Any tips for impromptu example sentences?

I take beginner Japanese classes focusing on GENKI book 2 (3rd edition). Often I’m asked hypothetical questions where my answer should include the target grammar. I can always understand the question perfectly, however, I’m not able to answer the question even if it were in English!

Examples include, but aren’t limited to:

  • 何をしながら、仕事をしますか? “What do you do while you’re at work?” — Umm, I work at work? What do you mean? Apparently “talk to colleagues” is an acceptable answer, but that seems to mundane I would never say it in a real conversation.
  • 子供の時に何ができましたか? “What were you able to do in your childhood?” — Umm?! That was over 20 years ago, I don’t remember!

I need to be able to demonstrate that I can answer questions using the target grammar, and respond quickly when doing so.

Does anybody have any strategies for answering hypothetical questions, or giving hypothetical example sentences, when you wouldn’t be able to give an answer in your mother tongue?


I feel your struggles :slight_smile: I’m the same in Japanese classes. Over time I’ve gotten used to making up some stuff, for example:

What do you do while you work?

  • I read texts
  • I write emails
  • I research stuff on Google
  • I have a meeting with colleagues
  • I prepare a meeting

What could you do as a child?

  • I could climb a tree
  • I could run 5 kilometers
  • I could swim and dive
  • I could eat a whole pie

BTW my teachers are fully prepared that we make up stuff for the sake of the exercises. Very occasionally they would ask us whether some of our example sentences were true, and they are totally fine when we respond that no, it was made up for the sake of the exercise. :blush:

Maybe that gives you some ideas for your next class?


Thank you, that’s a good idea! Answering hypothetical questions with hypothetical answers!

Maybe I could answer the questions as though the subject was a fictional character from a book or something. Ah, maybe I’ll use characters from The Simpsons!

What do you do while you work?

  • I eat doughnuts.

What could you do as a child?

  • I could skateboard.

I think this could work!


This is part of why many people find textbooks frustrating. The supplied dialogues and example sentences are almost universally dumb. Especially if you’re not a full time student or a tourist (the primary audience for most textbooks).


Well but I think you’re missing part of the point if you give a short answer that way. I would answer it in a complete sentence, or even several, using the hypothetical information. So, not “I could skateboard”, but “When I was a child, I could ride a skateboard.” Yes, it’s tedious to do 12 times in a row doing a genki exercise (especially if you’re hand-writing your answers), but that’s part of the point, to ingrain the pattern so it becomes (more) natural.

With an instructor, I would go even farther and use the exercise as a prompt to start a conversation. When I was a child, I could ride a skateboard. I was not very good at skateboard riding, but I enjoyed it. I learned from my neighbor who was older than me. Can you ride a skateboard?"

Also, I think you’re over-thinking the questions in the first place. Do you ever talk on the phone at work? Read a book? Go to a meeting? When you were a kid could you ride a bicycle? Throw a ball? This isn’t a first date or job interview, just pick a relatively well-known verb and object and fit it into the sentence pattern.

I was super tempted to add - You’re even allowed to lie. “When I was a kid I could drive a car.” Really? No, but fact-checking isn’t the point.

I decided against that though (even though it is ok), because you can also use this opportunity to arm yourself with some pre-practiced sentences that could actually come up in real life. What DO you do at work? Someone might ask someday, and having thought about it now, you’ll just answer instead of being all, ummm… chotto…


Right? Our Japanese teacher at work in Japan did not literally believe all the exciting lives we all apparently led in our spare times. In fact, it made the class more fun, adopting some glamorous James Bond persona to answer the questions, or being the most obvious outrageous liar just to make everyone laugh. (Can I borrow your pen? Expected answer, Hai, douzo. Actual answer: I don’t have any pens. [while literally holding a pen as you say it])

But I still think when you’re doing written homework (vs. one-on-one in-the-moment conversation) you should try to build up your bank of standard true things you would actually say IRL.


Yes I do practice with full sentences when speaking and writing, and I agree that’s part of the point. But my problem is specific to the details, so if I think of Bart Simpson, he could ride a skateboard… but when I think back to when I was a kid, I have childhood amnesia! :sob:

Also, as for the work thing, I originally answered that “I teach while I’m at work”, but my teacher said this was a strange answer because teaching IS my work. So that makes me think the other things (e.g. meetings, phone calls) which are also part of my work might also be unacceptable answers? :man_shrugging:

You’re right, I’m definitely overthinking it :joy: Surely the answer is simple, somehow…

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Nah, I think your teacher is probably trying to say, the question is more about your daily routine. If I know you’re a teacher and I ask what that’s like, and you answer “I teach” - well no kidding. I guess you don’t want to talk about it, shrug. How? You prepare lessons, you assign homework, you show videos, you have practice conversations…

I mean, your answer is both literally true and probably grammatically correct, but it isn’t making you stretch your vocabulary to make you learn your own domain-specific jargon you can use every day.


I don’t know how old you are but I used to be like this when I was younger. I was going to job interviews and could not find any answers to questions about the job since everything seemed obvious.

For instance when you’re asked : “What do you do while you’re at work?” what pops in your mind is : " — Umm, I work at work? ". Different people have different job and some have litteraly no clue what one’s job is. Even the most basic thing might be completely foreign to someone else. So don’t be afraid of stating the obvious !

Most of the time people don’t expect a very clever answer. They just expect ‘something’. Like the examples provided by NicoleRauch.

It took me years to understand and internalize this and I feel it is very important.


This is true! I’m afraid of stating the obvious sometimes… Maybe I can’t think of ideas because I’m blocking out the simplest ones. I’ll try to be more self-aware to see if I can work on that. Thank you!