What does it feel like to speak Japanese, fluently, natively?

I’m far from fluent, but there have been a couple of moments in my life that I felt really awesome about.

  • Just before getting married, I was in Japan, talking with a girl who worked at a bar and a school teacher about my life plans and all, there were two words that the girl working at the bar didn’t understand, and I thought maybe since I was drunk I was mispronouncing them or something. 海抜 and すててこ. The teacher leaned over and told me my pronunciation and usage was fine, the bar girl was just dumb.

  • Forgetting which language a conversation was in. I’ve got a few friends who are on similar levels and we’ll switch languages depending on the subject, but after talking sometimes I can’t remember which language we had discussed a subject in.

  • Being able to use it for work, effectively translating pretty advanced topics. But, at some point when we got into medical terminology and diving safety, I was well out of my league and tapped out. Still have no idea how to say tension pneumothorax in Japanese.

Been studying off and on for about 7 years. Love it anytime I can finish a book or movie and have a good understanding of what’s going on, but other times I’m just completely lost, and they may as well of been speaking Korean.


My pronunciation gets really bad when I keep switching languages, especially ESPECIALLY words that are in English like “Karaoke”.

Also, thanks to this site I know so many random medical words people ask me if I’m a doctor sometimes.


Since I’m still in my first year of learning Japanese, I can’t really say. But as a non-native English speaker, my order of fluency in English was:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Listening
  4. Speaking

So with that, I feel being able to fluently speak Japanese without having to think of what I’m going to say first will be a long ways away, at least for me. But I think a huge milestone is being able to convey what you are trying to say without the other person having to pause to try and understand you.

I don’t think I will ever reach the fluency of a native just from my experience learning English, however. Even though I have gotten rid of that “foreigner accent” (a while back someone asked me if I was from California), I still struggle pronouncing words I don’t often use and think my months and alphabets in my native language just because it’s more natural to me. BUT once you prefer to speak one language over the other, that is when you strike your triumphant pose.

I recently spoke with my cousin and I was struggling trying to keep up in our native language, she stopped me and suggested to just speak in English because she knew it would be easier for me. I just couldn’t think of certain words except for the English equivalent. So as a last point, if your native vocabulary is being “replaced” by Japanese, that is also a sign that your fluency level is that of a native Japanese.

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Don’t think of it as English, that’ll mess you up because you have an idea of how it’s supposed to be pronounced. Speak what you see written, and Katakana words will get easier. :smiley:

Speaking when I’m reading things isn’t the hard part. Trying to say ジー at the end of ファイナルファンタジー when you’re talking about it is the hard part.

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When it comes to things that are roughly the same except for pronunciation in both languages, I find myself getting stuck on the katakana English when I return to speaking English. Often this is when I’m trying to give an example sentence for my girlfriend or something. Because I was just in Japanese mode. There’s nothing more facepalmy than splicing katakana English into your English.


Yea, it’s not particularly an exact science here, but its that one temporarily takes over the other.

On a separate note, I enjoy when I hear Japanese people in America use 和製英語 and then no one knows what they’re saying.


Fluency isn’t a realistic goal.

Yeah, the other day we were getting ready to go out and my girlfriend goes “I want to bring a タッパー” and I just stared at her. And she goes, “That’s not English is it…”

Apparently that’s the word for tupperware.


I guess it really is just a shortening of タッパーウェア. Abbreviations kill me cause I can never figure them out. It’s like when you hear a French word with Katakana pronunciation.

My favorite recent stories are my friend who said she used Arubaito when she came here, not realizing it wasn’t English at all, and the other day I was 盗み聞き-ing when someone said they lived in a Share House and these two people kinda stared at her. I think you could probably figure that one out, but the whole concept doesn’t even quite exist.


My favorite bit is that I have to have a slight pause when I switch into and out of Japanese and English. It’s like I need to change the way I think about pronouncing words.

I’ve noticed other Japanese / English speakers seem to do the same thing.

Yeah, because you feel pressured to keep the conversation at a normal pace. A few months ago I had to translate English to Portuguese and vice versa between my parents and my brother’s gf while being part of the conversation. My brain crashed so many times xDD I can’t even imagine doing it with JP-ENG/JP-PT since the languages are even more distinct.


I don’t think I am fluent, but I feel comfortable talking in Japanese. I used to be shy when talking but got over that years ago.
First year in Japan I really could not understand what people where saying because I only learned the polite way to speak at the university before coming here, but people in general talk more roughly and use shorter sentences and words. Kansai dialect also made things harder. But, eventually I got better, mainly because I had friends that did not know english so I had to talk in japanese more and more.

Today, even though at work I can’t understand the research words, or I can’t really follow the TV shows, I can still comfortably talk to anyone. So, like tsukuba said above it’s a mix of fluent/whatthefuckarepeopletalkingabout? levels of japanese.

It feels good to be able to talk effortlessly and if I don’t know a word or an expression, I just simply talk around the complex situation or try and ask how I should say it. Mostly many japanese think I am better than I really am just because my native language uses same pronunciation as japanese so I have always sounded better than I am in grammar. I speak very unpolite but very understandable japanese. Which is comical in important meetings. But, as a foreigner they let it slide a lot.

I still suck with kanji but I know some weird ones that wanikani has not yet shown. But I am only lvl 6. Wanikani helps me to add to my vocabulary and even though I’ve used this only for a few weeks, I remember the ones I’ve forgotten and I learn new ones every week that I see on the streets, books and posters.

My main advice is to just talk talk talk when you can, avoid english speaking japanese, and just do not be afraid to make mistakes. Eventually the japanese will start to correct your japanese instead of saying “jouzu desune”, and that is a good sign. :slight_smile:


When my parents come over and I had to translate… Ahhhh… So many times I failed to switch over from Japanese mode XP

The most embarrassing time was when we were at a restaurant and instead of translating what the waitress said, I just pointed at the menu and repeated what she said more slowly and simply into “simple Japanese.” My family stared at me.

As my brother put it, “We didn’t understand her, but then you repeated it so a baby could understand and made us feel even dumber!”

The other thing was assuming they could read kana, especially katakana. :joy::sweat_smile::joy: “Why can’t you read that??? It’s practically English! …oh”

So yeah, this is my life. I’m so used to kana I can’t imagine not being able to read them.


THIS! I did this to my now-spouse at my farewell party at the end of a 4.5 year stint in Japan and got the exact same result. :sweat_smile:


Personally, I feel like there’s no set boundary between being “fluent” and “not fluent.” It’s been a very…fluid process becoming partially fluent in Japanese. I think rather than likening it to climbing a mountain, from my experience I’d more readily compare it to…say, being in a boat full of holes with some kind of big cat, let’s say a tiger. At first you’re plugging the holes and hoping the tiger won’t eat you before you can keep yourself afloat. But after a while you start to earn the tiger’s respect, and then suddenly you realize you’re no longer a) sinking and b) in mortal danger. Things may not be perfect, but you can confidently say that you’ve learned a new, specific skill set and appear to be doing fine. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself 100% fluent yet, but there have been a few moments after which I stopped and thought to myself, “wow. I just did that. I think I can really consider this my second language now.” For example, mustering the courage to go get a haircut for the first time in Japan and being able to somehow navigate my way through describing what I wanted. Another was opening a bank account by myself. I still have difficulty with a lot of technical jargon, and since I’m a teacher in Japan there’s a lot of that at my school so half of the time I really feel like I know next to nothing, and it is a little disheartening. But there’s always some occurrence or another that reminds you of how much progress you’ve made along the way, and why you want to keep that boat and that tiger from sinking.


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