junior highs (so were you) so I saw the impact of this. The mentality was very sink or swim most of the time. The first 2 weeks of class in 1st year junior high was teaching the alphabet. You had to learn to write and recognize English letters in 2 weeks. After that you were exposed to simple English sentences ("I am John") and words (cat, dog, etc). By the end of the month they needed to be able to read and write a simple greeting/introduction for themselves. The kids that went to Juku fared perfectly fine because juku had been teaching this stuff to them since who knows when, but some kids had a complete break down. There were about 2-3 kids in each class that were gungho about English when they entered the class but they eventually reached a point where they couldn't keep up with the reading/writing bit of English or the more complicated grammar structures; and they completely shut off.

Getting elementary curriculum fully involved in the learning process is important, but I also think changing some teacher's attitudes is important as well. Some teachers think English isn't important (in elementary) and this attitude rubs off onto kids. Have you ever thought about where the phrase: 日本人だから英語できない gets instilled? Elementary schools. I had a fellow ALT tell me once that he heard one of the homeroom teachers in Elementary say something like that to a kid that just wasn't getting it. Its hard enough learning a language, but throwing nihonjinron into the mix doesn't freaking help.

Sorry, got a little carried away on this topic maybe. Way off topic now.

EDIT: Probably should have replied to the eikaiwa stuff above as well. Eikaiwa for adults is basically hobby related learning. There are some strong parallels between eikaiwa and most Japanese learners abroad (and maybe on these forums).
Edited: 2017-07-05, 4:22 pm
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#25
My remark about eikaiwa was mostly prompted by ariariari's anecdote about the scientist who's in need of speaking practice -- the concept of language learning focusing on improving speaking ability clearly can't be unfamiliar to him, even if the compulsory education system hasn't dealt him a very good starting hand...
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