how-to-speak-japanese

How to Speak Japanese: 10 Unconventional Tips and Tricks for Becoming Fluent

Do you know why Batman is so incredibly cool?

It’s because he has that awesome utility belt with all those gadgets.

Well, I guess it’s also because he knows martial arts and has a ton of money and all. But never mind that.

If you want to be the linguistic Batman of the Japanese language, you should get your hands on that linguistic utility belt. With it, you’ll be able to speak so well, people will think you’re a native speaker and nobody will ever guess your secret identity.

Oh right, you’re not the real Batman. You don’t have a secret identity.

Guess what? Today we’re feeling pretty generous. Which means you get a utility belt, and you get a utility belt and everyone gets utility belts! Of the Japanese language of course, so forget about the grappling hooks and stuff like that.

Now let’s check out those gadgets, shall we?
 


 

How to Speak Japanese: 10 Unconventional Tips and Tricks for Becoming Fluent

Learn a foreign language with videos

Japanese Speaking Basics: 4 Steps to Building a Solid Foundation

The usual road to speaking fluent Japanese is long and hard without a doubt. Grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are its foundation stones, without which you can’t do much talking at all. But studying them individually takes too much time and you want to speak Japanese as soon as possible! So let’s take a shortcut, shall we? Here’s what you need to do.

1. Master some common expressions

A great way to start learning a new language is to master some everyday expressions. This kind of practice doesn’t require any grammar nor vocabulary knowledge, you just need to know what the entire sentence means and that on its own is pretty much enough. With just a few good sentences, you can come across as relatively knowledgeable, even to a native speaker. But more importantly, you can find your way to the bathroom if you find yourself in a pinch.

So let’s check out a couple of these sentences that can be very helpful and make you sound like a true Japanese language pro.

私の名前はブルースです。どうぞ宜しくお願いします。(わたしの なまえは ぶるーす です。どうぞ よろしく おねがいします。) — My name is Bruce. Please treat me well.

おはようございます!— Good morning!

こんにちは!— Good day!

こんばんは!— Good evening!

お元気ですか? (おげんき ですか?) — How are you?

これ/それ/あれは何ですか? (これ/それ/あれは なん ですか?) — What is this / that / that over there?

この/その/あの人は誰ですか? (この/その/あのひとは だれ ですか?) — Who is this / that / that person over there?

トイレはどこですか? (といれは どこ ですか?) — Where is the toilet?

今は何時ですか? (いまは なんじ ですか?) — What time is it?

お前はもう死んでいる。(おまえは もう しんでいる。) — You are already dead.

何?(なに?) — What?

私は寿司/チョコレート/ビールが好きです。(わたしは すし/ちょこれーと/びーるがすき です。) — I like sushi / chocolate / beer.

私は雑音/タバコ/月曜日が嫌いです。(わたしは ざつおん/たばこ/げつようびが きらい です。) — I hate noise / tobacco / Mondays.

はい/いいえ。— Yes / No.

すみません。— Excuse me.

ありがとうございます。— Thank you very much.

また明日!(また あした!) — See you tomorrow!

元気でね。(げんき でね。) — Stay well.

how-to-speak-japanese

If you want to learn more common expressions like these, this list is a good place to start. If you prefer apps, check out Bravolol, Learn Japanese Offline and Learn Japanese 1800 common sentences.

2. Find a learning partner and simulate dialogue scenarios

Speaking Japanese is just like any other skill and as such, it requires a lot of practice hours. Those practice hours should be fun though, because that’ll increase the effectiveness of your drills and help you improve faster.

Friends can make any activity twice as fun, so why not have one join you in your language-learning adventure?

Think up a few everyday scenarios you might find yourself in and try to build a dialogue. Focus on making the dialogue realistic so that you can use parts of it in real life if a chance presents itself. Let’s take a look at a few examples for the setting of your dialogue.

In this example, you’re in a shop as a customer, while your conversation partner is the clerk.

A: いらっしゃいませ!— Welcome!

B: すみません、このジュースはいくらですか? (すみません、このじゅーすは いくら ですか?) — Excuse me, how much does this juice cost?

A: 300円です。(さんびゃく えん です。) — 300 Yen.

