It is said that Japanese pronunciation is easy for native English speakers, but I think that this can make them complacent. Whilst a lot of sounds in Japanese also exist in English, there are still lots of differences between these sounds. This means that there are still quite a few difficult words to say in Japanese.
This was actually a useful exercise for me, because it got me thinking about the types of sounds I need to keep working on to improve my pronunciation.
I then came across the following video by JapanesePod101 which brought up a lot of similar sounding words to my list.
I’m assuming a lot of these words are trickier for those that only speak English. However, I think 暖かい -> 暖かくなかった would be on most people’s lists – I can never remember if I have said enough た’s!
That word aside, I can pretty much characterise my difficult Japanese words into about three rough categories:
Words which mix w- and r- sounds:
笑われた わらわれた was laughed at
現れる あらわれる to appear
As a child, I always used to struggle with differentiating w- and r- sounds in English; for instance, I remember pronouncing “rainbow” as “wainbow” by accident quite a lot! This is quite common with young children and you usually grow out of it.
For some reason when it comes to Japanese I get tongue tied when I have to quickly switch between w- and r- sounds!
Words that have ‘n’ as a consonant in the middle
恋愛 れんあい love
範囲 はんい extent, scope
全員 ぜんいん all members
婚約 こんやく engagement
雰囲気 ふんいき mood, ambience
‘N’ often sounds like its English counterpart, but depending on its position within words it can sound more like a ‘m’ or a ‘ng’.
In addition, the other thing that I find difficult is not blending the sounds together when ‘n’ is followed by a vowel. For example, ‘renai’ should be pronounced so that the sounds ‘ren’ and ‘ai’ are separate – unfortunately it often comes out as ‘ren nai’ or ‘renai’.
Words which have lots of r sounds, especially include ‘rya’/ ‘ryu’/ ‘ryo’
旅行 りょこう travel
料理 りょうり cooking
My pronunciation of the Japanese R has improved with some practice, but I struggle a lot with the ’rya’ and ‘ryo’ sounds in particular.
Words with ‘n’ followed by ‘r’
遠慮 えんりょ reserve, constraint
Further examples – 心理 しんり/ state of mind, 管理 かんり/ management, control
As this is very much a work in progress for me, I am still looking at various methods to improve my pronunciation. There are a couple of things that I think are helping so far.
Train your ears and your mouth
Firstly, I’ve been reading about how I should be making the sounds in terms of mouth shape and tongue movement. When I listen to spoken Japanese now, I pay more attention to how the sounds are made, especially for difficult Japanese words.
I think that this ear training is an important first step in making your pronunciation more accurate. Dogen’s course mentioned above covers this in a lot of detail and is helping me a lot. I’ve also been dedicating some time to shadowing, which I am intending to write about in another post. I’ve been using Japanese tongue twisters as a warm upexercise!
Record myself and listen back to it
One thing I might do more often is to record myself speaking – as embarassing as it feels to do this, it is much easier to pick up on your own mistakes this way.
I’ve been learning Japanese for a relatively long time and so these bad pronunciation habits are probably ingrained into how I speak. For this reason, I am not expecting quick results and intend to focus on developing a regular pronunciation practice routine in order to improve how I sound in Japanese.
Remember, just because you find certain words difficult now doesn’t mean that you will never be able to pronounce them more accurately!
I imagine that a lot of these words will be much easier for speakers of other languages. I often hear that Japanese pronunciation is easy for Spanish speakers.
Which words do you find difficult to pronounce? Do you think the languages you already speak help you with Japanese pronunciation? Let me know in the comments!
We are almost at the end of 2018 – can you believe it? It is naturally the time of year when we reflect on the last 12 months, and set our goals for 2019.
If you haven’t quite met your goals for this year, now is the perfect time to reset for next year. And what better way to do so than in the form of a language challenge?
Why do a language challenge?
Language challenges are a great way to develop new habits, which is ultimately the best way to achieve your goals. I like language challenges because they offer what often feels like an easier way to start a new habit. When you know that you only have to stick to something for one week or one month, it doesn’t feel as hard to get the motivation to keep going.
