How to teach a kid to actually speak Japanese

I am of Japanese heritage and my kids have been informally and sort-of-formally taught Japanese on and off their entire lives. However, I am not very fluent myself and have not been consistent about speaking Japanese with them, especially when the conversation gets more complicated. My partner doesn’t speak a word of Japanese. As a result, my kids can understand some basic conversation, know some scattered vocabulary and can say a few set phrases along the lines of “I am X. I am Y years old.” The older one (nearly 10) knows her hiragana, more or less her katakana, and some basic kanji (most of the ones taught in Grade 1 in Japanese school). What she cannot do is string words together to form coherent sentences – even when she knows the words in isolation. Is there anything out there that would train her to do that?


I suggest a basic grammar book, like Minna no Nihongo. You could get a copy and use it to teach everyone in your family. Minna no Nihongo teaches the absolute basics that they’ll need, plus there are group activities you can do together. You can also try the Genki books.

Knowing some vocabulary is great, but grammar is the foundation upon which all sentences are made. Once they’ve got the basics down they’ll be more capable of absorbing more complex grammar points through mere exposure (kids are kids are good at that!) in media such as picture books or television.


I’d say that whether a child or an adult, the tactics are more or less the same. They need exposure: books, Tv programs, youtube videos, music, whatever you can get your hands on. At 10, she may be a little resistant but make a time weekly or more for Japanese. There was a video posted here not that long ago by someone not Japanese, teaching their child Japanese. I’ll post it if I can find it. Also if your kids see you making the effort, then they may be more inclined to do it to. And finally you have to make it fun! Learning through play is the best way.

You could also try online tutors at italki or similar places. Some do teach children. I find with my own kids who are a similar age to yours, they don’t like me teaching them English, but respond well to others making them talk, pushing them to use new words, write, etc.


Found the post I was thinking of but I have no idea how to share it so we’ll see if this works:


Unfortunately books like Minna no nihongo and Genki are primarily targeted for university-level students, so I would not recommend them for younger children (such as the 10 year old). The vocabulary and exercises are meant for adults… e.g., many topics about buying & drinking alcohol, reading a newspaper, living in college dorms, smoking, getting a job, etc. Also, these books present grammar in a formal manner, which will bore and frustrate younger kids.

I found out recently that in my city there are a few Japanese non-profits with summer, evening & weekend programs suitable for children. These are run by the local Japanese community and some are even supported by the Japanese embassy / consulate. It might be worth finding out if there are similar programs in the area?

I see a lot of overseas Japanese kids who can’t really speak Japanese but are at least very exposed to the language & culture, such that if they desire to learn Japanese later on (high school / college or beyond) they have a good chance to become fluent since they have had that early exposure.


I think your kids are older than my little girl who is one and a half、but I think immersion is the key.
I use YouTube on the TV to play her Japanese children’s programs and nursery rhymes. There is SO MUCH excellent content out there for her to watch and learn. I’ve even learned lots of vocab by memorizing all the nursery rhymes. Lol. I also play lots of Japanese music to keep the language exposure there (for both of us!)

I’m also very lucky bc my partner speaks Japanese to her at all times… can you join a Japanese play group in your area? …or a Japanese class for kids? There must be somewhere that can give your kids exposure to the language.


@peekay Ah, I hadn’t considered that! Thanks for the reminder.

I do agree, the topics are definitely going to bore the children. However I stand by my suggestion to invest in some kind of grammar book.

@ikuradon I’d like to add a bit to my suggestion. As you are studying Japanese yourself, you can learn the basics of the grammar and edit the lessons to be more kid-friendly when presenting it to your own children. Tweaking scenarios for more casual, school-related or friend-related settings that a child would likely use would be a good way to start. The main idea is to have them exposed to the new sentence patterns of Japanese. After that, it should be easier for them to pick up on new words on their own.

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Most Japanese children who live abroad attend the “regular” school (the one other children also attend), and then on Saturdays they go to a supplementary school where they learn Japanese language and culture, including writing kanji, etc. Sometimes these schools also have a summer camp where a bunch of Japanese or ハーフ kids go and they can (but don’t have to) speak Japanese to each other there.