B: 1本ください。(いっぽん ください。) — Give me one bottle please.

A: はい、どうぞ!— Here you go!

Next you’re a visitor in a museum and your buddy is the curator.

A: すみません、学芸員はどこですか?(すみません、がくげいいんは どこですか?) — Excuse me, where is the curator?

B: はい、私が学芸員です。(はい、わたしが がくげいいん です。) — Yes, I am the curator.

A: では、その絵画は油絵ですか、水彩画ですか?(では、そのかいがは あぶらえ ですか、すいさいが ですか?) — Well then, is that an oil painting or a watercolor painting?

B: はい、それは油絵です。(はい、それは あぶらえ です。) — Yes, that is an oil painting.

A: ありがとうございます。— Thank you very much.

Don’t be afraid to try out various scenarios. You’re practicing, after all, so you should go ahead and come up with as many different dialogues as you can. If you find yourself without much inspiration, check out these sources for new ideas: Coscom, FluentU and Don’t Speak Japanese have more than enough dialogues for you to practice.

3. Narrate your life

“Here we have a Japanese language learner in his natural environment, doing what he loves so much, studying his favorite language. The task before him is difficult. The learner persists.”

Maybe you can’t exactly be Sir David Attenborough, but even so, you should try narrating what you’re doing.

Indeed, it does sound like something a crazy person would do because it’s pretty much talking to yourself. But ask yourself this. Will you always have a language learning partner to practice speaking together? Do you wish your skills to deteriorate because you haven’t used them for long? Of course not. Therefore, why not at least try this exercise?

It’ll help you improve your fluency, pronunciation and grammar without you even noticing it.

Don’t forget to try out different dialects and accents to work on your pronunciation. And, as silly as it feels, remember: you won’t get much out of this exercise unless you speak out loud.

4. Learn from songs and karaoke

If you’re having difficulties memorizing words and remembering them quickly while talking, you should do karaoke more. To forget your troubles.

Jokes aside, karaoke can actually help a lot with overcoming such difficulties. It can enrich your vocabulary, improve your pronunciation and strengthen your grammar in a subtle way. You just have to do it right, like a proper Japanese language learner.

Before you start singing that song, first make sure that you know exactly what each word means. Use a dictionary and translate the song on your own if you can’t find the translated version of the lyrics. Focus on the grammar as well. Lyrics can simplify fairly complex constructions, making them relatively easy to understand. After you’ve sung the song a few times, those words and grammatical constructions will remain in your head. All you have to do to remember them is to start humming the melody and it’ll drag them out to the surface in no time.

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FluentU is a perfect source for this kind of practice, so don’t forget to check it out. On FluentU, you can find real-world Japanese videos featuring native speakers, such as music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks from around the world. Each video comes equipped with interactive subtitles in both Japanese and English, not to mention full audio transcripts, so you can follow and read along as you watch.

FluentU’s collection of Japanese music videos are perfect for a karaoke session. But really, you can use any FluentU video as a sort of “karaoke,” even if there’s no music involved. Just try to read along out loud, using the subtitles. Whether you’re singing or speaking, this is a great way to practice your speaking ability and listening comprehension at the same time.

Beyond FluentU, you can also use YouTube and find various Japanese karaoke videos.

Beyond the Basics: 6 Tricks to Reach Japanese Speaking Fluency Quickly

Hard work, practice and patience are the only ways to become fluent in Japanese. Of course.

But in the meantime, that doesn’t mean you can’t use some sneaky tricks to appear fluent before you actually are. Here’s something you won’t learn in class: You don’t have to know everything about speaking Japanese in order to be fluent. You just need to be ready to improvise a bit so that you don’t lose the flow.

These techniques should help you be prepared for almost any kind of unexpected linguistic pinch you may find yourself in. In other words, they’ll make you sound like a pro even as you’re still learning.

1. “This is me, ‘sup?”: Keep your fluency at a high level by defining your speaking style

We all have our own linguistic personality that’s defined by our style of speaking. If you want to be fluent in Japanese, your style should be rock solid and it shouldn’t go through changes during a conversation. Especially not in one sentence. Manner of speaking, choice of words and the level of formality all define your style. Random changes will make you sound a bit weird and far from fluent.