I think it’s a great way to get back into language learning if you’ve had a break for whatever reason (sometimes a break can be more beneficial than we think). There is also a sense of community around people doing the challenge at the same time, especially on social media.
There are many types of language challenges out there. Some focus on developing a particular skill (eg. speaking), and some are more focused on exposing yourself to a language in some way every day. It’s worth having a look around to see if you can find a challenge that tackles one of your weak points.
You could always make up your own language challenge tailored to the skills/knowledge you want to work on. For example, you could set yourself a challenge to:
Learn x number of words
Watch x number of films/ episodes of a TV show
Speak for x minutes every day
Read x pages in your target language every day
How to make the most of your language challenge
Normally the first couple of days of a language challenge are super exciting, but as the reality of following the challenge hits it can be tricky actually complete them. These are some of the things that have really helped me with past language challenges:
Think about when you are going to dedicate time to complete the challenge
Have a think about the best time of day for you to dedicate to the challenge. It is very easy to start a challenge and then give up because you are too busy to actually finish! Take a look at your schedule and try to identify any so-called ‘dead time’ in your day, which could be spent more wisely on completing the challenge.
There are going to be certain days when you are busier than others. If there are any large events coming up, have an idea of how you might be able to work around it. There’s no harm in missing a day here and there should you not have the time – just add them on to the end of the challenge.
Think about what you want to achieve
This could simply be getting to the end of the challenge, which is absolutely fine!
Getting to the end of the challenge is can be the beginning of something bigger. I do think that pursuing a challenge is to bring about some sort of change in your way of thinking.
With languages, it could be something like getting the confidence to speak your target language, or getting a deeper understanding of the culture(s) that the language is connected. These are most likely going to be your motivators for actually getting to the end of the challenge.
Find a way to track your progress
I am really keen on tracking my progress with challenges in some way. This could be in the form of a bullet journal, crossing dates off in a calendar, or using an app. Having that visual representation of the challenge in front of you can be an extremely powerful thing for your motivation!
Keep in touch with others doing the challenge.
Social media hashtags provide a really good way of finding out how everyone else is doing. Sometimes it is that little extra push we get from seeing others in the same boat that helps you stay on track.
It is important to say that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others too much – ultimately your journey will be different from others, and there are some things that others may find easier than others and vice versa.
Even if you don’t quite make it to the end of the challenge, don’t beat yourself up. Always focus on the positives and if needed use the opportunity to think about approaching things differently next time.
List of Language Challenges
Here is a list of language challenges out there that I know of:
I know that the above list is only scratching the surface of the many challenges out there. If there are any cool language challenges you have come across, please let me know in the comments so that I can add them to the list!
Japanese has a lot of first-person pronouns (‘I’) and second-person pronouns (‘you’) in particular, the choice of which is dependant on the relative status of who you are and who you are talking to. In English, we use pronouns all the time and when talking to a superior we tend to change our phrasing rather than vocabulary to show respect.
So when we hear words such as in Japanese TV shows and anime, it is easy to think that pronouns such as 私 (watashi) or 俺 (ore) for ‘I’, and お前 (omae) or あなた (anata) for ‘you’ are largely interchangeable.
A case that came up in the news recently goes to show why the choice of pronouns in Japanese is so important. The incorrect use of the pronoun お前 led to the resignation of Ryoichi Yamada, a superintendent in Niigata prefecture.
In June 2017, a boy committed suicide as a result of school bullying. On the 11th October, Mr. Yamada arranged a meeting with the boy’s family to offer his apologies and discuss what can be done better going forward.
Unfortunately, during this meeting he referred to the father as お前 when asking a question. He did later apologise for using the word, but the damage had been done and he tendered his resignation the following day.
Why was using お前 inappropriate?
お前 is a highly informal word meaning ‘you’. As you would expect for an informal word, you would only use it . Even so, a close friend could take offence at being referred to as お前. It is more often used used amongst males than females.With this in mind, it is not hard to see why there has been outrage over his choice of words.
