“Blasphemy” is the word Vera chose to describe the fact that I’d only just finished Harry Potter at the age of 24.
The impact of this strong word was notably lessened by the fact that she pronounced it as “blas-PAY-me” while near simultaneously dropping a piece of shrimp from the paella she was eating onto her shirt.
I’ve known Vera for three years now. She’s one of my best friends, I know the comings and goings of her everyday life and we Skype regularly.
She also happens to be my language exchange partner.
Paradoxical as it might seem, the fact that we don’t care much about practicing languages is probably the reason we’ve been so successful. We have similar tastes and senses of humor and we just get along, plain and simple.
In short, Vera is a person that I’d have been friends with even if I wasn’t studying another language.
If you’re looking to form a similarly strong relationship with a native Japanese speaker online—and if you’re reading this article, it’s safe to assume that you are—you can follow my example.
Read on to see how to make Japanese friends online in a way that’ll help you learn the language but also form some long-lasting friendships.
Objectification and How to Avoid It When Making Japanese Friends Online
Objectification is the act of treating a person like a thing, like they have no feelings or opinions of their own. When seen as an object, a person’s value is based on their innate qualities, such as their nationality or the language they speak, rather than on things they can control or choose.
Objects are things that we use. They’re means to an end, are handled with a specific purpose in mind and get shelved once that goal’s been achieved. Should that object fail to fulfill its purpose from the beginning then it gets discarded and replaced.
Nobody needs socks if they’re wearing sandals, so to speak (forgiving the off-chance that they’re running a Japanese fashion account on Instagram).
But people aren’t simple objects. Every Japanese person has aspirations beyond being an object for Japanese practice. If they wanted to spend all evening speaking Japanese then they could have just gone to an izakaya with friends—people they like who all speak Japanese much, much better than you or me.
Furthermore, they’ve probably been learning English since they were 12 years old and are just as stoked to finally have an opportunity to use English as you are to speak Japanese.
This partnering can work out naturally but as anyone who’s tried an exchange before knows, it often doesn’t.
Making an actual Japanese friend online should go beyond this superficial level of connection. Let’s learn how to avoid objectification in language exchange and make a real friend.
How to Make Japanese Friends Online for Language Learning
Where to Find a Japanese Friend Online
Seek out people with similar interests
Finding people who have something in common with you is important and will lead to a more stable relationship than one in which you’re just using each other for something (like learning a language).
What do you enjoy? What are your hobbies? Even if you aren’t located in Japan and can’t visit a bouldering gym or join a synchronized swimming meetup, the internet allows us to find a community for basically anything.
If you’re into social media, you can follow a few Japanese Reddit pages. You can discuss Japanese current events if you’re worried about slangy internet language but if you don’t even watch the news for your own country, there’s always Baka News. Here’s a directory of with tons of Japanese subreddits—find your niche and get involved.
If the idea of writing posts in Japanese stresses you out, you can dip your toes into a less involved medium first.
For example, if one of your hobbies is playing video games, you could check out some Japanese streams of games on Twitch like “League of Legends” or “Fortnite.” If you’re really into gaming, you might even download the Japanese server of either game and find a few people to play with.
If you’re nervous about interacting with real Japanese speakers, you can try immersing yourself in the language before you give any other option a shot. Try out FluentU to get a boost to your confidence (not to mention vocab and grammar!).
It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
Just take a look at the wide variety of authentic video content available in the program. Here’s a small sample:
You’ll discover tons of new Japanese vocabulary through these great clips.
Don’t worry about your skill level being an issue when it comes to understanding the language. FluentU makes native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts.
Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
You’ll see definitions, in-context usage examples and helpful illustrations. Simply tap “Add to” to send interesting vocabulary words to your personal vocab list for later review.
FluentU even uses a learning program which adapts to your specific needs to turn every video into a language learning lesson and get you to actively practice your newly-learned language skills.