Either that or they attend a Japanese school full time (日本人学校).

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I moved from China at the age of five, and grew up abroad. As others have said, motivation really is the key. I found by mother’s structured attempts to teach me Chinese rather boring (despite being a very studious student in general), but I absolutely loved the great story books and magazines that my grandpa sent me from China. In the end, I think I now read Chinese fluently only because I loved reading, rather than the additional burden and stress of extracurricular Chinese homework that I increasingly down-prioritized. My now four years old daughter loves stories too (particularly adventurous and perhaps a bit scary ones!), so we listen to audio stories of her choice in Chinese every evening ( and go to the international library regularly where she with great enthusiasm choose Chinese books she would like to read and CDs she thinks look interesting. Something in Japanese corresponding to the Kaishu stories could perhaps be:, although I haven’t personally tried. I think with children, the first step is to make them fall in love with something that requires the target language, before considering the means to train them. Perhaps there are some captivating manga, movies, Japanese schools/gatherings (friends helps tremendously!) to her liking?


My kids do go to a Japanese class once a week and it helps but it’s quite easy, since it’s open to all, even absolute beginners, and it doesn’t assign homework. Still, better than nothing. There is also a more advanced Japanese class in my area for kids but I think my kids would just get frustrated, since there are kids there born and raised in Japan who are just in Canada temporarily and whose parents want them to keep up with their studies for their eventual return to Japan.


“Because my parent wants me to” is not a strong motivator to learn a language. If you want your kids to learn any language (not just Japanese), show them how it could be fun and interesting and useful for them. Take them to Japan, stay there for several weeks. Show them manga and anime, or J-pop videos, or babymetal, or dorama series, movies by Studio Ghibli, or Japanese variety and game shows.

If they learn Japanese at the weekly class and don’t use it the other 6 days of the week, they’ll start wondering why they even bother.


This is a blog that I read regularly. While the bloggers situation is the opposite of yours (an American trying to teach his Japanese kids English), his basic advise can still apply. He has so many ideas (captive reading: putting stuff up by the toilet so you read because there’s nothing else to do while you’re doing your business). It’s a good place to keep your own motivation up. Raising bilingual/fluent children requires a lot of time and energy and it can be challenging to stay committed.


Erin’s Challenge is aimed at a younger audience than most textbooks and it’s free! There are skits with text (hiragana/romaji/etc) and the “Key Phrases” section has another video where a cartoon mascot-thing breaks down key phrases and vocabulary.


Ooh, that looks like a good one, thanks! I’ll try that with my older daughter, who’s a bit too old for the little-kid resources I’ve found. The little-kid ones are still okay for my just-turned-seven-year-old but there doesn’t seem to be much for older kids not yet ready for adult resources.

Thank you for sharing!!! There are resources available for all ages you just gotta know how to look. I will continue to share all that I know!

This!!! If traveling overseas is not an option, incentivize their language goals by signing up for a homestay program, where you host a native in your home. (You will have to speak and help with their English but it makes the teenagers feel comfortable knowing you know Japanese and can translate them into understanding when you hit a rough patch).

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She needs to be able to observe people communicating in simple Japanese. If she never sees someone do it, she won’t ever magically just be able to do it on her own.

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Hello!!! Try Shimajiro Kodomo Challenge for her age. Subscribe to my youtube channel Pm me on fb or instagram anytime. I can help you. I specialize in all things This lol (basically teaching and motivating your children to learn your native language while you learn with them. …and to answer my question You are the key to her stringing those sentences together. When you can, she will. If she sees you studying and speaking more fluently, you will better be able to help her along her journey. Just hang out with her and speak only Japanese together. In small simple sentences amidst the English and slowly phrase out the English on Japanese outing day. (i.e. let’s go buy you some new jeans (whatever her fav obsession is) catch is we are doing it in Japanese) make it super fun. When they are laughing they are learning and most importantly loving learning!

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