In this case, Mr. Yamada had taught the boy’s father in the past. This is the reason why the superintendent may have thought using お前 would have been acceptable. However given the situation, one would expect the superintendent to be using extremely humble language, and so the use of お前 was highly insensitive.
I would be very wary of using words like this, especially as a beginner to Japanese. Part of the following video by Japanese Ammo with Misa explains from a Japanese perspective why learners should refrain from words like omae.
Note: the whole video is great, but I’ve set it to start from the part where she talks about Japanese pronouns.
Tips on using pronouns in Japanese
Pronouns are generally not used often in Japanese, as the context indicates who the topic of conversation is. For instance, if I say:
It is assumed that I am the one who likes fish even though I didn’t use the word 私(watashi).
Therefore, it is more natural not to use pronouns at all.
If you do need to refer to a specific person, it is better to refer to a person using their actual name:
Ms. Ohara, when did you come to America?
You can also refer to someone using their occupation or status.
Words can be used in this way include 先生, 課長, 博士:
Teacher, when did you come to America?
[Police] Officer, where is Tokyo station?
If you are interested in knowing the different words for ‘you’ in Japanese, this video on second-person pronouns explains the contexts in which you can and cannot use various words.
Pronouns are a tricky thing to get used to, and there are also gender and regional differences in usage too. I recommend sticking to the above tips until you’ve been exposed to the language enough to get a feel for when certain pronouns should be used.
My year abroad experience in Japan was almost five years ago, and is sadly becoming a distant memory.
I still remember how excited I was to finally be going to Japan. My year abroad was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. I had never actually visited Japan before!
At the same time, I was so nervous to jump on a plane and fly across the world. What if Japan wasn’t what I expected it to be?
Fortunately, my year abroad was a positive experience for me and I am glad that I gave myself the opportunity to do it. A lot of things in my life have changed since then, but it is only now that I look back that I realise that it changed me in more ways than one. There are so many things that I learned on my year abroad experience that I am thankful for.
Travelling Light = less stress!
This might seem like an odd thing to include, but this is a practical thing which still serves me well today. It is worth saying that I was (and still am) a hoarder!
Before going to Japan, the prospect of packing my most important belongings into a 23kg suitcase felt impossible. Some items I did need for Japan included makeup, painkillers, deodorant and comfortable shoes. Of course, I did want to prioritise some sentimental items, such as pictures of family and friends.
However I realised after a few months that after all of the time I spent trying to decide what I needed to take, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t use at all.
Every time I have been travelling since then, I think carefully about what items I really need to take and pack solely on that basis. Thanks to the year abroad, I am a much lighter traveller than I used to be.
It’s important to let go and embrace imperfections
I have always held myself to high standards, especially when it comes to learning. Learning a language requires you to let go of that need for perfectionism, because us learners do make mistakes. There’s no point in getting hung up on that time you used the wrong word, or couldn’t understand that conversation.
As long as you can make yourself understood (in the politest way possible), you are making progress. Whenever I struggled with obsessing over my failures, I tried to think of the time when people were clearly happy I could speak some Japanese, or was able to translate something for my friends.
Open yourself to new things
Of course, you are in your target country to learn about that country’s language and traditions. There are bound to be certain things that you encounter that are completely new to you, both good and bad.
Your year abroad experience inevitably gives you the opportunity to mix with people you would not have crossed path with overwise. Learning about other languages and cultures aside from Japan was a real highlight of my time abroad.
Embrace the opportunity to have new cultural experiences whenever you can!
A greater sense of self
People I met who had already gone on their year abroad told me that I would end up learning a great deal about myself as well as Japan. I never truly understood what was meant by this until I was a couple of months into my exchange programme.
It’s funny how much you think you know about your home country is easily tested when you get people asking things that you’d previously never given much thought, such as “Why is the UK flag known as the Union Jack?”.
I spent a lot of time worrying about how I would be treated in Japan. I am British born and bred, but my grandparents are from the Caribbean. So naturally, I stood out like a sore thumb in semi-rural Hokkaido!
