Cannot form sentences or thoughts in Japanese

Obligatory note this is my first time using the WK forum so apologies if I make any mistakes.

I’ve been studying Japanese by myself on and off for years, and just last year commited to Japanese classes at the college I work at. We use the NihonGo Now textbooks if anyone is familiar, I get straight As and am just now finishing Japanese 102. I use WK and have finished most of Rosetta Stone for Japanese and have used Duolingo and Lingo Deer here and there. I listen to some Japanese music and watch some anime with subtitles on so you have an understanding of what I practice.

I can for the most part if its at my level understand reading sections, listening is a bit pf a struggle but usually I can catch on if its slow clear speech. However, I totally lack the ability to reply in speech or writing my own independent thoughts in Japanese. I can recite back what my professors want as the textbook uses scripts and all I need to do is memorize the pattern and swap out a noun or verb, but I can’t come up with even simple sentences that I really should be able to do. I can’t talk about my day to day life, ask about how friends are doing or what they’re up to, how to make a food order, ask for or give directions, etc.

I feel so incredibly frustrated and I don’t understand what I can do to make it better. While I’m not expecting any fluency at this point, I feel like I should be able to at least do the most basic of things and I can’t. I don’t know if I’m the problem or if my learning methods are the problem.

Does anyone have any experience of being like this and how to help it? Like what can I add to my day to make it helpful…


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Reading native material for fun was probably the most important for me being able to start thinking and formulating simple sentences in Japanese. I’m not sure how much it will help you, but grabbing a manga you want to try out or joining the Absolute Beginner Book Club here on the forums might be worth a shot:)


Hmmm it sounds a little bit like you maybe focused too hard on passive language acquisition and have a solid understanding, but are not able to produce, because you never practised.

For production I would suggest some mental exercises which might help you get started

  • Looking around you (your room? your surroundings?) and try to name the things you see in Japanese. You can do dictionary lookups if needed, but as you progress lookups should become less and less frequent. Do things like “A is on B” or “A and B are on C”, etc.

  • While watching, try to pause and repeat what was said. When reading, try to read aloud. This is mostly so you get accustomed to the physical act of producing and hearing your own voice produce sounds in Japanese, even though you’re still just repeating content. When doing the following (shadowing), try to focus on words and phrases which keep repeating themselves (可能性がある、必要がない、Xにする、Xするつもり, etc.). You can later use these as “hooks” during conversation or writing.

Regarding experience, yes - unfortunately I’m still wildly incapable when it comes to speaking, because the moment I have to say something I get lost in sentence formation instead of just trying to say something. For that personally, 1:1 classes with a tutor should help.


First I want to start off with saying that is completely normal. I’m assuming you’re still relatively a beginner, and I’m fairly certain no one at that level is able to do that, it’s not really something you should blame yourself for.

I do remember drawing complete blanks maybe a bit less than a year ago, I’m not saying I’m really good at it now, but my ability increased simply by learning more. I read more native material, and in turn that helped me learn more vocabulary and grammar. Listening material is good too.

You can try talking to yourself, make up situations, and try to have a conversation, you’ll be limited but make sure you keep in mind that you need to get your point across, not translate your English sentence 1:1 to Japanese.


That’s completely normal at your level. When I started with my tutor almost two years ago, I could barely form anything more complicated than 私はりんごです, even though I was level 10 on WK and already knew hundreds of words. Now our lessons are completely in Japanese and we can have full conversations about fairly complicated topics, with the rare exception of needing to look up a word here and there


I echo what everyone else has said. It’s pretty natural to struggle with production, especially if most of your studying has involved receptive skills.

I think reading aloud is helpful, along with narrating your daily activities (as best you can). Many have started out with「これはペンです」(This is a pen). It’s so ubiquitous it’s almost a joke! But it can be a good way to get started (“This is a pen,” “That is not a pen,” “I buy a pen,” etc.).

I used to use Pimsleur CDs, which have you repeating sentences in a rapid-fire kind of way. They seem to have fallen out of favor, but I found them helpful.

BTW… Welcome!


It’s pretty normal for production to lag behind other skills, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You don’t have to feel pressured to output immediately.

That said, you said you struggle a bit with listening. I find that’s one of the most important things to develop as a beginner, and is the best way to ‘get the language in you’. Try fo find some easy content to listen to and you will notice forming thoughts will start to come slowly naturally.

Shadowing can also be useful, although I haven’t really found that fun enough to do.


Also, hand-writing a sentence or two a day can be super helpful. The kanji takes a while, so I wouldn’t try to overdo it. Just something like, “Today, I went to the grocery store. I bought potatoes” is a good start.


I have had this exact problem. My level of Japanese is around upper-intermediate. I’ve reached the point where I can read manga and understand things I hear pretty well. My biggest problem has always been producing output.

Things that helped me:

  • Learn vocabulary through A LOT of reading, and make sure you take note of context for vocabulary you don’t know. What particles are used? What grammar is being used? Why. This helps learning language patterns. Also, try to focus on learning words in the areas that you want to talk about. If you only learn generic words, it can help you to some degree, but if you don’t have the vocabulary to talk about the things you’re passionate about… it’ll be difficult to form sentences about your thoughts.

  • Figure out where you’re stumbling when it comes to producing sentences. Can you make really simple sentences? If so, research how you can combine two simple sentences together. You can use websites like HiNative to help you proof-check whether your Japanese sounds natural. You can also post here on the forum and get feedback from other users, although most people here aren’t natives, so there will be some variation of input. In the very beginning, it wouldn’t matter, though, because any input is better if it helps you build sentences.

