My Coworker Speaks Japanese & Wants to Help; Advice?

By providence I met someone else at my workplace who speaks Japanese! This was about four months ago. He grew up on Okinawa amongst Japanese family and learned the language in high school and college, so he’s been speaking for a couple decades. Although I’ve found that he’s more comfortable with kana and romaji as opposed to kanji, I’ve heard him speak back and forth with native Japanese people, and they’re definitely having genuine communication.

The amazing thing is that he has clearly expressed and shown that he wants to help me along my endeavor to become fluent!

We’ve been meeting on Mondays during lunch (about an hour), and although he has been helpful, I can’t help but think that I am not making the best use of his offer to help during this time period. Although he is truly wanting to help, he is also not sure of the best method of helping me.

If you had this opportunity, or have had this opportunity, how would you make the best use of this generous offer of time? Structure? Prepping ahead of time?

Thanks for your suggestions!


I think it’s an amazing opportunity to ask questions. You don’t understand a certain expression or a grammar point then ask for his interpretation.

He probably has a good feel of Japanese language and I assume is also fluent in another language you speak together.

But don’t expect him to teach you, I’d say. If he’s not a teacher that’d be pretty tough for him.


I had a similar experience where I ended an email with arigato gozaimasu just to be an idiot and the person I was emailing wrote back in fluent Japanese. I guess you just never know where the other Nihongophiles might be lurking. Unfortunately she was transferred shortly thereafter so I didn’t really get the opportunity you now have. I hope you can find a way to make the most of it!


If speaking is what he is good at, then have him speak–you could both pick a series of topics that you like, and take turns asking each other questions and answering them, and figuring out what you are saying or how best to say it. Or if you are learning Japanese for a reason (business? pleasure?) you could target the conversation topics to that reason. But that assumes you’re at a point where you can talk a bit and make sentences in Japanese already?


conversation practice!

in particular if you’re self-studying, getting conversation practice can be a huge challenge. i’d love to have someone around with whom i could practice having just a normal conversation ^^

edit: also, if he’s not got any training as a teacher, this is probably also where he’d be most useful ^^


Yeah I mean, I’m no expert, but here’s what I would do: have 100% immersion as a goal. Just chat, but try to speak only Japanese. At first, that’s going to last about 30 seconds before you run into a question - then you have a topic for the meeting.

Over time, you might be able to get to where you last several minutes without stopping. :smiley:


You don’t give an indication of what level your japanese is, but if you’re able to do so, just chat to him for the time. I have a tutor on Italki who I do ‘free talk’ classes with and it’s been so good for my japanese. I often prepare a couple of starting points but then we usually end up on a completely different topic to I expected to, and so I’m forced to try to recall vocabulary I hadn’t expected to, or try to explain things I don’t know the word for (I have a particularly strong memory of trying to explain sourdough bread…).

Also playing simple games like I-spy or shiritori to practice your vocabulary (my other tutor did a lot of this with me when I first started but we had to stop with i spy when we switched to online classes for the pandemic!)


From my experience with my wife learning my native language, it can be incredibly hard to teach someone another language. It can also be pretty uncomfortable to correct someone. More so if they are a colleague and you don’t want to strain any professional relationships. But that depends on what your colleague is confident in and comfortable with.

If he is willing, one way to “correct” without going into teacher-esque explanations is to restate things. If you are talking and you express yourself in a clunky way, he can restate what you were trying to convey in a way that sounds more natural to him. It’s what my teacher does in class as well. It puts your Japanese through it’s paces as you try to recall vocab and grammar, but you also get exposure to more natural ways of saying it.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily make for a very natural conversation, but it can potentially be a happy medium between your coworker having to play teacher, and just chatting to the best of both your abilities without feedback.