Fortunately, I never had any discrimination issues whilst in Japan, but having dark skin and afro hair did mean a lot of pointing and staring. It did ultimately make myself feel much more comfortable in my own skin, as I learnt to embrace what made me different (as well as the many things I had in common with the people I met).
People come and go
The year abroad can only last so long. My fellow students were from a wide variety of countries and it was inevitable that most of these people I would never see again after the year had ended.
Whilst this is kind of sad, it reminds to you treasure things as they happen in the moment. You will always have those memories of the experiences you have from your time abroad.
Overall, I feel that the year abroad gave me the chance to appreciate the wider world, as well as the life I was fortunate to have back home. Whilst I do not live in Japan now, I would certainly go back on a longer-term basis should the right opportunity came along.
If you have the chance to work or study abroad (especially as a student), I fully recommend it!
Longtime readers will know that I review language learning apps on this blog fairly often. However, in reality there are only a small number of apps that I think are the best for people studying Japanese. Many of them I wish had been around when I was a beginner! For that reason, I thought I would put together a list of the best Android apps out there for learning Japanese!
Choosing just 7 was quite tricky, but I have tried to include apps for studying Japanese vocabulary, kanji and grammar which are useful at any level.
The best thing is that these apps are either free or available at a low cost. As I almost exclusively use Android devices, this list was made with Android users in mind. Fortunately, many of these are available on the Apple Store too.
1) The best app to introduce you to Japanese: Lingodeer
Cost: free; also available on iOS
If you like the idea of using an app like Duolingo, then I recommend trying out Lingodeer instead. Lingodeer was initially aimed at those learning Mandarin, Korean or Japanese (French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Vietnamese are also available) and so the lessons are tailored towards these languages in a better way than Duolingo.
How Lingodeer works
Lingodeer starts by teaching hiragana and katakana, which makes it a great choice for absolute beginners. Like Duolingo, the app has many lessons increasing in complexity covering a number of different themes.
Each lesson starts out with some grammar notes (called ‘Learning Tips’), then a number of smaller topics covering a few grammar points and vocabulary under the given theme. You also have the ability to toggle the use of kanji, furigana and romaji within the lessons if you wish.
When it comes to the lesson quizzes, the app tests your understanding in a few different ways. Successfully passing the quizzes earns you XP, and allows you to move on to the next lesson. Similarly, there isn’t a heavy reliance on English for learning new vocabulary; instead, the focus is on using lots of images to convey meanings. There is a ‘Test Out’ feature which allows you to skip ahead if you can pass the tests.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using Lingodeer as a resource on its own, but I think it is a great way to supplement learning using another textbook. Alternatively, I think it is a nice app to use if you have taken a break from Japanese and perhaps want to review the basics before starting new material.
Cost: Human Japanese Lite is free, full version £8.99; also available on iOS
Speaking of apps for beginners, I would highly recommend the app Human Japanese. I think it is one of the best on Android for covering all aspects of Japanese
How Human Japanese works
This app has a textbook style app that takes you through hiragana, katakana and the basics of Japanese grammar. All aspects of the language are explained in a very clear and straightforward manner, imparting a lot of information designed to give as much context as possible to what you are learning.
The grammar lessons are also supplemented with relevant information on Japanese culture – you cannot understand the language without understanding the culture after all!
This short video gives you an overview of what Human Japanese is all about:
A lot of time and effort has clearly gone into Human Japanese – the quality of the app is great. All example sentences have crisp audio and example sentences have ‘ingredients’ which break down the sentence into its component parts, which is useful as sentences get more complex.
The full version of the app is not free and requires a one-off payment, but there is plenty of free content for Japanese newbies to work through to see if the app is appropriate for them before making a commitment. Looking at the content of the textbook, Human Japanese provides a solid foundation on which learners can continue to build on. I’ve written about Human Japanese in a previous post so I recommend checking that out if you would like to learn more.
