Japan Today

Real Japanese: Learn to Speak the Same Way Japanese Kids Do!


Mark Smith says "Real Japanese" shows how kids learn to speak by following the daily progress of a Japanese girl for a year. She picks up vocabulary and grammar in a very different order to how they are taught in textbooks and language courses.

For instance, she hardly uses particles! Instead, she concentrates on the order of the words. She says stuff like: “Kore yada” (I don’t like this), “Hanabi miru hito?” (Anyone want to watch fireworks?) and “Dame datte” (I’m not allowed/She says no).

It’s casual Japanese, but not slang. And it’s definitely not the way you learned it at school. You’ll get an understanding of the building blocks of Japanese, of how Japanese people think in their minds before they speak. And you’ll be able to tell someone you’ve just wet your pants!

Available from Amazon.com.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

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great! and if you are a guy, you will sound like a girl when you talk... which a lot of gaijin guys do...

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Who wants to speak the way Japanese kids do?

Oh well, here is lesson number 1. Repeat after me: UZE! ZAKKEN NA! ATCHI ITTE! KUSOJIJI!

I will teach it for free. Tune in tomorrow. Same time. Same channel.

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Laugh if you want, but I think this book is a good step in the right direction. Ask a Japanese person to "choose" an option and you'll probably get a blank stare, but use the word "select" and they understand, because most of them learnt the word "select" from computer games. To an English native speaker "choose" is the easier word (it's the word English children use first), and so it's the word we would use first. Learning any language in a more natural order is a goood move.

Here's another example, my colleagues and I were talking about the weather yesterday and they were using a strange phrase, so I asked what it meant, and after many false starts I guessed "mushi atsui" (humid), and they were all amused that I knew the more difficult term but didn't know any of the simpler terms for it.

Learning a language out of natural order can be a big barrier to communicating effectively later. I think that people underestimate how much we "guess" or "fill in the blanks" in daily conversation when someone mumbles a word or two. We rely on our awareness of the natural "patterns" of the language to extrapolate the missing word. This is a big reason why 2nd language speakers need to speak even more clearly and precisely than normal speakers.

Books like this are a good start.

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@Frungy:So, this beats me then too...what are the simpler terms for "mushi atsui" then unless you mean mushi mushi or jimme jimme? This book may be amusing to read but I wouldn't recommend anyone studying from it. Kids learn differently from adults and can adjust more. Once an adult has learned the wrong way. it is almost impossible to get it right again.

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It might be a good idea. Casual speaking is way more useful to most beginners, since they want to make friends rather than participate in business meetings. If I had to create a course for Japanese learners based on usefulness, I would start with casual speaking for communication and then some very formal speech so that they can understand shop clerks and waiters.

One of the most frustrating things about learning a language (after learning several) is, in my opinion, when you can't communicate in a language after several months of learning it. When you spend too long on grammar drills and vocab lists and you can't SPEAK other than to say "this is a pen," something is very wrong.

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Frungy. I would basically agree, but my little attempt at humor really emphasizes the problem. Some people MIGHT benefit from the book, but if a person is going to use a language professionally, they need the vocabulary that fits their work. There is no reason to think that child language logic or structure or vocabulary is going to be helpful.

The language that children NATURALLY use is related to childish needs and conversation. If it doesn't, it is not natural. The examples in the article include telling someone you have wet your pants. Prosecution rests.

I think I have seen it all. Every language gimmick in the world has already been put up for sale in every book shop. This method seems cute, but if it does not really click with somebody, it is likely to be a waste of time. And if someone needs to know how to tell someone they have wet their pants, they have bigger problems than language learning.

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How sweet

let the foreigners join in to butcher the Japanese language in a torrent of MAJI MAJIII? KIMOI YABA

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Is there going to be a 'Crayon Shinchan' chapter?

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If I'm going butcher and bludgeon Nihongo I'll do it as a man, and not with childish babble thank you!

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"Is there going to be a Crayon Shinchan chapter?"

Shinchan ( arriving home ): Okaeri!

Misae ( his mom ): Tadaima deshou.

Ha ha ha, makes me laugh every time!

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Hm. I think we need to remember this book is probably best oriented at people not living in Japan but wanting to learn. For that reason they may well have an epiphany: more than particles or finicky details, getting the point across matters first. And for that, this book will no doubt help. Will it teach you Japanese you can use in adult or polite company? No. But it'll teach you how to boil down the thing you want to say more succintly. And for that it contributes something.

