When I was a student in Japan, my Japanese teacher asked all the students what was the most difficult part about living in Japan. The most common answer was the difficulty to make Japanese friends. When we start out learning a second language, we tend to see native speakers of that language as possible teachers. They can teach you about their culture, their home, and help you practice your language. Without a doubt, one of the reasons that my Japanese was able to improve much faster in Japan, was because of the time I spent with my Japanese friends. It allowed me to hear a lot of new Japanese words and get in a lot of practice. However, viewing Japanese people as potential Japanese teachers will make it much more difficult to turn them into friends and will end up helping your pursuit of language less in the end.
The “secret” to making Japanese friends is to treat them as you would anyone else who is your friend. That is to take a genuine interest in them. Not as a potential Japanese teacher, but as someone that has similar interests or someone who is interesting to you. If you pursue them just as a language teacher the relationship will not end up as deep and will likely not last that long.
Every person is different in what they want from a relationship. If you meet someone visiting your country from Japan (student, tourist, etc) then chances are they are there to learn the language and culture. Some people may be glad to help you learn Japanese and some may not want to speak Japanese at all. Which is quite understandable since they have traveled half way around the world.
Now I am not saying that you can’t ask for help with your Japanese or questions about Japan. However, this will ruin or stop the relationship from developing if it becomes the majority of your conversation. Instead treat them as you would any other friend. Helping them learn your language, your culture, and your with the difficulties they may have adapting to your country. The benefits for both parties will go much father than simple language instruction.
Meeting Japanese People in Japan
The same rules apply in Japan. The only difference is it is perfectly okay to keep all of your conversation in Japanese. Now you have traveled half way around the world to learn Japanese so you should be speaking it. Making Japanese friends should still focus on people you are interested in rather than learning Japanese.Nothing is more of a turn off when I meet someone than them asking me to teach them English or try practicing English with me before I even know their name. A lot of the people who ask me this are really nice people, but it feels that they see me as an English teacher rather than a friend. Having experienced this first hand I can see some of the mistakes I made when meeting Japanese students in the US.
Focus on creating a good relationship and the language part will sort itself out. Some of my best friends started out speaking to me in English and now choose to speak to me in Japanese and some visa-versa. The long term benefits of making true friends will far outweigh the short term benefits of immediately practicing your Japanese.
Without a doubt, one of the most important parts of learning Japanese (or any language) is conversational practice. All of the study that you put in learning words, grammar, and phrases is tested during conversational. It’s also when you mind learns how to put together all the different parts you learned. Though it can be somewhat monotonous, I believe that conversational practice is also one of the more rewarding parts of studying Japanese.
My Japanese teachers at Waseda University (a university in Tokyo, Japan) forced us to break into groups and have conversational practice using set dialogs. I never really liked that method much. Looking back on it however, I realize it helped me a lot. The time I spent having coversational practice and learning to both listen and speak set phrases gave me confidence to use them outside the classroom. There are a few things I have learned that should help you get the most out of your conversations in Japanese.
What to study
As I’ve mentioned before, choosing the right materials is key. One of the Total Japanese books I used at Waseda University was completely dedicated to conversation. It had a number of set conversations with common Japanese prhases for casual and formal situations. Having a set dialogue will help make the conversation go smoothy. You can start out reading, but should eventually be able to respond with out looking at written materials. If you are doing this with a friend (preferably someone who speaks Japanese) it may seem a little weird, but it is good practice.
Once you are start to feel comfortable with set conversation you should start spending part of your time with free conversation. Try to keep the topics based around things you know know the Japanese words for and also topics that you enjoy. The topics will naturaly expand as you learn more and more Japanese words. Keep a dictionary handy, but try not to use it too much. The important part is to understand the ideas of the conversation. Don’t focus too much on understanding every word.
Choosing a Partner
The best option for your Japanese speaking partner is a native Japanese speaker. Preferably someone who doesn’t speak English. Conversing with a Native speaker allows you to hear Japanese pronounciation and also that mae sure they can understand yours. If your partner can’t understand English (or your native language) then you will be forced to speak Japanese. Choosing someone who has similar interest is also helpful as you will be able to discuss topics you both like.
I realize that this is an ideal situation and won’t always be possible for everyone. Not everyone has native Japanese speakers around to practice with. One option that I recommend is Skype. It is a free service that allows you to talk to people around the world. Skype even allows for free video chat. You can find someone by searching by country or try posting on various language forums. I recommend you find someone who does not speak your native language. You teach me Japanese and I will teach you English seems like a good idea, but doesn’t work out that well. Instead, choose someone who has common interests. Being forced to speak Japanese will help you learn much quicker.
And last but not least, remember to have fun and don’t worry about making mistakes.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when learning Japanese is to be afraid of making mistakes. I know what you are thinking. Don’t I want my Japanese to be as good as possible? Yes, you do. However, like anything, proficiency comes with lots and lots of practice. And when you practice you are bound to make mistakes. This is actually a good thing though, since you will tend not to forget the Japanese words when you use them wrong.