The sheer number of features that Akebi has makes it a great learner friendly app. These include:
Inbuilt Japanese keyboard – no worrying about switching keyboards just to look something up
Detailed kanji information (including frequency, JLPT level, words containing that kanji)
Handwriting recognition and ability to search by radicals
Deconjugation – if you look up a verb in the te-form, it will find the verb in its dictionary form along with meanings and other useful information
Full functionality offline, perfect for when I am avoiding the internet during study sessions!
One of my favourite features relates to Anki; whenever I use the app to look up new words, I can immediately add them to a flashcard deck of my choice in Anki to review later.
Overall, I find that it has the right balance of user-friendly interface and powerful features that make it the perfect companion for Japanese learners at all levels.
4) The best app for practicing Japanese with native speakers: HelloTalk
Cost: free; also available on iOS
One of the biggest issues Japanese learners tend to have is lack of access to native speakers. Fortunately, language exchange apps like HelloTalk are the next best thing to address this issue.
How HelloTalk works
When you sign up for an account, you can select the languages you are interested in learning, as well as the languages you can speak. You can then post a message to native speakers of the language you are learning and find an exchange partner. When speaking with your language partner, you can post in your target language or record audio/ have a video call.
HelloTalk has expanded into a sort of social network for language learners. You can now post status updates on your profile called ‘Moments’, which other members can correct any language mistakes for you.
The above Youtube video by Reina Scully gives a good overview of how the app can be used to study Japanese.
HelloTalk has a couple of handy features for language learners. For example, as Reina mentions in her video, the Translate feature allows you to see translations from your target language by tapping any word or phrase. In addition, the Notepad feature also enables you to save a message or recording for later practice.
I think HelloTalk is a great way to find a language partner or even to practice your reading skills by reading other users’ Moments.
Cost: free, ad free version requires one off payment of £4.29; also available on iOS
Reading in Japanese can be a scary experience at first, but TangoRisto is a great app to build your confidence. TangoRisto draws together articles from NHK News Easy among other sources which you can read via the app.
As you can see from the screenshots, the interface is crisp, clean and very user-friendly.
How TangoRisto works
Once in an article, a quick tap of a word brings up its reading and meaning. Like Akebi, tapping a conjugated verb will bring up the dictionary form of the verb with a note to indicate the form it has within the text (eg. passive tense, past tense). You can then bookmark these words to revise in the Vocabulary Review part of the app.
I like the ability to only highlight and/or show the furigana for words at certain JLPT levels as chosen in the settings, as well as the ability to save articles for offline reading. There is also a Text Analyzer tool, where you can paste Japanese text into the textbox; by then clicking ‘Analyze’, you can click on any word to find its readings and meanings.
Considering that this app is free to use, it is a quality resource for Japanese reading practice. It is definitely an app that I wish had been around sooner, especially when preparing for the JLPT tests!
I haven’t always been a fan of Anki, but it is on my list because when used correctly it can be a very powerful tool. Whilst there is a free Anki app available on Android, Anki is available on a number of mobile and desktop platforms.
How Anki works
Anki (anki/暗記 is the Japanese word for ‘memorisation’) is a spaced repetition flashcard app that has a high degree of customisation. Putting together your own flashcard decks tailored to the type of Japanese content you want to study (ie. from your favourite TV show, video game or novel) is a great way to learn Japanese and stay motivated.
There is a bit of time required to experiment with what kind of flashcard set up works best for you. If making your own flashcard decks sounds like too much trouble, there are some great flashcard decks available for download via the Shared Decks. Some of my favourite shared decks are the Kanji Damage deck and the Core 2000 vocabulary decks.
This video by Landon Epps gives a nice overview of some of the features Anki has and how Japanese learners can use it to review vocabulary.
Anki is a great app because it can be used to help memorise all sorts of things, not just the Japanese language. If you like looking at data, there are all sorts of statistics you can look into regarding your learning and progress for each flashcard deck.
Cost: limited content is free, full app costs £11.99; older version of app available on iOS
If you are looking for an app to specifically help you with kanji, look no further than Kanji Study. I love the user interface, and there are so many features to help you customise your kanji learning experience.