And I love Crayon Shinchan. I have learnt a wealth of Japanese from him.

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It may be a useful tool if you want to understand what kids are saying and how mothers talk to them.

I wouldn't recommend this as a text for learning how to SPEAK Japanese though - unless, of course, you want to sound like a kid.

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Shinchan: Oshiri furifuri!

Thats all the kids Japanese you need to know!The rest of it makes a grown man sounds like a feminine idiot, which is good if you are going for laughs at the izakaya but bad if you are actually serious and thats all you can speak is like a little girl.

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Haha I will have to look into this. I actually WOULD like a book, because it's hard trying to talk with my students sometimes. I have to speak more childish with them otherwise they look at me as if to say "Sensei, too many words!"

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About the Author

A computer programmer by profession, Mark Smith has spent 12 years in Japan. His main qualification for writing this book is that most of his friends seem to be Japanese 4 year olds. Despite having a black belt in the martial art of Aikido, he is still bullied by these friends, and also by his wife, and two half-Japanese children, both toddlers. His dream is to divide his time between Tokyo and New Zealand, but he doesn't really like flying.

LOL. I would still like to at least thumb through this book. Might even be fun.

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What is the best way to learn Japanese? Answer: Have a Japanese grandmother. In the USA there are many children who have an American parent and a Japanese parent. If the parents start speaking both languages immediately to the child, the child is bi-lingual with perfect accent. This is nothing new. Let's hope that the school systems can remove the poor quality English books from the junior high schools and adopt a similar program for the Japanese children to learn English.

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No, noriyosan. What happens when parents speak both languages is that the child starts mixing Japanese and English in one sentence, and they are neither a native speaker of English or Japanese. I have seen this happen. Just go to Hawaii or some international schools in Japan. Kids mix words all the time. It's called "mazego."

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Noriyosan is right.

What happens when parents speak both languages is that the child starts mixing Japanese and English in one sentence, and they are neither a native speaker of English or Japanese.

Both my kids started life hearing English from me and Japanese from virtually everybody else. When they started to speak, yes, they created sentences with English and Japanese that only a bilingual could understand, but after less than one year in a Japanese kindergarten their Japanese was every bit as good as their classmates, plus they had a head-and-shoulders start in English. It doesn't take a child long to learn that Mum speaks this way and Dad speaks that way, and the languages gradually separate themselves out.

And it isn't only kids who mix words. I often do when speaking with other EJ bilinguals.

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bicultural at 08:54 PM JST - 9th August No, noriyosan. What happens when parents speak both languages is that the child starts mixing Japanese and English in one sentence, and they are neither a native speaker of English or Japanese. I have seen this happen. Just go to Hawaii or some international schools in Japan. Kids mix words all the time. It's called "mazego."

Just a bit of overstatement. Small children do this unknowingly as language is just language to a 4-year old. However, when you hear older bi-lingual children doing this, it's done on purpose. Commonly at home you will see these same children speaking English to the parent who is the native English speaker and Japanese to the parent who's first language is Japanese.

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Foxie at 10:05 AM JST - 8th August

@Frungy:So, this beats me then too...what are the simpler terms for "mushi atsui"

The simpler word is: "Atsui" alone. You don´t need to say anything else.

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The hard part about Japanese is that you cannot easily support your studies by reading random things like magazines, newspapers and novels. When I studied Russian I could manage a newspaper with a dictionary by mid year. But Kanji is like a huge wall. It keeps us from easily learning patterns in more casual written language that would be a great help.

This book sounds like a fun read. I think there is something to the basic idea.

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NationalistRE. Why not, we can join all the Japanese who speak the language with even less grace and clarity than we do. What is it with nationalists anyway? Look to your own failings before attacking people who are trying to learn your language out of respect for it and your country. Whatever helps them do that, you should welcome. Remember the world speaks English, Spanish, French and Chinese. Japanese is not amongst the top useful languages of the world.

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Fair enough points. I'm just finding it hard to understand my daughter, who speaks about 60% Japanese and 40% English (sometimes mashed together), plus she speaks more of the local dialect than I do, plus children's Japanese is really odd sometimes ;)

But I do think that it's a good idea to read stuff like this to get some idea of how a first language speaker progresses in terms of grammar, vocabulary, and their understanding of the language.

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English, Spanish, French and Chinese. Japanese is not amongst the top useful languages of the world.