Let’s take a look at some of the elements that define your style.

First up are the pronouns, or more specifically, which word you use when referring to yourself. Japanese offers you a couple of different choices here, so let’s take a look at a few common ones.

私 (わたし) — This is the formal, polite version. When used by males in informal talk, it might sound a tad awkward because it suits females a bit better.

僕 (ぼく) — This is right about the golden middle and my personal favorite. It’s a dominantly male term that isn’t off-limits to female speakers, and equally adequate for formal and informal talk.

俺 (おれ) — This is a very casual and informal option. It’s a masculine pronoun, so females usually don’t use it at all.

自分 (じぶん) — This one is similar to 僕 (ぼく) but just a tad more businesslike. However, it can be used in informal speech without any problems.

Second is the level of formality in your speech. Although it’s polite to always use formal speech in Japanese, it’s perfectly fine to use informal speech as well, as long as you ask if the person you’re talking to doesn’t mind.

Next, take a look at the particles you use at the end of a sentence to give them a bit of emphasis. Again, there are a few different choices here, and you can use most of them interchangeably without it affecting your style. よ and ね are most commonly used, often together at once and they suit both informal and formal structures. ぞ or ぜ are very informal and supposedly, make you sound like an anime character because that’s what I’ve been told when I used them. な〜 is somehow in the golden middle between the two and my personal favorite.

The following examples will show you how weird sentences can get if the style is changed repeatedly:

の学校では、のクラスが一番人数が多いです。(わたしの がっこうでは、おれの くらすが いちばん にんずうが おおい です。) ー Our class is the largest in our school.

Don’t use two different pronouns in one sentence when referring to yourself; it sounds wrong.

このシャツが好きだよ。これを買います。(この しゃつが すき だよ。これを かいます。) ー I dig this shirt. I shall purchase it.

Going back and forth between formal and informal talk is a mistake. Either speak informally or formally, don’t mix them up. Stick to one style.

今日は寒いですよぜ。(きょうは さむい です よ ぜ。) ー Today is cold indeed, bruh.

The two particles on the sentence end don’t go together quite well. Especially since the sentence is formal, and ぜ is very informal.

2. “Good, bad, ugly!”: Use adjectives to avoid tricky grammar

Adjectives are the treasures of a language, simply because they allow you to express so much in just a word or two. They’re also great for avoiding grammar if necessary.

Although it’ll simplify your sentence considerably, using nothing but adjectives and very basic particles or constructions will allow you to sound very concise and straight to the point. That way you’ll convey your thoughts clearly while avoiding certain grammar rules you might be having difficulties with. Let’s check out a few examples that show you how to cunningly use adjectives.

Original: このスープはまずいので、食べられない。(このすーぷは まずい ので、たべられない。) ー This soup tastes bad, therefore I can’t eat it.

Simplified with adjectives: スープはまずい。食べらない。(すーぷは まずい。たべられない。) ー Soup is gross. I can’t eat it.

Original: スーツが高ければ、買わない。(すーつが たかければ、かわない。) ー If the suit is expensive, I won’t buy it.

Simplified with adjectives: 高いスーツを買わない。(たかい すーつを かわない。) ー I won’t buy an expensive suit.

Original: 私は体が弱いから、思い物を持てない。(わたしは からだが よわいから、おもいものを もてない。) ー I have a weak body, therefore I can’t carry heavy stuff.

Simplified with adjectives: 私は体が弱い。思い物を持てない。(わたしは からだが よわい。おもいものを もてない。) ー I’m weak. I can’t carry heavy stuff.

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Remember, the more adjectives you know, the better you’ll be able to speak so don’t forget to build your vocabulary. Check out FluentU, Japandict and Jisho if you want to stock up on adjectives.

3. “I hear ya”: Mumble to show that you’re listening

In most languages, it’s considered rude to mumble or talk while the other person is speaking. In Japanese, however, that’s considered a sign of attention. If you mumble, you’re pointing out that you’re listening closely.

Let’s check out some words that show how much you’re paying attention to the speaker.

ええ, はい, そう, そうですね, そうなんだ, そっか, なるほど

All of these words have about the same meaning, “I see,” except of course はい which means yes.

