Whether you’re in the early stages of learning Japanese or you’ve been practicing for a while, the thought of having a conversation with a native speaker can be nerve-wracking.
I've been there plenty of times too. So I bet your inner monologue is along these lines:
These thoughts are perfectly normal reactions to doing something scary in Japanese, like chatting to a native speaker.
Thankfully, you can go into your first conversation armed with a ton of useful basic Japanese phrases.
Check out the rest of this article to learn 73 handy turns of phrase that will serve you well in any Japanese conversation or when travelling in Japan.
These are also great starting points if you’re just jumping into Japanese for the first time. These basic Japanese phrases will be the backbone on which you can build your Japanese knowledge.
And for a little extra boost to your confidence before you head into a conversation with a native speaker, take a look at this detailed guide to Japanese pronunciation.
Note: Want to go beyond basic Japanese phrases and learn Japanese with confidence and fluency? The best way to do so is by working through a comprehensive and well designed course. My top recommendation is Japanese Uncovered, my in-depth online Japanese course for beginners that teaches you through the power of story.
Anyway, back to our basic Japanese phrases…. let's discover what they are!
When you meet someone for the first time, you tend to start out with a greeting like “Hello” or pleasantries like “It’s nice to meet you,” right? Japanese is full of simple phrases to start out a conversation.
If you're planning a trip to Japan, then the people you meet at your destination will be thrilled to hear you use these expressions, even if they're the only ones you know:
After you’ve greeted your new conversation partner, it’s likely that you’ll need to know more about them. Keep it rolling—you’ve got this.
If you want to keep the conversation going and need some more expressions to help you out, check out these 28 Japanese conversation starters.
You’ve done great so far. You’ve introduced yourself, learned your friend’s name and maybe where they’re from. And now you’re ready to move on to other topics.
But first, try out some of these traditional Japanese politeness phrases so you can apologise, show off your good manners, and be polite at a restaurant before you tuck into a meal.
For more on Japanese culture, customs and politeness check out this post.
You’ve been puttering along in a conversation for a while now! But what happens if everything you feared takes place and you get confused? First, remember not to panic.
Even in your native language, you probably have to ask people for clarification or to repeat themselves. You won’t offend anyone if you do the same in a foreign language. Memorise these expressions and just take it slow, one sentence at a time.
Japanese is one of the easiest languages to ask questions in—so ask away! In order to make a question in Japanese, just add ka to the end of any sentence.
On top of that, though, there are a few question words that will make your conversations go a lot smoother. Plus knowing how to ask questions is essential for travellers in Japan if you need to find your way or get help.
Perfect! You’ve been talking with someone for a few minutes now, introducing yourself and asking any questions you need to know. Maybe you’ve found out your speaking partner’s name and you’re walking to a coffee shop together.
Now’s the perfect time to find out more about each other and maybe become friends. Try out some of these phrases to open up a whole new avenue of conversation!
You’ve been learning a lot about your new friend, but now the tables have turned—they’re the one asking you questions! How should you respond to many of the most common questions Japanese native speakers might ask you? Try these answers out.
A special note on the difference between daijoubu and ii. If someone is asking you if something is “all right,” daijobu is what fits there (think “We don’t sell that here; can I get you X instead?” to which you’d respond with “yes, that’s all right, I suppose”).
If you approve of something or find it nice, that’s the time for ii (think of your friend saying “Hey, we should go to that sushi place!” and you’re really excited to go there. If your friend suggested sushi but you really wanted ramen instead, that would be a case for just using daijoubu.)
What if you’ve found yourself speaking to a native Japanese person for the first time because you decided to go to a celebration or special event, like a birthday or festival? Here are a few useful phrases for almost any situation you might find yourself in.
You’ve had a lot to talk about, but now the time has come to finish your Japanese conversation. How do you wrap things up?
By the way, if you're based in Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan, but you're still looking for someone to speak to here are my 4 tips for finding a language partner in Japan.
I can’t wrap up a list of some of the most important phrases in Japanese without making sure you know a few of the words that could come in very handy. If you find yourself in serious trouble, use these phrases to call for help.
Hopefully you never have to use these last three. But it’s always a good thing to remember them in case you need them.
So there you have it: all of the basic Japanese phrases you need to help you discover and start using the Japanese language.
With these phrases in your back pocket, you will soon find yourself having your first basic conversations with native speakers and getting excited about developing your conversational Japanese.
So now that you’ve learned the basics, are you ready to take the next step in your Japanese adventure?
I'm such a big believer in the power of story to enable you to learn a foreign language. That's why I've created an entire beginner course dedicated to learning Japanese by immersing yourself in an engaging story.
It's called Japanese Uncovered, and it's designed to take you from beginner all the way to an Intermediate level in Japanese.
Along the way you're all of the Japanese vocabulary you need for every day conversations, as well as how to read, write and pronounce Japanese correctly.
If you’ve mastered even a small number of the important Japanese phrases in this article, you’ll be well on your way to holding a solid conversation with any native speaker you might happen to encounter at home or when you travel.
In language learning, you don't need to re-invent the wheel each time you speak to someone new. Nor do you have to come up with all your answers on the spot.
Try thinking about your answers to some native speaker questions beforehand so you can find the right words (like your age, occupation, and country or language name) to describe yourself!
When you know what to expect, and you've prepared in advance, you'll find that conversations with native speakers go much more smoothly. And most importantly, you'll feel more confident about speaking in Japanese.
So, which of these phrases did you know and which ones are new to you? And when are you planning to have your first conversation with a native Japanese speaker? Let me know in the comments.
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