True and not true. Sure, those languages you mentioned are the top "important" languages, no doubt. Japanese can't beat them. (I wonder why you left out Russian?)

But knowing Japanese is still incredibly useful: It's still the 2nd largest economy in the world (becoming number 3 after China still makes it a per capita large economy) and the biggest perk is that there is not enough people in Japan that know a 2nd language. Japanese-descent expats also have lost a lot of their mother tongue.

On the other hand, French is not as useful as it used to be, unless you're on a random South Pacific island or in North Africa (and obviously France). Spanish is ok, since it covers a lot of ground and the dialects are not THAT different (they still are), but you're still dealing with poverty level people for the most part. (Trust me I know, I unfortunately understand Spanish)

Chinese is without a doubt the language of the future, Mandarin to be exact; but even right now knowing Chinese is just a business opportunity. Speaking Mandarin means you get by in Singapore and a few other outer-Asian areas, but a lot of expats of China speak 'dialects', unintelligible to each other like Cantonese and other smaller population dialects like Shanghainese, so on so forth.

The future languages are really: English, Arabic, and possibly a little Spanish (still a poor mans language). Japanese will always be quite useful as long as the Japanese don't get quite proficient at language learning.

This is unlike German, the 4th or 5th largest economy because Germans are great at English and learning a 2nd language.

Besides, the most important languages are where you live. China may be great for Chinese people, but it still doesn't allow foreigners any room to live in there and own property unless its Hongkong. In Japan, legally anyone can live there as long as you become a citizen.

Japan has a looooooooooooong way to go to improve; and economically and linguistically there is no doubt it has quite big chance it could really grow less significant in the next few decades. Maybe for our grandkids Japanese will be very unimportant, but for another 50 years, learning Japanese is not a complete waste.... still.

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Oh, I forgot to include Chinese in the future language list.

Arabic culture in my opinion is a huge doozy but hey, they got a ton of resources and until it dries up they are going to party like no tomorrow. And with all the conflicts, Arabic is just a language that cannot be ignored at this time.

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Thanks for all the comments! I'm the author.

I wrote this book because I wish I'd had this information when I started learning Japanese many years ago at university in New Zealand. And judging by the comments here, a lot of people agree with me.

Short phrases like these lend themselves well to substituting other words to make new sentences, so don't let examples like "I wet my pants" put you off.

The casual, simple way a child speaks won't make you sound like a girl. But speaking 'textbook' neutral-level Japanese will make you sound like one. Or gay. I'm not making this up, ask a Japanese person you are close to.

You can see parts on the book online at amazon.com using the 'Look Inside' feature. It's also listed on amazon.co.jp.

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@MarkSmith: As an openly-gay, somewhat effete bilingual speaker, I really don't mind sounding gay. With my ability to understand and communicate using appropriate keigo, kenjougo and teineigo with a native-level comprehension of kanji and vocabulary in fields from law to finance to medicine to technology, I can effectively conduct and participate in high-level business meetings with Japanese attorneys and business people, even if they think I'm a bit femme because of my speech. I can speak oneekotoba with my close friends, and switch to highly respectful language when speaking to a senior Japanese attorney. Yes, I have been told by native Japanese speakers that I sound gay or like a woman--I consider that a compliment, because I sound that way in English, too. But I do speak in an age-appropriate manner befitting someone 40 years old with a law degree. In any case, I'd much rather be thought of as gay than as an idiot who can only speak like a junior-high-school student. Maybe if you're an adult (straight) male, you should mimic the way other adult (straight) Japanese males speak, which sounds ridiculous for some of us; as a boyfriend years told me years ago, I sound ridiculous using the word "ore" to refer to my gayer-than-gay self.

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@MarkSmith: Thank you Mark. I think your book is valuable. Even if one does not follow the same pattern in speaking Japanese with others, at least; one can understand what Japanese children are talking about. So; you came up with something new. Appreciate your efforts.

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@sidjtg -Let's not be ridiculous here.

While I understand your comments were posted nearly 7 years ago, you must have known how utterly absurd it was of you to make the claim that Spanish is a 'poor mans language'. Were you high on sometghing?

I understand that you wish to make the Japanese language sound better/more relevant as a second language in comparison to others, particularly the more prominent ones, but this isn't a good way to do so.

@MarkSmith - Thank you so very much for writing such a helpful book. Your time and effort are greatly appreciated.

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