How well can you get by with JLPT N4 / Knowledge of Genki Books?

Hi Everyone :slight_smile:

I’m moving back to to Japan in December (super excited, yay!). I’ve lived there before for a year, but sadly lacked the motivation back then to really work on my Japanese. However, this time I (hope) I’m more well prepared.

I should roughly be at N4 level when I arrive (done with Genki II and some additional Grammar/Vocab beyond that).

Anyone here who went to Japan around this level? How well did you get by, how comfortable were you with conversations? I’d love to hear!

I came to Japan having passed N3 about a year earlier. You can have simple conversations with people, but people are really good at finding alternative ways of saying things you studied.

If you’re expecting どこから来ましたか you might hear どちらの出身? instead.
Rather than 何才ですか, you might hear いくつですか?

So just be ready for those things and ask them to rephrase it, not merely repeat it.

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Thanks for answering! I find the number of synonyms in Japanese often overwhelming. So many words for things for which there is only one in my native language (German).

It really depends. Especially since the JLPT doesn’t measure speaking ability, you could have N1 and still really struggle communicating. I think your ability to adjust to life with the level you have solely depends on your motivation to continue to polish your skills and speaking with people all the time. The more opportunities the better.

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It really depends on what your goals are and how you want to use the language. If you’re hoping to have insightful conversations about meaningful topics you might be a little disappointed. But if you just want to join in friendly events where lots of other people are learning the language same as you, you should be fine.

I know people who have lived in Japan for years without knowing much more than “konnichiwa” and “nomihoudai”

I’m happy just being able to have a bit of smalltalk when a nice おばあちゃん strikes up a conversation or when I’m at a bar. More will come with time I guess, would also like to take some classes once I’m there.

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This is such a heart-warming image…

I think this point can’t be overstated enough. I can communicate reasonably well when typing, I just explained what Calques were, and how they’re used in Chinese, in Japanese. But when I am trying to talk it’s all “Me want food. That thing, give. Sleep now tired.”



For me, the hardest part is listening. I can’t process the words fast enough, although I might understand the meaning in theory. I’ve been playing a video game in English with Japanese audio (Persona 5) where you can replay the audio as often as you want, and often I understand some things the second or third time, although at first it was just one big blob of sound.
When I was in Japan (and my Japanese was even worse than it is now) I would panic so much when shop staff walked up to me and started to talk that my hearing basically stopped working.

For speaking, I think that even with my limited vocabulary, I can somehow get my point across if it’s not a complicated topic - although, just like you, in a pretty clumsy sounding way.

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Old Japanese ladies often are so sweet. Once one started talking to me on a train and in the end gifted me some of the flowers she had just bought, and even wrote a little note. I felt so bad that I could catch only very little of what she was saying, so I’m trying hard to improve now :slight_smile:


I passed N3 this year. I still struggle to place a freaking order at a cafe. (True story, happened 30 minutes ago - I even misread 本日コーヒー as 日本コーヒー in the heat of the moment…).

Reading and even writing in another language is a whole different beast than speaking. No amount of studying by yourself will prepare you for that.

Of course, I don’t mean to scare you, but just warn you not to be disheartened if you happen to realize that you suck when you start trying to talk in japanese. It’s one of those things that only get better by practicing.

I passed the N4 this July and finished the Genki Books shortly before. In terms of my experience, the gap betweeen where you’re at and where colloquial japanese is much of the time will be sufficient for you to express yourself in Japanese, but not often to fully understand what people are saying to you if they don’t have any knowledge of english (ironically, this is a strong indicator of whether or not they are even aware what Japanese is “simple” or “beginners” Japanese vs. what isn’t). This sort of problem is twice or thrice as hard with elderly folks like おばちゃん who may have an accent, speak a different dialect, or more often than not, both.

That said, communication is about more than simply transmitting ideas– in japan especially, it can be about reinforcing social bonds and showing regard for people on a human level. And with that in mind, you should be able to engage the おばちゃん on that human level with what Japanese you have when it is possible, and (as has been the case for me) with generous gesticulations and pantomiming when your language knowledge doesn’t cut it.

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