How not to use strange/unnatural Japanese

I would say that 95% of the time, I can express what I would like to express in Japanese. However, most of the time this sounds unnatural, or let’s say, I am not sure if there is a better option. Recently I started to overthink this…

Let’s start easy: I would like to ask you if I could borrow your pencil.

Inside my brain:

  • 鉛筆 = pencil; 借りる = borrow; partical = を and か → 鉛筆を借りますか?
  • Wait, we can do this more polite(?): 鉛筆を借りてもいいですか?
  • Wait again, should I use the potential form? Probably not, because I do not want to know if you are able to do so.
  • Ahhh wait. There was this topic with 借りる vs 貸す. Is 鉛筆を貸してください the best option? Why is my brain always thinking about the potential form in this context… Is it 鉛筆を貸せませんか?

I do not intend to discuss this example sentence further. (But feel free if you want to)

My question is:
What do you do in such situations? Just say what comes to your mind? How do you learn what is the best option? I can not ask my opponent after every sentence if this was the best option and remember his or her answer :stuck_out_tongue: Also I can not just copy his/her way of speaking if he or she is a higher up, etc.
Most of the time I do not care, but especially, when I have to communicate with superiors I am more worried that I fuck up a whole conversation because I say something rude, or they have problems to understand what I have in mind. Should I use bad Keigo with probably hundred of mistakes (鉛筆を貸していただけますか) or stick to stuff I think I know? Just do not care?

How do you find out, what would have been appropriate to say/write/…?


Exposure to natural conversations and content. If you absorb enough input, you will see many people ask to borrow things in many ways in various situations.


Yeah, basically what Leebo said. Like even native speakers will occasionally use awkward sentence patterns, so it isn’t the biggest deal, but eventually you will pick up what seems natural.

For example, a learner trying to enter a club might say:


Which is okay, and understandable, but not super natural in Japanese. But when gets more exposure to how the demonstrative pronounce work, they will eventually realize that they ought to say


Since at some point you learn that place pronouns are best for groups/organizations in Japanese, while in English it is inconsistent (“here is the best workplace” sounds awkward/wrong while “I love it here” does not).

1 Like

I didn’t try speaking for a long time(probably not anytime soon either) i feel if i can’t read/listen first then there’s no need for me to try to speak tbh.

I am sorry @Leebo and @MegaZeroX but actually I do not think, that this helps (Wrong word. I am not unhappy with your answers but on the same time not 100% happy. Something inbetwen.) me at the moment because this will take many many years.

I agree, that if I absorb enough natural Japanese, I have seen many interactions and can borrow sentence patterns and so on, hence naturally my Japanese will become more natural.
However, for me you just say: “Don’t care and absorb more Japanese”. Is this correct?

1 Like

You said yourself that you can’t " ask my opponent after every sentence if this was the best option and remember his or her answer"

Any other process is going to take time.

I’m not really sure I understand why you paraphrased it that way. It sounds quite dismissive, though maybe there’s a language barrier issue. All I said was that you will hear examples if you absorb Japanese and this is the best way to know what is natural.

If you want to know right this moment what the best way to say something is, then you have to ask someone or get really good at googling for the right answers.


Just speak and then listen to responses.

If you worry too much about making mistakes it’ll be counterproductive.

I know, I know keigo is super important and Japanese people are super into respect and formalities but I think they’d rather talk to you expecting you to make mistakes rather than be so focused on keigo that you garble everything.

If you make a mistake that’s egregious enough they’ll correct you. If you are that unsure of what you’ve said ask them to help you. They’re not going to say no.

You need to just listen to people. Not even necessarily people in real life. Watch some reality TV and see how people talk.


Language is about communication. Communicating what you need to should be your first priority. Then you can worry about ironing out strange or unnatural Japanese.


Sorry, but there is no other way. This is basically asking “How do I learn Japanese without putting in a large amount of effort to learn Japanese?” To which the answer is that there is none.

You can pick up nuances either by listening to native material, seeing them mentioned in various written things about grammar (in both English and Japanese), or repeatedly asking native speakers for feedback. There is no magic liquid one can drink that instantly makes one’s speech super natural.

1 Like

I always pack extra pencils when going to Japan to avoid this issue.


First, sorry @Leebo, if I sounded rude or dismissive. I really did not intend to do so. Sorry again.
It just felt a bit frustrating. Obviously there is no magic liquid, but perhaps I just hoped for something like that, or let’s say, I should definitely give some context about my original post.

My supervisor and I had to prepare some documents for a different person. After we prepared the documents, she asked me to send all the documents attached to an email (with her in CC) and explain again what we would like to know. So I wrote an email, while looking up different emails from the past from this person and my supervisor, intending to reuse some of their sentences and so on. I ended up thinking about each sentence at least twice.
Two hours after sending the email, my supervisor had sent an additional email with literally the same meaning reworded. Like she was explaining what I intended to say…
So I felt like my Japanese was so awkward, perhaps even rude, that she had to redo it. Later I asked a Japanese friend what was wrong with what I had written and he corrected/changed almost 95% what I had written… So this felt again like “How the heck?!? Why do I have to say it like that?!” or in short: “Aaaaaaaaah”

In conclusion: I hope that I know that everything you all said so far is correct and there is no shortcut. Perhaps my response sounded dismissive and maybe even rude, because this is all correct, but I am afraid this won’t help me with my next emails in the future :stuck_out_tongue:

Sorry, that I gave no context earlier and *** :confused:


Just to let you know, you might want to edit your post to remove the swearing in the last sentence. It’s against the community guidelines.

1 Like

Why don’t you try using a tutor? You could go through work scenarios and sort of role play. Hopefully, they’d be able to explain the nuances to you so that you can apply it to other situations not practiced.

I guess one thing to keep in mind is that the context of a business email has much higher expectations than, say, a casual conversation. I’m not entirely sure what kind of email it was, but you mentioned a supervisor so it sounds like it’s some kind of business communication. Imagine if you got an email from a company that you bought something from, and the English felt weird or had tons of mistakes in it. It might make you feel suspicious or uncomfortable. Whereas if you were just chatting with someone online who wasn’t a native English speaker, their mistakes probably wouldn’t bother you as much (or at all).

The only way to get better is to study, practice, and get your mistakes corrected. Like others have said, there’s no easy way out of it.


Unfortunately, there really is no option besides exposure to figure out how to phrase things naturally. And not all media is equal either! I’m personally a fan of just putting on Japanese radio stations on tunein. Very natural everyday Japanese, plus the broadcasters usually enunciate quite clearly, so I can generally follow along with most of it.


This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.