Japanese is one of the most popular languages to study globally—it ranked 5th globally in the 2023 Duolingo Language Report! Driven by the worldwide success of Japan’s anime, manga, music, movies, and food, more people than ever are looking to learn this East Asian language. We talked to 6 Duolingo super-users about their experiences learning Japanese. Here are their stories!

Meet Carolyn

Carolyn headshotAge: 58
Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA
Favorite Japanese word: 時々 (tokidoki), "sometimes"

For Carolyn, Japanese is a part of her family history: Her grandparents were born in Japan and moved to Hawai'i, where they raised their families. Carolyn's parents grew up speaking English in Hawai'i. “They were 11, in 1941, when Pearl Harbor happened,” explains Carolyn, adding that, when the bombs hit, Carolyn’s father climbed a tree to see what was going on. “Up until that point, they went to Saturday Japanese school, but after [Pearl Harbor], you weren't allowed to do anything like that.” 

Two years ago, Carolyn started French on Duolingo—a language she had studied previously—and she soon added Japanese. Learning Japanese is a way to stay connected to her family and to her community, and she's already using her burgeoning language skills to talk to an introverted Japanese neighbor. She is also planning a trip to Japan with her cousin, who lives in Hawai'i and grew up learning the language at home. “We're going next year,” says Carolyn, excitedly. “My goal really is to be able to shop and order in restaurants. I'd like to be able to carry on a conversation by the time I go.”

Carolyn stays motivated by treating her language study like a job: “I retired. So *this* is going to be my job. So I want to try to do an hour a day.’” Last year, she was in the top 1% of learners on the Duolingo app!

Meet Whitney

Whitney headshotAge: 27
Location: Palo Alto, California, USA
Favorite Japanese word: きっぷ (kippu) "ticket"

Whitney first downloaded Duolingo to do something fun while sick with COVID. “It was a good start, too,” reflects Whitney, “because it was so uninterrupted. I had a great opportunity to build the habit while I was quarantined, and then it stuck.”

Whitney chose Japanese because she wanted to try learning a language with a completely different writing system from English. “The concept of someone using different letters to represent words just blew my mind,” explains Whitney. “And so I stepped away from the Romance languages and went towards Japanese.” 

For Whitney, Duolingo makes the experience of learning a new language that uses new writing systems more approachable. She often uses Duolingo on the train on her commute to work. “It didn't feel daunting to try to come up with a program or figure out what I was trying to do and how to learn it best. Someone had done the homework for me.”

In September, Whitney and her boyfriend went on a 10-day trip to Japan, where she had the opportunity to use her new language skills. “I didn't expect to learn so much [from Duolingo] so fast,” says Whitney. She was able to navigate a Japanese bookstore and have a short conversation with a sushi chef at a cozy local joint. “It seemed like the delight of his evening was just because I had asked him a question about himself in Japanese. That feeling was super cool: being able to relate to someone because I am taking the effort to speak how they speak, and think how they think.”

Meet Aishwarya

Aishwarya headshotAge: 28
Location: Tamil Nadu, India
Favorite Japanese word: 月 (tsuki), "moon"

Aishwarya is a longtime user of Duolingo. “The Owl is actually a very good friend of mine,” she says, with a laugh. “I've been dealing with him for a very long time.” Aishwarya first started studying French and Japanese on Duolingo in 2016. Since then, she has used Duolingo to study many languages, including Korean, German, Russian, and Swedish.

Aishwarya’s initial reasons for trying Duolingo were straightforward: “I was a student, and Duolingo is free.” But she’s stuck with the app past her student life—her current streak is 1828 days, which represents more than five years of daily language learning!

It’s often pop culture that inspires Aishwarya to learn a language, including Japanese. “I started watching anime when I was 10,” says Aishwarya. “I started reading manga. I was very much fascinated by the culture. I wanted to speak like them. I wanted to live in Japan.” She has a pragmatic learning goal for all of her languages. “I want to go there and I want to talk to the locals,” Aishwarya says. “I want to know how to have a good bargain. Like, ‘You can't hoodwink me. I know what you’re talking about.’”

Meet Cameron

Cameron headshotAge: 30
Location: London, Ontario, Canada
Favorite Japanese word: おいしいです (oishii desu), "It is delicious!"

Cameron began studying Japanese on Duolingo in 2021. He chose Duolingo because of its convenience and flexibility. “I like things that are easily accessible because I fear I won't do them otherwise. Duolingo is something I can do on my lunch, at my desk, or if I'm out places.”

Three years into his language learning journey, Cameron has seen a lot of progress. “Whenever I see the characters now and I can read the word, I'm often able to figure out what the word is,” says Cameron. “It just feels so empowering. It's not much, but it's not something that, two or three years ago, would have crossed my mind that I could do.”

Last spring, Cameron traveled to Japan for a much-awaited trip, and he hopes to go back again soon. The prospect of a return trip is what keeps him motivated in his language learning. “I just want to be able to navigate daily situations with confidence,” he says. “I'd be really happy with myself, if I could do that.”

Meet Brianna

Brianna headshotAge: 27
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Favorite Japanese word: 指切り (yubikiri), "pinkie promise" or literally “cut off your finger”... if you break the promise!

Before downloading Duolingo in December, Brianna had never followed a set Japanese language curriculum—but she has been self-studying the language since she was a little kid. “I can vividly remember phonetically memorizing Japanese songs from my favorite anime and video games as early as age six or seven,” she says. “I also tried learning the various Japanese writing systems when I was in middle school, on my own.” 

Since then, Brianna’s interest in Japanese media has expanded to include manga and J-pop, further fueling her motivation. “There are also many forms of media from Japan that I like that don’t often get translated into English by either fans or an official licenser, like visual novels and fan-created works [aka doujinshi],” says Brianna. “I’ve always had a motivation to learn so that I can read/watch things without English subtitles or translations.”

Brianna finds the Duolingo streak function especially motivating. “There’s something strangely motivating about not wanting to break said streak,” she says. “It also helps to reinforce that even a short, three-minute lesson per day can help with your understanding of another language.”

Meet Władysław

Wladyslaw headshotAge: 32
Location: Gdansk, Poland
Favorite Japanese word: 頑張ってください (ganbatte kudasai), "I wish you the best"

“I love Japan,” says Władysław, who attends the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology in Poland. For Władysław, who likes watching anime and Japanese cinema, as well as listening to Japanese music, the chance to study Japanese and visit Japan is a dream come true. 

“I needed some app for training Japanese phrases and Duolingo offered just what I needed,” says Władysław, who downloaded the app six weeks ago as part of his study plan to take the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (or JLPT) in July. “Duolingo gamification is a big selling point to me, because I'm all in for competition,” adds Władysław. 

Władysław uses Duolingo whenever he has free time, like a break at work or on the bus. “At home when I want to practice I sometimes do 30 minute sessions, or even longer.” He’s already noticed a difference. “It's more enjoyable to watch anime, since I can now understand lots of phrases that I learned thanks to Duolingo,” says Władysław. His next goals are to understand Japanese song lyrics and to read some books in Japanese. 

“In Poland, we say that the appetite grows when you are eating, and I feel the same about learning.” Now that’s a great attitude!

Learning for all the right reasons 🥰

We wish the best luck to our Japanese language learners. 頑張りましょう!(ganbari mashou)