You can hear this kind of mumbling on Japanese radio shows, television shows and in everyday conversations. In other words, you can hear it from fluent speakers.

4. “Just a moment, please”: Use thinking words to buy time and improve fluency

We aren’t robots, so it’s normal for us to be unable to remember something quickly. Not only that, but quickly building a sentence that’s grammatically correct can be quite tricky at times. In the middle of a conversation, this kind of obstacle could greatly reduce your fluency.

So to avoid being silent while those brain cells are working at full speed, try using a few thinking words.

These words are often used in Japanese, and they aren’t at all considered rude or annoying like “uhm” is in English. They can give you those few extra seconds you need to come up with a perfect sentence without affecting your fluency. Let’s check them out.

Most common are あの and えっと and if you wanted to translate them, the closest equivalent would be “Let’s see” or something similar. Their meaning isn’t important though, because they’re known as delaying words. There are also なんだろう, なんとか and なんか but these words also express a level of uncertainty, unlike the first two.

Using these thinking words is easy: just blurt them out when you need a few seconds of thinking time. Make sure to pronounce them in an extended tone, so that you can give yourself as much thinking time as possible.

5. “The thing that does the thing, man, you know”: Use やつ to replace words you can’t remember

I have to be honest here, I adore this little cheat word. It’s so useful and versatile, you can use it in practically any scenario. When you can’t remember a word or if you didn’t know it in the first place, just use やつ and describe what you’re talking about. If you don’t quite understand yet, some examples will help clear everything up.

Before we get to the examples, let’s first talk about the やつ word for a moment. The meaning of the word is “object” but it can mean something else as well. Its second meaning is “person” and when it’s used to indicate a person, it gains a pejorative quality. Which means it’s extremely informal and impolite. But when it’s put after a description, it pretty much becomes a noun. Example time.

Fly swatter:

蝿を殺すやつ (はえを ころす やつ) ー The thing for killing flies.

Wallet:

金が入ってるやつ (かねが はいってる やつ) ー The thing that holds the money.

Spirit bomb:

魔人ブウを倒すやつ(まじんぶうを たおす やつ) ー The thing that defeats Majin Buu.

Who needs vocabulary when you have やつ, right?

6: “Can’t understand, help please!”: Ask for explanations when you don’t understand something

Always ask for an explanation if you don’t understand something. One of my university professors taught me that a while ago.

Saying that he knows Japanese extremely well would be a great understatement. Even so, he doesn’t shy away from asking for an explanation from Japanese people if by chance they say something he doesn’t understand. This man does simultaneous translation as if it’s nothing and translates old Japanese poetry for fun. You get to that level only if you overcome vanity and shyness by always asking for an explanation.

You can either ask for an explanation of the thing you don’t understand or you can ask for a synonym. As long as you comprehend the meaning, either one of those will do the trick. Here’s how you can ask:

Formal:

すみません、その文章が分かりませんでした。分かりやすく説明してもらえませんか? (すみません、そのぶんしょうが わかりませんでした。わかりやすく せつめいして もらえませんか?) ー Excuse me, I didn’t understand that sentence. Could you please explain it in a simple way?

すみません、その言葉が分かりません。同意語を教えてもらえませんか? (すみません、そのことばが わかりません。どういごを おしえてもらえませんか?) ー Excuse me, I didn’t understand that word. Could you please tell me a synonym?

Informal:

ごめん、分からなかった。説明してくれる? (ごめん、わからなかった。せつめい してくれる?) ー Sorry, didn’t get that. Can you explain it to me?

ごめん、その言葉が分からん。同意語知ってる? (ごめん、そのことばが わからん。どういご しってる?) ー Sorry, I don’t know that word. You know its synonym?

See? It’s not all that hard. But it can make a big difference in your fluency level.

 

The road to fluency is long and hard. Just like it’s hard for Batman to climb all those buildings and beat up all those bad guys. But thanks to his utility belt, he can quickly scale buildings with a grappling hook and knock out bad guys with batarangs.

You can pretty much do the same with your Japanese. Use your new linguistic utility belt we just gave you and increase your fluency in no time. Just like Batman…

Now go and have fun speaking Japanese!
 

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