Tips for Speaking with my Japanese Family?

Hello! My really young half-sisters and step-mother speak Japanese as their first language. I am the eldest son of our family, and want to be involved with my sisters. Does anyone have any advice or insight on speaking with family in Japanese? Or perhaps some helpful phrases? I’ve been studying for a while, but I’m still working through very polite language, which is very different from the conversations had by my family.

Thanks! :smiley:

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This might not sound very helpful, but just start speaking to them. You will probably make a lot of mistakes at first, but that’s okay. If they say something you don’t understand, ask them what it means. Use what phrases you do know and ask them to correct you. Make a lot of mistakes, get correction, and don’t feel stupid for making mistakes.

If your goal is to speak with them and understand them when they are speaking, I wouldn’t advise looking up phrases. It seems you’re more used to formal Japanese. It might be helpful to get a feel for more casual Japanese, you could try to listen to PDR for example. Now, if I knew Japanese well enough I wouldn’t watch his videos at all because they seem to be completely vacuous from an intellectual perspective, but it could get you up to speed with more casual/slang Japanese.


Wow, if you wanted to learn Japanese, you just got the BEST opportunity! Nothing beats just trying, and getting live feedback from native speakers. And yeah, use what you can and let them know you want them to correct you. Don’t be afraid of using the polite versions, at least they will understand you and can answer =) (though the child might be more used to plain speech… she might still know some of the polite versions)

Depending on the girls age and your knowledge there are many word games you could play with her, both for bonding and learning =)


Aye, my advice is just to speak to them and learn Japanese by hearing it and using it. You have an invaluable opportunity, there, to be honest.

For outside resources I would concentrate a lot more on mastering grammar, and learning kanji, but do most of the actual practice with family, were I in your shoes.

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Thanks so much for the insight and especially the youtube channel- I haven’t ever heard of PDR, so I really appreciate the link! :sparkling_heart:

You’re welcome. Like I said I don’t like his channel that much (I don’t like his sense of humor and he swears). Watch this TED video as well. This vid from Koichi carries across the same message.

You say your half-sisters are really young - from which I take it that they are less than 5 years old? If they are, please accept some important advice from someone with a seven year old daughter, who has Japanese as her first language. This advice is based on my experience, and what I learnt the hard way.

  1. You must not use young children as a learning resource. Their development needs massively outweigh yours. This is especially true if you live in an English speaking country. They need you to speak English to them, even if they speak Japanese to you. What I found was my daughter spoke Japanese to me, I spoke English back (mostly, not always easy). This has had real benefits to her, which in the end is what matters.

  2. It basically impossible to use young children as a structured learning resource. This seems especially true for Japanese, where there seems little relationship between formal Japanese and the language (very young) children use. I always disappoint about how little of children’s TV I understand :frowning: Also, children really only want to do stuff that is fun, and it’s difficult to make whatever you are learning at any one time fit into the game they want to play.

  3. Given these limitations, there is still a lot of stuff you can do with younger children that will be fun for you, and that will improve your Japanese. Play with them, as much as you can - even if you reply in English, you are still listening in Japanese, and improving your comprehension. When they sing in Japanese, sing with them - learn the songs, work out what they mean, and sing along. Watch Japanese children’s TV with them, you’ll develop a common bond with them, also it’ll be good for your Japanese. Read their books - good practice for Hiragana, perhaps read to them a little - but remember, much better for them if you read English books to them. Enjoy meals times and car journeys - if your step mother is present, it’s a great change for listening practice when she talks to your sisters , and try as much as possible to talk in Japanese when your step-mother is there (as she can correct your mistakes, and you don’t want to pass on your (not necessarily correct) Japanese to your sisters - this is something I learnt the hard way!)

My experience has been that learning Japanese within a family setting has actually been very difficult - real life gets in the way (meaning the need to communicate quickly is makes it difficult to practice). I mention this only so that you approach this with realistic expectations.

I hope you don’t see this as negative - it’s not - doing the things I suggest should lead you to having a really fantastic relationship with your sisters, and your Japanese will improve - the fantastic relationship is what really matters. And of course later in life, you’ll be learning things Japanese from them!


Wow! Thanks for the perspective- I didn’t even think of the possible impacts on my sisters’ language skills, nor did it occur to me that my goal would contradict my hope to further our relationship!

One is 8 and the other is 6. The elder is very solid in both Japanese and English, but the younger is actually better in English than Japanese (not that it’s important, but it’s because one went to a Japanese-speaking school, whereas the other did not).

I think that your suggestions are awesome! Especially since the 8-year-old is learning lots of kanji, now, and the younger is working on her kana, I think it’s a great idea for me to read with them and join in with songs (and since I’m basically between them in terms of reading ability). I already help with English-reading, but perhaps I can start helping with basic kana memorization or just letting them read to me.

Thank you so much for your experienced insights! I really appreciate it!


(paraphrased, but): ‘people feel like the whole world will end if they try and speak the language’

This hits me on two levels because I intellectually know this is entirely untrue, obviously, about any additional language I’ve learned. But my emotions and anxiety don’t seem to understand. I remember being 14 in Russian Saturday school with 30 native speakers trying to get an easy A to boost their averages. There was one non-native girl, but she was fluent. The teacher asked me to try and read a poem in front of the class, which I had rehearsed for HOURS the week before. And when it came time to try it, even in front of people I was starting to make friends with, I just started sobbing. Couldn’t even utter the first syllable, which was just ‘Я’.

I wasn’t diagnosed with any sort of anxiety back then, but before this I had never had a problem with trying out new things and being worried about failing, so I think it may have triggered some sort of foreign language anxiety. I was already well into my French studies at this point, speaking in front of native teachers so that was no problem. Not sure if that changed right after the Russian thing, but even now, at near fluency, I get nervous speaking to native French speakers. Speaking, and sometimes even typing in German or Japanese to my hellotalk friends gets my heart rate in the exercise zone, according to my fitbit LOL.

I wish there was some easy way to turn off these inhibitions, and I wonder if anyone else has gone through a similar experience? Maybe we could help each other and try speaking our broken Japanese together more easily, knowing we all have the same issue. That fact might make things easier, I don’t know :slight_smile: Maybe just putting this on the internet and airing it out will help, who knows! :stuck_out_tongue:

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What’s a Russian Saturday school?

As for the anxiety, learning how anxiety and fear works (amygdala, signals, all that stuff) and rationalising about it further might help. I heard psychologists use it on some patients.

I was shy speaking English due to my stereotypical Russian accent and bad ability to produce nuanced sounds, but got over it after there arose a real need of using it at work and discussing things with clients. Thinking of languages in utilitarian terms as of merely means of communication helps a lot. Tried speaking French a bit with some tourists. Sounded ridiculous, but did convey the message. More or less.

I still feel pretty stupid though when I don’t know how to pronounce something. But that’s an English thing, it is terrible at this stuff.

Well, I think I get nervous as well, but my nervousness doesn’t interfere that much when I’m actually speaking. It does make me hesitant to start speaking, but after that it’s okay. I’m not a psychologist though so I’m not sure what advice to give. Maybe you should just talk to other native speakers more and maybe after the n’th time the nervousness would get better. :slight_smile:

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