  • Finding a language partner / friend / a group where you can exchange whatever language you speak natively in exchange for learning Japanese. Alternatively, you could try finding a teacher (I’ve heard italki is pretty good, but I haven’t tried it myself). This in combination with vocabulary learning and feedback would level up your output skills.

But really, any of the above would already help. Just from personal experience.


That’s just how it is tbh :slight_smile: The more you read, listen to, watch, the more sentence patterns you will learn and the more things that you want to say you’ll be able to say. I much prefer this approach over the “I want to say this, how do I say it in Japanese?” You’ll just end up with a bad attempt at an English sentence directly translated into Japanese, and you’ll probably end up being told “Well I understand what you’re trying to say, but that’s not how you say it”. So, stick to reading and listening, and maybe try to actively take note of how things are said in certain situations. And try to focus on the “Oh, that’s how you would order something / express that thought! I can use that” discoveries in Anime and books (and also textbooks!) that you have, maybe write them down somewhere, and try to use them yourself.


OOOh I really feel this. I’m still not super comfortable coming up with complex sentences, but these are the things that are helping me grow my confidence so I’m not completely tongue tied all the time.

  • Keep a daily diary 日記 (にっき)Write a sentence or two about something happening in your life, and post it on The asynchronous/anonymous nature of the service is super-comfortable for me as an introvert. Most of the people who help you will be native Japanese speakers. Bonus, you can also help Japanese people correct their English diaries, which feels like a win-win to me.

  • If you have a few dollars to spend, you can hire a conversation coach to practice with. You can ask for activities like role play situations like ordering in a cafe, buying things, or describe out loud things you see in a picture, or talk about hobbies. You can find people with a service like iTalki, or for online sessions.

Good luck to you and please share back anything you find helps!


Pause and repeat: yes! That is helpful for me too. Duolingo has a type of lesson where they give you English and you have to make a Japanese sentence using provided words. I alway try to compose and say the sentence out loud in Japanese first, then look to see the words offered to make the sentence. I think it causes me to think more about how I’d form the sentence. Bonus when the provided words aren’t what I expected and I have to think of ANOTHER way to say the same thing the way Duolingo wants.

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I’m also in the same vein and it can feel quite frustrating.

Ive been really studying for a bit over a year now, can read slow, but comfortably as long as it isn’t too hard and can understand things I hear if they’re around my level and I know them.

Yet, when it comes to actually speaking, I draw a blank. It feels like the one area I don’t have a great way to practice.


I would call myself an ‘advanced beginner’. I too have difficulty formulating sentences in Japanese, as well as understanding many of the sentences that I read from sources such as the NHK Easy News web site.

I think that I understand why that is the case. Even though I’m getting closer to being able to understand spoken Japanese directly in my head without mechanically ‘translating’ it, word by word, into English, a lot of it remains beyond my grasp due to the unavoidable fact that the Japanese cultural “kangaekata” or “way of thinking” is simply different from that of a Westerner (that is, a native American English speaker such as myself).

As an example, several years ago, when I was much more of a ‘beginning beginner’, I had the experience of trying to have a conversation with a Japanese native living in the US (who had a reasonable level of familiarity with English). His assessment of my attempt at speaking Japanese was that while it was evident that I knew the words and how to pronounce them properly, somehow when I spoke it didn’t sound like true Japanese. It was a bit uncomfortable to hear that, but I actually grasped the point that he was making, and so made a conscious effort to speak my next sentence in a way that I knew would be much more like the dialogs from my textbooks - and it worked - as he commented that now it actually sounded like I was speaking Japanese.

The difference was that I had been trying to speak in the way that I would naturally speak in English, but with Japanese words in place of the English words, as opposed to speaking Japanese words in the way that Japanese speakers actually use them.

Does that make sense? It’s that “kangaekata” thing…


I had a serious plateau at around intermediate level but then decided to get a tutor and it was totally worth it. Just to have someone make me talk as much as possible and repeat back with the correct sentence for a couple of months really boosted my abillity. I got quicker at clicking it together in my head. You just need to up your speaking time its like a muscle you gotta exercise.


I believe it starts with watching/listening something really native, but simply enough to be at your level.

Then, on the output side, try to make it as simple as possible. No need to make it complex or copy English.

After that, it would still need a lot of practice and correction, but not as hard as you think.


Replying to thank everyone for their suggestions and encouragement. Though I think I may have been unclear in my intro that I am taking Japanese classes in college where I am having to practice talking in Japanese to my professors, just that it is very formulaic and not very natural production like I’ve done in other classes. (The NihonGo Now books are all based on memorizing scripts and then learning grammar based on said scripts for those unfamiliar with the books).

I was getting really down and wondering if I even am learning any Japanese or just memorizing sounds to parrot back, but now thinking that I do understand more of what I read and hear than before I started obviously I am learning, even if its not at the pace I want. It is nice to know there are others who can read/listen but struggle like me to form replies or their own sentences.

I will take into account everyone’s advice, particularly about simply practicing with very simple sentences that honestly seemed a bit silly to me to even practice writing or saying. I suppose I applaud other peoples’ efforts when making simple statements in English when they’re learning it as a second language, so I should do the same with myself with Japanese.



I stumbled upon this video series awhile ago. I’m not using it but it sounded pretty good.

Only advice is to start small and have imaginary dumb conversations.


This channel is haunting me lately. The mighty Youtube algorithm already pointed me to one of these and now there is another one recommended here :smiley: