Japanese Conversation: The Basic Phrases You Need

japanese conversationJapanese conversation skills can be important for many different reasons, whether you are a traveler who is looking to navigate more easily through the country or you need these skills for the purposes of business. Due in large part to the cultural influences of Japan, many basic phrases are already well known among the majority of individuals – phrases such as “konnichiwa” and “sayonara” for example. However, greetings – while they will earn you brownie points for politeness in the very formal Japanese cultural – are not enough to help you navigate Japan with ease.

While you’re encouraged to undertake a little more formal Japanese study if you’re interested in the language, such as this Elementary Japanese Course on Udemy, there are a few Japanese phrases that you can learn right now to get you more comfortable with the language and to help you begin understanding how the Japanese language system operates.

Japanese Script 

If you are looking to write in Japanese, it is important for you to realize that the Japanese script system is as simple as it is complex. This is because three different character systems are used in Japanese – kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Kanji is the most formal of the three writing styles, and as such is used primarily out of tradition. Many non-native speakers of Japanese never fully learn kanji, in large part due to its complexity.

Hiragana is largely used to supplement kanji, both to enhance the meanings of the original kanji characters and to show emotion. It may also be used in instances in which no kanji exists for a word, or for instances in which there is no longer kanji for a certain word.

Katakana is the most modern of the three types of scripts, and is the type of script those learning to write in Japanese most often use. Katakana is syllabic, which means that unlike kanji or Chinese characters, katakana can be sounded out – making it invaluable for those seeking to learn the language or those looking to travel in Japan. You can learn katakana and hiragana through this great Udemy course. Doing so can be of great benefit to you.

Japanese Language Structure 

There are a few things to note before you get started. The Japanese language structure is much different than those of most languages, and follows a subject-object-verb construction. (For example, a phrase in English such as “The bird’s feathers were red” would be structured as, “As for the bird, its feathers were red”. In cases were the subject and object can easily be inferred through context, they are generally eliminated altogether, which leads to a number of single word phrases. (For example, Yatta!, which means “I did it!”)

Basic Japanese Phrases 

We already mentioned “konnichiwa”, but hold on – do you really know what it means? If you said “hello”, you’re technically incorrect – konnichiwa actually means good afternoon (although in all fairness, it is used as a basic greeting throughout the day). It’s a simple mistake to make, as we most often hear it used in this context in films and as a casual greeting by non-Japanese speakers.

Here are some other basic greetings and partings you should know:

  • Ohayou = Good Morning
  • Konbanwa = Good Evening
  • Moshi moshi! = Hello (When used on the telephone.)
  • Ogenki desu ka = How are you?
  • Sayonara = Goodbye
  • Yoi ichinichi o = Have a nice day.
  • Dewa Mata = See you!
  • Oyasuminasai = Good night
  • O-namae wa nan desu ka? = What is your name?
  • And if you really want to be polite, you need to know how to speak the formalities of the language.
  • Arigatou = Thanks
  • Gommenasai = Sorrry
  • Kanpai! = Cheers!

Emergency Phrases 

It stands to reason that if you spend enough time in Japan, you may eventually be faced with an emergency situation. Even if you never have an opportunity to use these phrases, it is a good idea to be aware of them just in case something happens.

  • Tasukete! = Help!
  • Tomare! = Stop!
  • Kaji da! = Fire!
  • Dorobou! = Thief!

Navigational Phrases 

Even if you don’t intend to learn much Japanese, there are a few phrases that can help you to more easily navigate around the country. These are a must to learn, as they can be useful in tricky situations.

  • Eigo no hanaseru hito wa imasen ka? = Does anybody here speak English?
  • Nihongo ga wakarimasen. = I do not speak Japanese.
  • Chikatetsu wa doku desu ka. = Where can I find the subway?
  • Tetsudatte itadakemasu ka? = Will you help me?

A Note on Japanese Honorifics 

One thing to note about Japanese culture is its use of honorifics in addressing other individuals. As mentioned already, polite behavior is important in this culture, and honorifics are among the most important ways that you can show respect to others.

-San: The equivalent of calling someone miss or mister, this honorific is appropriate in most formal situations – for example, if you are meeting someone for business.

-Sama: This honorific indicates the highest level of respect possible. Use this honorific when speaking with any individual on a much higher level than you.

-Chan: This honorific is more of a term of endearment, and is primarily used for children and for pets. (However, it is sometimes used for one’s significant other.)

-Kun: Similar to –chan, this honorific is used to address young boys specifically. It is less “cute” than –chan, and as such is usually preferred by boys.

-Sensei: This honorific is used on any individual who is a teacher, mentor, or an instructor of some kind to show respect.

So when can you not use an honorific? Only in situations where you have become very close to an individual. A good rule of thumb is to stop using honorifics when the other individual no longer uses them with you.

Of course, this is only a very brief overview of the rich and complex Japanese language. If you need to learn the language fast, why not have a look at this accelerated Japanese language learning course, available on Udemy? With a little practice, you can have all the skills you need to begin speaking if not like a native, then at least like a seasoned traveler in no time. You can also take this great course in learning to read Japanese, which will better help you in your efforts to learn this beautiful language.