How Kanji Study works
You can choose to tackle kanji in any order of your choice, but the default is the order in which Japanese children learn Joyo kanji at school. You can then break down each level into smaller groups of your choice. In the ‘Study’ mode, each kanji has its own page showing the stroke order, radicals, common readings, useful vocabulary and example sentences to help reinforce the meaning.
If you long press a word, you then get the option to add it to an Anki deck or look it up via another website such as jisho.org – both very useful features!
You can then choose to review the kanji via flashcards, multiple choice quizzes or writing challenges. These tests are highly customisable so that you can tailor your study sessions to focus on your weaknesses. The app also allows you to practice writing kanji. I like that the app uses a very readable kanji font which is much closer to how kanji would be handwritten rather than a typed font.
It is possible to set a daily study target, and you can set notification reminders to make sure you don’t miss a study session.
The beginner level kanji content is free, however access to all kanji requires a one-off cost of £11.99. All in all, I highly recommend this app because the quality of the app is top-notch.
There are a lot of apps which are great alternatives to some of the apps on my top 7 list:
If you prefer an app that makes use of spaced repetition with a more user-friendly interface, then I recommend checking out Memrise or iKnow.
Memrise has its own starter courses for the Japanese language, however, I cannot comment on their quality as I have not tried this out for myself yet. Instead, I like to use the Memrise app to study some of the courses created by other users for certain aspects of Japanese, such as JTalkOnline’s keigo course.
Recently Memrise has made it difficult to search for these user-generated vocabulary courses (via the app anyway – they are still easy to find via the website), which is a slight annoyance.
iKnow requires a monthly subscription (a free trial is available), but I think the Core 1000/ 3000/ 6000 vocabulary decks help build a good grounding in Japanese knowledge if you are not interested in making your own vocabulary flashcards.
Mondo is another reading assistant app aimed to help Japanese learners. Mondo tends to pull its reading content from different sources compared to TangoRisto, and there is some original articles and dialogues that can only be read on the app. I’ve covered how Mondo works in an earlier blog post.
So that is my list of the best apps available for learning Japanese on Android. Do you agree with my list, or is there a glaring omission? Please tell me in the comments 🙂
I was watching videos on Youtube and came across a video on Japanese tongue twisters. I am terrible at tongue twisters in English (my native language) – I can just about say ‘She sells seashells by the seashore’ without messing up!
Because of this, I had shied away from tongue twisters in Japanese, but watching a video on tongue twisters made me realise that learning tongue twisters are not only fun but also useful Japanese speaking practice.
Benefits of learning tongue twisters
Tongue twisters are often seen as something for children, and therefore not worth learning as an adult. This is partly because tongue twisters were invented as a way for children to enjoy practicing tricky sounds. Similarly, TV presenters often use tongue twisters as a warm up to improve pronunciation.
There are definite benefits from practicing tongue twisters:
It gets you used to the sounds of Japanese which may not exist in your native language
You train your muscle memory on the subtle differences between similar sounds. By having to make these similar sounds so closely together within the same phrase, your mouth muscles get used to the slight changes in mouth movements required to say them effectively.
You learn to hear the difference between similar sounds used within the same word or phrase, eg.かく vs きゃく.
They are fun! Learning something silly in Japanese is bound to be more interesting and therefore easier to remember than ‘田中さんは日本人です’. Plus, even if you mess up you can be forgiven as tongue twisters are difficult for native speakers too!
You get bragging rights – it is pretty satisfying to finally get them right after a lot of practice (especially if you are terrible at tongue twisters like me)
Japanese Tongue Twisters
The Japanese term for tongue twisters is 早口言葉.
There are a whole bunch of Japanese tongue twisters out there – this Japanese website has a whole bunch for you to practice!
Literally ‘fast mouth words’
I definitely recommend practicing these with a Japanese friend or language partner as it is great fun to share with other language learners. Alternatively, you could use HiNative or HelloTalk to record yourself and get feedback on how you did.
If like me, you do not have as much time to practice speaking, I think this is a great way of practicing the sounds of Japanese by yourself in just a few minutes every day. YouTube is a great source of audio to find people to mimic and to compare your own pronunciation against.
