When can you say "I speak Japanese"?

Say somebody asks: “How many languages do you speak?”
Would you include Japanese (because if you’re on these forums, you’re most likely learning), or would you wait until you’ve reached a certain point in your learning?
Perhaps achieving N2 first?
Or maybe just being somewhat conversational is good enough?
Maybe being native level is the only time you can say it?
What if you can understand Japanese, but have trouble actually speaking it?
I’d imagine different people have different opinions, so I’m curious what everyone thinks! :stuck_out_tongue:
When do you think you’re qualified to say “I speak Japanese”?

(Let’s keep this discussion civil! :joy:)


I think most people would not consider N1 anywhere near native level. Also, JLPT doesn’t test speaking or writing ability at all, so you could pass and barely be able to hold a conversation.


This is true! I mainly used the JLPT levels as a general point of reference that most people are familiar with, and/or are aiming for. I’ll revise this! :stuck_out_tongue:

To answer the question, I would not include Japanese in a list of languages I speak. If someone asked me directly “Do you know Japanese?” I’d say “a little” or explain that I’ve been studying Japanese. But I wouldn’t say I know Japanese.


When can you say it? When you have learned the phrase! :wink:
Though it’s a joke, it is often one of the first things you learn to say O_o

When SHOULD you say it though… well, I say I’m studying Japanese and know it a little, I am still FAR from listing it as a language I know. Not sure I’ll ever be comfortable enough to say I know it (more than a little)


My metric for that is just comfort level. I’d be secure in putting Japanese down on a resume or job application if it’s a relevant skill, but I’ll downplay whatever speaking ability I have (in any language) if someone just asks me out of the blue. Don’t want them thinking I can do things, you know?


There are different levels of proficiency in speaking, and I think it would be fine to say you speak Japanese at those various levels along the way.

“I can speak Japanese conversationally.”
“I can speak Japanese in formal or business settings.”

There’s not one definition, above which everyone “can speak” and below which everyone “can’t speak.”


I think I would say I can “speak Japanese” because I’ve done so. I’ve had conversations with natives, and understood and been understood, several times. I went to Japan in Oct/Nov and was able to communicate fine 90% of the time. So, I think the best measure is to try it. Only way to know if you’ll be successful or not!


As others said language ability isn’t a binary. You don’t go from not speaking Japanese to speaking Japanese after achieving some arbitrary level. I consider myself conversational. I’m able to analyze and give my opinion and ask others on most topics. I’m still a little choppy and slow to be considered fluent. But I think it’s silly to consider fluency the standard of language ability.


N1 is nowhere near native level.

I passed N1 last summer and I would only just now maybe say “I speak Japanese.” Japanese coworkers considered me able to do it long before that, though.

On the other hand, I tell students, still learning foundational elements, that they can “speak English” just because they can communicate in it, and I mean that. It’s all subjective and I think the general tendency for most is to downplay their own abilities.

Also, as mentioned above, it’s not a binary, and it’s perfectly fine to qualify your level of proficiency at various points along the way–the contexts you feel comfortable in, and the ones you don’t. It’s all meaningful language-use and progress.


My opinion would be when you can listen to a japanese tv show/radio/etc. and understand almost all of what’s being said.

It depends, though. I know in the US we professionally recognize three levels of lingual understanding, so (for example) someone who’s taken a few beginner classes of French and can recognize most basic phrases could professionally say “I speak French”.

I don’t know the standard elsewhere in the world, but in the US it seems to really just depend on your pride-level. Are you alright with saying “I speak Japanese” after two months on Rosetta Stone? Then by all means. But I’d assume that when telling that to a native Japanese speaker you’d have to at least have full textbox-knowledge.


I usually say “I speak some” or “I speak a little” because I am still learning and not that good yet. But I do have some ability. If I were to say “I speak” I would expect that I could generally understand another person speaking to me, understand the TV, news, or songs I haven’t heard before. I would not expect to understand technical language necessarily, but I would think I should feel comfortable and confident in the language.


But as others have said earlier, this is being able to understand Japanese. Creating your own sentences in speech/on paper is a different story. For example I can understand Japanese shows fairly well. However, my speaking ability is very lacking in comparison.


If I’m talking to people back home and they ask me, I tell them “I can speak Japanese”.

If someone asks me here (whether they’re foreign or Japanese), I say “I don’t really speak Japanese”.

For me it’s a matter of situation and audience. If I’m speaking to someone who’s never heard the word こんにちは, then compared to them I speak oceans of Japanese. But if I’m talking to a native speaker, or even someone who just has an idea of how difficult learning Japanese is, then I’ll be a lot more guarded with my own abilities.

I often think to myself, “I speak Japanese, but I don’t speak Japanese”. I don’t know if any amount of study and practice will every change that :sweat_smile:


I think I understand what you’re getting at. For a bunch of years while learning (slowly) I wouldn’t have felt comfortable saying “I speak Japanese”, but somewhere along the way that changed. At this point I have no problem saying it. Where it changed? …eh, somewhere along the way. For me it depended on my own comfort level.


But as others have said earlier, this is being able to understand Japanese.

Okay, this is true. But we also don’t normally say “I both speak and understand English.” Since the two skills are required to work in tandem to hold a conversation, we usually collapse them together into one verb, I “speak.” If we want to be more specific though, we can be.


Yeah, but if you only have one element of it, the listening comprehension part or the expression of your own ideas part, then you won’t get much conversing done.


I have an objective standard for whether you can speak Japanese, but it is only good for today. If you can, without looking anything up, as soon as you see it, say the following things in Japanese:

  • “Hey, could you pick up some (insert name for little Japanese triangle rice things with salmon inside) from the 7-11? And remind me of what trash day it is? I don’t want the little old lady yelling at me again about the trash.”
  • “What did you think about the latest episode of __________________? I thought ________ was being something of a dick, but what do you think? I’m totally in love with ______________, she’s so hot.”
  • “Yesterday, I saw the strangest thing at the train station. There was this guy distributing fliers for a video game, while singing traditional Japanese folk songs. And then he saw me, and started shouting obscenities at me in English. What was that all about?!”

If you can say those things, right off the bat, in fairly decent Japanese, such that a Japanese person could make out most of what you say, and if they could respond to you in a sensible way, and you could understand what they were saying, without having to reference a dictionary, then – congrats.

By the Lion Kimbro 2020-04-08 standard, you speak Japanese.

Bonus points if you can do it in Osaka-ben.

This is a one time test, but the result is valid for 10 years, should you pass. You have only 90 seconds to complete it, should you take the challenge immediately, and nobody has prompted or prepared you for it.


Yes, I agree. But when I say “I speak English” I mean that “I both speak (express) and understand (comprehend) English.” I think this is a common and natural understanding of the verb “speak” when discussing language competence.

I was attempting to clarify the meaning of my original post after @afunian replied to it. I may have caused some confusion.

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To clarify, in my opinion someone who can ‘speak’ a language should be confident in both their ability of comprehension and creation of language.

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