Access FluentU on the website to use it with your computer or tablet or, better yet, start learning Japanese on the go with the FluentU app for iOS or Android!
Make the most of language exchange websites
If entertaining yourself in Japanese feels more like a chore than, well, entertainment, you might consider downloading an app like HelloTalk, Tandem or HiNative in order to connect with people who want to interact in other languages.
Since everybody on these applications is there because to chat with foreigners (ie, not in their own language) I recommend setting firm boundaries within your profile to help connect with people who have similar goals and commitment levels.
Remember, you only need to hit it off with one person, so pursue quality over quantity.
Follow these steps to maximize your success:
1. Pick a simple, clear picture that shows your face.
2. Briefly introduce yourself. This is your first chance to show off a bit of your personality. It doesn’t have to be big, but you should give people looking at your profile something to grab onto.
3. Clearly state your expectations from an exchange partner. How and when do you want to exchange?
4. Clearly state what you can offer to an exchange partner.
Here’s an example of a good profile:
Hi! My name is Sami and although I was born in a small farm town in the USA, I’ve spent the last five years or so bouncing around the world. I’m learning Japanese because I like Japanese literature and dramas. Right now I’m living in Taiwan but I’d like to keep practicing Japanese.
I’m hoping to find someone to chat with over Skype on Tuesdays at about 9:00 PM Japanese time. I’ve worked as an English writing tutor and done a bit of IELTS tutoring, so I’m happy to help you with writing and grammar or we can just chat!
This is pretty straightforward: It gives people something to include in their opening message and also helps with the process of filtering partners naturally. People who write to me aren’t nervous about Skyping and also aren’t busy on Tuesday nights.
There’s an infinite number of possible exchanges, so adjust your boundaries to fit your needs. You might seek:
- Someone to exchange journal entries with once per week. Revise each other’s writing and leave feedback.
- Someone to exchange small, “spell-check” like questions with. These are specific questions that would be troublesome to find on Google.
- Someone to exchange homework with. Are you both doing it correctly?
Whatever you do, remember that you’re on an application where people are seeking language exchange. It isn’t necessarily a social playground. Be specific about what you want and you’re more likely to get it.
How to Make and Maintain Connections
Get involved with the community
No matter where you end up going, as the old adage states, showing up is half the battle.
Literally. In his book, “The Like Switch,” a former FBI agent breaks down the behavioral psychology behind befriending strangers. From everyday people sitting next to you at the cafe to detained enemy spies, the first step is proximity or simply being visible to each other. We can’t befriend people who we don’t know exist.
In fact, the process is so consistent that he offers a formula:
proximity + frequency + duration + intensity/intimacy = connection
So get involved and create the opportunity for people to approach you. Share some moments if you’re on HelloTalk or go out and answer some questions if you’re on HiNative. Respond to a post on Reddit or retweet your idol on Twitter.
Wherever you are and whatever medium you use, your goal is to get your foot in the door and find (or be found by) like-minded people.
Learn how to approach and converse with new people
Whether you’re exchanging or immersing, making friends involves approaching new people. Simply saying “hello” is bland and easy to ignore, and introductory conversations quickly become boring and mechanical when they’re repeated too often.
In order to connect with someone, you need to stand out in some way so that your potential partners have something engaging to respond to.
If you aren’t a super outgoing person by nature, it’s worth learning how to make small talk so that you can make a good first impression. The goal of your introductory messages should be to show your partner that you’re interested in some unique part of their personality, not because they happen to speak Japanese and you want to practice that volitional form you just learned.
For more information on how to make lasting language exchange partners and online Japanese friends, check out the extensive guide on Fluency Now.
Almost 130 million people live in Japan, so there’s bound to be someone out there who you’ll click with.
It might be a bit awkward to intentionally look for friends at first because our social lives tend to be automated by school, work and social circles: Most of us probably haven’t actually had to put ourselves out there and really search for friends in a long time.
That being said, after taking the time to understand how relationships work and get involved in the right places, you’re bound to connect with people!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.