This is 3.5 Years of Learning a Language

“What’s your level of Japanese?”

I get asked this question regularly. It usually comes after somebody has asked me how my weekend/week/day has been and I mention that I studied some Japanese. After the natural next question of “How long have you been studying?” (3.5 years) people now ask, “Are you fluent?” (No)

I always have a hard time with these questions. After hearing about my study habit and duration, people expect progress and want to know what my progress has been. Yet, descriptions such as “I’m at about a JLPT N4 level” mean nothing to non-Japanese learners, and a non-Japanese speaker has no ability to evaluate my Japanese level.

To indicate my level of Japanese proficiency, I often end up doing a “demo” by saying something. This usually ends up being something like, “Today is Saturday. It is cloudy.” While impressive to my audience, it’s pretty funny when they find out what I said is about the level of a 3 year old.

It’s also hard to gauge my progress when it’s so gradual over time. I definitely can’t hold a conversation in Japanese outside of my lessons.

With this post, I wanted to take a snapshot of where my progress is. It’ll be fun to check back later on and see how I was at this point in time.

As of December 2019, I’ve taken 890 lessons. Technology has drastically reduced the friction in taking lessons. I love that I can take a real time lesson with a tutor anywhere around the world, via video chat.

Study Method

I started learning Japanese 3.5 years ago. For the first year, I studied more than I do now, which was usually an hour each day and 2-4 hours per day on the weekends. For the last 2 years I settled into milder routine where I study for about an hour about 6 days per week with tutors. I use iTalki to find tutors, and my tutors range from full time tutors to students to regular people looking to converse. All lessons are held via Skype.

I don’t study or do homework beyond my hour per day, which limits my rate of learning, but I’m OK with that. (Note: I definitely get scolded by a few of my tutors for not remembering things we just learned the previous lesson)

Due to other priorities and interests, I’ve put my Japanese studying on autopilot, and I practice every morning right after I wake up (I wrote about my “autopilot” process here).

With my tutors, we usually do a mix of free conversation, textbook exercises, grammar, reading, and writing practice.

italki lesson count
I passed 700 lessons on iTalki 2 weeks back. I did about 180 lessons on Verbling previously.


2019: 3.5 Years of Studying

To track my progress to date, I made a video capturing my current Japanese ability. I included English subtitles in the video so turn those on if not already enabled.

I made a similar video after 2 years of studying.

What it took to make the video

The 4 minute video took a lot of work, and due to the prep beforehand, illustrates better Japanese than what I could do instantaneously or in a conversation. In other words, this is the absolute best of my ability. Here’s what went into making the video:

Script – I wrote the script myself, but used my tutors to help check and correct my sentences. I worked on the script over a the course of probably a month. It was exhausting work to write full sentences and I kept putting it off. I usually worked on the script in bouts of  20 minutes. I estimate I spent a total 4 hours writing and editing the script. I used Google translate to double check my work also.

Video – I did 3-4 takes for the video. I probably read the script out loud about 4 times. The video took about 2 hours to make, including script edits, practicing, and retakes. I added the English subtitles manually and they are direct copy/paste from my script. It took me a few hours to figure out how subtitles worked and to add them properly to my video. My script was written in Japanese and I used kanji with hiragana. In the video it’s noticeable when I’m struggling to read what I wrote.

japanese script
This took a really long time, and there are still lots of mistakes.

What’s Next

A lot of people ask me why I’m learning Japanese.

I wrote about some of the reasons why I love learning a new language in a prior post.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I told my friend that learning a new language has been life changing.

Even as I said that, I was taken back. Life changing is a pretty strong statement. The previous post I wrote has some good highlights, but in the past year I’ve expanded on the reasons why I learning a language has changed me.

I’ll write another post on this topic and link here once written. (subscribe to be notified once the post is up) 😛

I’ve learned to just enjoy the journey of learning a new language. And with no expectations nor pressure, I’m happy to just keep on learning.

At my slow autopilot pace.

I told my friend that learning a new language has been life changing.

Thank you to all the teachers who’ve helped me over the years: Theo, Atsushi, Candy, Hagi, Yuki, Anna, Imelia, Sheida, Celine, Misa, Mayuna, Yasu, Chiho, and more. Thank you for your patience and for tolerating my tardiness and grogginess every morning. 🙂

Prior Video

For reference, here’s my 2018 video after 2 years of studying Japanese:

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