During my time as a study abroad student at Waseda University, fear of making mistakes was one of the biggest reason that held people back from really improving their Japanese. The people who were really able to improve their Japanese werent necessarily the people who were naturally good at language. Instead, they were the people who weren’t afraid to meet new people, start up a conversations, and were willing to be misunderstood. They tried to use the things they learned in class, and when they made mistakes they would laugh along with everyone else and then remember it for next time.
The best way to learn Japanese is to learn the most common Japanese words and phrases, and use them over and over again. Practicing while speaking is kind of like “on the job training”. It allows you to get practice while actually exercising the skills you are trying to learn. The problem is that many people avoid situations where they will have the chance to speak Japanese because they are afraid of either making mistakes or being unable to communicate. I have been in both situations.
The reality is that the fear of these things is usually much worse than the actual situation itself. I have made my share of mistakes, and some have been so weird that it has certainly caused everyone to laugh. The thing to realize is that they aren’t laughing at you, but at the way the words or sentence you created may have sounded. Not too mention it is unlikely you make that mistake twice (a quick way to learn).
The fear of not being able to communicate is also usually not as bad as it seems. The truth is that as long as you are trying hard to communicate, then most people will appreciate your effort and do their best to help you out. I have found that most people in Japan really appreciate that you are tying to learn their culture and language. Though you may feel bad that you can’t communicate as well as you like, they probably very happy that you are trying.
For me these issues came later. In the beginning I would try to speak as much as possible and wasn’t really worried about making mistakes. It wasn’t until I had a better grasp of the language that I started to limit my speaking because I was afraid to make mistakes. I started working in Japan and many of the people who I worked with had spent much more time in Japan than I had. They also spoke Japanese much better. I was intimidated and so didn’t speak Japanese as much. All of a sudden, my improvement in Japanese decreased. I wasn’t learning as many Japanese words and wasn’t getting as much practice. What I finally came to realize was that my peers weren’t judging me at all. They knew the time and practice it took them to learn and were more than glad to help me.
So learn lots of Japanese words and phrases and use them as often as possible. Don’t worry about making mistakes. We all do as we learn and it is actually an important part of the learning process. We didn’t learn to walk the first time we stood up and it’s no different with learning Japanese. Engage yourself in Japanese conversations and make lots of mistakes. Your Japanese will improve much faster this way and pretty soon you will be making fewer and fewer mistakes. You will also have to great times and a few laughs along the way. Ganbare!!!
A few days a go I made a post with some common Japanese words that you could use in situations for traveling and basic communication. Writing that post reminded me of a list of vocab/ kanji words I had put together a few years ago. After a little bit of searching I was able to find the list and have included it at the bottom of the post for anyone to download. It is a collection of words from the Japanese textbooks I had used when I was a study abroad student in Japan. The list contains nearly 1300 Japanese words with kanji, hiragana, and English readings.
The Japanese words on this list are in the order that they appeared in the text. The text books were generally in order of easier common words to more difficult words. However, the fact still remains they came from a text book and there will be words you should probably skip or at least put off to a later study date. Since some of them will not be that important (for instance, if you are just learning Japanese then you probable don’t need to learn “Shinai” (bamboo sword) right away) I recommend that you go through the list and mark off uncommon and rarely used words.
Removing the rare and unused words will save you a lot of wasted time on learning Japanese words that you will never use. I have left the list complete, but most people will benefit by eliminating some of the words from their study. You can find a better explanation on learning Japanese words in this article on How to Learn Japanese Words.
To download the file, right click the below link and choose “save link as”or “save file as”.
First 20 entries in the Japanese words list:
This was something I made a few years ago, so please don’t hesitate to contact me if you find any errors.
For those who don’t know, the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is a test offered by the Japanese government. Many companies here in Japan will also require that you have passed JLPT 2 (business level) or JLPT 1 (native speaker) in order to consider someone for a position who’s first language isn’t Japanese. If this is what the Japanese government requires and also what companies use as a benchmark for hiring, then it should make perfect sense to study the Japanese words on the JLTP right?
The problem is that the JLPT wasn’t set up to teach conversational Japanese or even useful Japanese. The content itself is also outdated and many of the words are outdated. I have listed some words from the JLPT 4 (the easiest level) to give you an idea of what I mean.
- kakushi kamera -hidden spy camera
- chou nekutai- bow tie
- haizara- ashtray
- ko-toshi-coated paper
- mannenhitsu- fountain pen
As you can see these words are by no means used in everyday speech. With the exception of haizara (ashtray) you will probably never need to use any of these words. Let alone waste time studying them when you are first starting to learn Japanese. Since the number of rare and unused an outdated words only increase in the more difficult JLTP tests, this goes even more so for Japanese learners studying at a more advanced level.
Instead, study materials with the most common Japanese words and phrases. This will allow you to learn the Japanese language much faster and much easier. The quicker you learn to speak Japanese, the more you will enjoy it. The ability to communicate in a general conversation allows you to learn even faster since you can learn hear words in conversation you may not have known to study otherwise.
Purpose of the JLPT
Just as a side note, for those who are planning to take the JLPT, I highly encourage that you use study materials specifically written for the JLTP. As mentioned above, the JLPT does not test on your ability to communicate in Japanese. Instead it focuses more on your ability to read and understand formal Japanese, awkward stories and outdated conversations, and all the words that go along with this. Having materials that are designed for the JLPT will help prepare you the style of the test.