An example is this video by JapanesePod101, which covers some of the most well-known Japanese tongue twisters.
It is worth saying that tongue twisters do not always make perfect sense, so are not the best to use to study in depth. Here are 5 of my favorite 早口言葉 that are not featured in the JapanesePod101 video that are also popular (with very rough English translations):
Tokyo Patent Office
There are two chickens in the rear garden, and two chickens in the other garden
This kitten is the cat of the cat here, this kitten
The neighbour’s guest is a guest who often eats persimmons
The frogs jump three times, all together they jump six times
What is your favourite tongue twister (in Japanese or any other language)? Let me know in the comments!
We all have moments when we are struggling for that word or phrase during a conversation – but how do we express that in Japanese?
In normal Japanese conversation, you are bound to have come across something called aidzuchi (相槌/ あいづち). Aidzuchi does not translate well into English but refers to filler words, such as um, erm, like, well that we use all the time when speaking to keep the flow of a conversation going.
Some examples of filler words you might hear include:
へー, うん, え, うわ, そうですね, さすが, なるほど, その通り, 本当に, やっぱり
These short words or phrases do not necessarily have a distinct meaning on their own but are super powerful phrases for Japanese learners to make use of. There’s nothing worse than producing an accurate sentence in Japanese, only to end up saying the distinctly un-Japanese “erm” in the middle of it!
When used well, it has the double benefit of increasing the fluency of your speech, whilst giving you a bit more time to think about what to say next.
Compared to English, aidzuchi is much more common in Japanese as it is used to show that you are paying close attention to what is being said (it does not necessarily mean you agree with it). Nodding also counts as aidzuchi!
Types of Filler Words
They can serve several purposes in Japanese:
As affirmation, eg. うん, 確かに, よかったね, すごいね
Expressing agreement, eg. 私はそう思う, まったくです
Expressing surprise, eg. へぇ, まじで
Inviting the other speaker to elaborate, eg. それで, そしたら, それから
This video by Wakuwaku Japanese gives a great overview of useful aidzuchi you can drop in to casual conversation:
Common Japanese Filler Words
Here are some of the most common filler words you will encounter:
This is often used at the start of a sentence when trying to get someone’s attention, as in “Excuse me”. It is also often used instead of “um” in the middle of speech.
はい・ええ・うん (hai/ ee / un)
As in “yes”, but really just used to indicate that you are listening (think “uh-huh” in English).
そうですね/ sou desu ne
This phrase (and variants of it) can have many purposes. In the context of a conversation it often means “yes, I hear your point of view”.
It can also be used when someone has asked a question and you are thinking of an answer (like えぇと below).
This little word is basically used in place of “Hmm” or “let me see”, ie. used when thinking about what to say next.
へー・えー・うわ (hee / eee/ uwa)
Used when expressing surprise and/or shock at something
本当（ほんとう）・まじで (hontou/ majide)
Both of these phrases mean “really” used to express surprise. まじで is more casual sounding of the two.
なるほど・そうなんです (naruhodo / sou nan desu)
Used when you have been given an explanation for something – could be translated along the lines of “I see”, “I get it” or “That makes sense”.
やっぱり is a more casual form of やはり. It is often used in response to something you expected to hear.
This phrase means “surely” or “certainly” and shows that you agree with the speaker’s opinion.
This is used to express agreement what the other speaker has said and has the meaning of “exactly” or “that’s right”.
Instant messaging apps such as LINE often have stickers (called スタンプ) which might remind you of useful aidzuchi when chatting with a friend.
So the next time you are practicing Japanese conversation and get stuck thinking of an appropriate response, try adding in some aidzuchi!
***One thing to note: as in English, the overuse of filler words tends to come across as very casual. For this reason, I would refrain from using too much aidzuchi in formal situations and with people senior to you.
A good way to show that you are listening to what is being said without using aidzuchi is to paraphrase what the speaker has said, and end the sentence with ね (“right”). This is also a great way to confirm that you have understood information correctly as a language learner!