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How many Japanese words do I need to know?


Learning a new language can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to Japanese. With three writing systems and over 50,000 characters, it’s no wonder that many learners wonder how many words they actually need to know. However, the truth is that there is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends on your goals and the level of proficiency you want to achieve.

The Basics of Japanese Vocabulary

Before we dive into how many words you need to know, let’s first define what we mean by “words.” In Japanese, there are several types of vocabulary: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and particles. Each of these categories has its own set of rules and nuances, which means that you’ll need to learn a variety of words to truly master the language.

Japanese Snack Box

The JLPT Levels

One way to gauge how many words you need to know is by looking at the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). This is a standardized test that measures proficiency in Japanese and has five levels: N5 (beginner), N4 (elementary), N3 (intermediate), N2 (upper intermediate), and N1 (advanced).

N5 Level Vocabulary

At the N5 level, you’ll need to know around 800 basic words and phrases. These include common nouns like “house” and “car,” verbs like “eat” and “sleep,” and particles like “wa” and “no.” You’ll also need to be able to read and write hiragana and katakana.

N4 Level Vocabulary

For the N4 level, you’ll need to know around 1,500 words. This includes more complex grammar structures like passive voice and causative form, as well as more specialized vocabulary related to topics like politics and education.

N3 Level Vocabulary

At the N3 level, you’ll need to know around 3,000 words. This includes more advanced grammar structures like conditional form and relative clauses, as well as more specialized vocabulary related to topics like science and technology.

N2 Level Vocabulary

For the N2 level, you’ll need to know around 6,000 words. This includes advanced grammar structures like honorific language and indirect speech, as well as more specialized vocabulary related to topics like business and economics.

N1 Level Vocabulary

At the highest level of the JLPT, N1, you’ll need to know around 10,000 words. This includes extremely advanced grammar structures like rhetorical questions and hypothetical conditionals, as well as highly specialized vocabulary related to topics like law and medicine.

Beyond the JLPT

Of course, the JLPT is just one way to measure proficiency in Japanese. Depending on your goals for learning the language, you may need to know more or less than the number of words required for each level of the test. For example, if you’re planning on studying abroad in Japan or working in a Japanese-speaking company, you’ll likely need a higher level of proficiency than what’s required for the N1 test.

The Importance of Context

Another thing to keep in mind when learning Japanese vocabulary is that context is key. Japanese is a highly contextual language, which means that the meaning of a word can change depending on its surrounding words or phrases. For example, the word “suki” can mean “like” or “love” depending on how it’s used.

The Role of Practice

Finally, it’s important to remember that simply memorizing a list of Japanese words isn’t enough to truly learn the language. To become proficient in Japanese (or any language), you’ll need plenty of practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Immersing yourself in Japanese media like anime or manga can be a fun way to supplement your studies.


In conclusion, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how many Japanese words you need to know. It depends on your goals for learning the language and how fluent you want to become. However, by setting realistic goals based on the JLPT levels or other proficiency standards and practicing consistently over time, anyone can become proficient in Japanese.

How many words does the average person know Japanese?

The average adult has a passive vocabulary of 20,000 to 35,000 words in their native language, meaning they can understand and recognize these words when they come across them.

How many Japanese words should I learn per day?

My goal is to complete 20-30 lessons every day, with a minimum of 10 focused on Kanji. This helps me avoid learning too many Kanjis in one go, but still enables me to complete most or all of the daily lessons by the end of each level. Currently, I’m averaging the acquisition of 5 Kanjis and 17 words daily. (This statement was made on August 31, 2018).

Is 10,000 Japanese words enough?

Achieving a level of proficiency in a language typically requires around 10,000 words. While reading a novel may still require looking up unfamiliar words, with this level of competence, one can generally understand the main idea of most written and spoken language.

Can I become fluent in Japanese in a year?

Becoming fluent in Japanese is a challenging task that requires a significant investment of time. Typically, it takes at least three years of dedicated study to reach a level of proficiency that resembles fluency. Most learners achieve an advanced level after three or four years of study.

How long can I fluent Japanese?

Achieving an intermediate level of fluency in Japanese requires approximately 1,700 hours of dedicated study. The duration of this process can vary based on the number of hours per day one can allocate for studying, but typically takes between two to four years to reach the desired level.

How many Japanese words are fluent?

Kanji, the writing system used in Japanese, contains over 50,000 characters, but you only need to be familiar with roughly 2,000 of them to be considered fluent. Similarly, knowing about 5,000 Japanese vocabulary words is also enough to be considered fluent.

Tools for Learning Japanese Vocabulary

While learning Japanese vocabulary can seem daunting, there are many resources available to help you along the way. Language-learning apps like Duolingo and Memrise can be a great place to start, as they offer lessons focused on specific categories of vocabulary. Flashcard apps like Anki can also be helpful for memorization.

In addition, there are many textbooks and online courses that can guide you through the process of learning Japanese vocabulary. Some popular options include “Genki: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese” and “JapanesePod101.”

The Importance of Consistency

Learning a language is a long-term commitment, and it’s important to approach it with consistency and dedication. Setting aside a regular study schedule, even if it’s just a few minutes a day, can help ensure that you make steady progress over time.

It’s also important to remember that learning a language is a process, and there will be ups and downs along the way. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle with certain aspects of Japanese vocabulary or grammar – with time and practice, you’ll get there!


In conclusion, learning Japanese vocabulary is an essential part of becoming proficient in the language. While there’s no definitive answer to how many words you need to know, setting goals based on the JLPT levels or other proficiency standards can be a helpful starting point. By using tools like language-learning apps and textbooks, staying consistent in your studies, and practicing regularly, anyone can master Japanese vocabulary over time.

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