Teacher who exclusively talks casual japanese

Hi everyone,

I had a session with an Italki teacher who, as the title suggests, talks only casual Japanese and focuses on getting one to talk like they are hanging out with friends. While I really like the idea of it and given that I am not planning to ever be in a formal work setting there is a part of me that is reserved and worried about neglecting the humble way of speech especially as I noticed that a lot of my current approach to the conversation formal endings, using particles or answering はい instead of うん.

What are your thoughts on committing to a sensei who teaches exclusively a more modern and young way of speaking? Am I overthinking this?

Thank you in advance!

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Sounds good to me, especially since you say you don’t plan on using formal language.

You seem to have doubts just because most of what you know is formal rather than not, but that’s just how most people start. Once you get going you’ll see most things are more informal, even grammar that has to work with dictionary form instead of masu, but I guess it would come down to if you’re gonna be reading manga and watching anime or reading newspapers.

Also, you can always just learn the formal parts by yourself, I don’t see why worry about it now.

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In my situation, I hear casual (Chikugo-ben) Japanese 80-90% of the time and hear formal only in public spaces and on TV, while most of my study materials lean toward formal/respectful Japanese.

As far as a teacher choosing that, I think that that should be stated explicitly by such a teacher who is charging for lessons, especially because it might give off the impression of being unprofessional, and - in all honesty - the reason formal/standard/respectful language is taught in the classroom is that it’s cultural to talk that way in such a setting.

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I think it depends on why you want to learn to speak. If you only want to speak Japanese as a tourist, with hotel/restaurant staff and similar, then casual language probably isn’t what you want to focus on learning. If you want to make friends and be able to have conversations in those kinda settings, than casual is better. If you are planing to go to school in Japan, then you’d want casual for your fellow students, and formal with teachers.

It would be impossible to say whether it is a good choice or not without knowing why you want to learn to speak.

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Thanks for your thoughts.

You are right, as a tourist which is what I primarily am in relation to Japan casual speech doesn’t see much usage however connecting with Japanese folks and growing closer to them I can see the importance here. I think I need to reflect a bit on my long-term goal here.

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Casual is probably the harder one to learn by yourself, because most resources are oriented to more formal language. On the other hand, you will need to practice formal speaking to be able to do it. Just like one has to practice casual speaking to do that. Learning one might certainly make nouns and such easier to recall, but doing the correct verb conjugations on the fly and such, need to be practiced for both casual and formal.

I don’t think it is a bad idea to learn casual even as a tourist. I imagine you might be able to make deeper connections if you can switch to casual. But learning only casual language is probably not ideal. But focusing on first learning one, and then the other, is probably a good idea. Which one to do first, I don’t feel like I can answer. There are pros and cons for both, I feel.

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I speak weekly with a Japanese friend. She will only speak using neutral forms with me (です/ます, many people call that formal, but given there are even more forms with greater humbleness or politeness, she calls this “neutral”). Sometimes she will blurt out more casual forms or phrases because we are very close, but she’s always really careful to point out which ones are suitable for neutral use or only with friends. Her reasoning is that for the spoken language, aside from my friendship with her, I need the neutral speech patterns for everyone else I will encounter to avoid accidental rudeness. It’s so important to her to teach me that way, it made a big impression on me. Now that we’ve been speaking weekly for >3 years, I’m so thankful for this. In the beginning, I just thought formality in Japanese was about conjugations, but now I realise, there are lots and lots of prefixes, suffixes, words and phrases that depend on the level of formality as well. If I had learned to speak casually from the start, then all of my verbal reflexes would have been casual and it would have made it more difficult to adjust to neutral speech.

My impression of transitioning from either one:
Neutral → casual: Mostly you leave things out, so it’s easier. As a simple start, just use dictionary forms and leave off some prefixes and particles :slight_smile: it might sound slightly more formal without knowing the casual filler speech and some differences in nouns, but this is a pretty easy and low risk transition. I find it really easy to read and use casual speech.

Casual → neutral: you would have to navigate adding all the endings and adding particles. Also, a lot of the phrases and nouns from casual speech would now be inappropriate… but how would you know? It’s not like you’ll have a list… Of course, as a foreigner you get the benefit of the doubt, but this transition carries the risk you’ll sound rougher and the listener would constantly have to remember to account for that.

When I visit, I think I’ll make a better impression when I meet people due to having my foundation in neutral speech. I’m obviously biased by the route I went, though, and someone with different goals will weigh it up differently! For goals focused on manga, anime, and gaming, I can imagine a casual speech teacher would get you there faster and feel like better value.

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Very valuable insight, thank you for sharing and I agree fully which is why I opened this thread. I already have to unlearn a lot of humble patterns.

Ultimately what you said is true for me though - the goal of immersion through japanese media which is why I think a casual approach might be more suited for me personally so might have to bite the bullet despite your advice.

Thanks again!

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Honestly, neutral polite speech is 99% using です/ます so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Everything other than that and casual speech falls on a grid with two axes: politeness and formality. The thing is, once you try to be more formal or more polite you will have indicated your participation into the contract of social hierarchy that all of that entails.

Whether you learn that later or earlier doesn’t really matter in the long run.

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Does that mean the sensei doesn’t use the -masu desu forms with you much? If so I think s/he’s doing you a disservice. As somebody else said, that’s the form you’ll need most of the time if you want to speak appropriately.

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