Lesson Content: Casual or Formal?

That’s not what my textbook says.

Some of those trying out the lessons may have some questions concerning the forms of verbs that are chosen for the phrases. Here is an excerpt from someone’s question about the Japanese lesson’s phrases.

I tried out the demo for Japanese and was kind of off put because you
are teaching a mixture of informal with formal. Whilst some words
ended formal “-masen” some words were ending with “-nai”. (Informal)

Is there a plan for fixing that or differentiating the two? Is that a
part of the full lesson plan?

I just don’t want people going out there speaking awkward or formal
with friends and informal at inappropriate times. Or bouncing between
the two forms during one conversation.

In answer to that question:

We used phrases that would be useful for people traveling to or getting started in Japan. I know what textbooks teach, I myself have spent many hours memorizing them, but it’s not as cut and dry as the textbooks would have you believe.

Here in Japan, expressions are often mixed and really depend on a wide variety of variables. Those would be too numerous to list for each lesson and truthfully, don’t apply to most non Japanese people. For example, a Japanese friend of mine uses some honorific phrases when talking to taxi drivers. When I asked her why (obviously that would be completely backwards from what is in textbooks. Honorifics are used to the customers, not the other way around) she couldn’t answer. She just told me that’s the way it is. So I asked some other Japanese friends of mine and they said that they do the same thing. I wanted to know why only to taxi drivers. I still don’t know, but now I do it too. Even if I don’t, there have been no problems.

Lessons for beginners

Part of our choices also concerns the length of the phrases. Too many people were having problems with the longer phrases, and so some shorter phrases were chosen. However, all the phrases chosen are appropriate ones for non Japanese people to use. Again, this is contrary to what the textbooks state, but language in use is not so black and white.

We are continuing to refine the lessons and your concerns have been noted. Given the style of study though, we are trying not to add too much information to the sentences so students can concentrate on learning to say the phrases rather than study the grammar. If we see that it is necessary to add that information to every problem, then we will.”

No one actually says that

This is a very important point to note in any language. There is the textbook language, then there is the language in action. Despite the fact that I am an english teacher in a junior high school here in Japan, I still say things like, “Him and his friends went downtown yesterday.”

Seriously?! Him and his friends?! Of course, in my school lessons I teach the proper grammar, but when I speak to my students, I speak to them as I normally would.

In Japan, the divisions between the various levels of speaking isn’t quite so clear. Textbooks teach that there is simply a divisions of social status that decides the politeness of language. While social status is a deciding factor, there are many more. On top of that, simply changing verb ending doesn’t make a conversation polite. In Japanese, many other words (such as nouns) and even pronunciation change as well. It can be quite complicated and overwhelming.

A sigh of relief

The good news for non Japanese people is that Japanese people do not expect foreigners to speak Japanese at all, let alone speak it perfectly. Especially for those who are going to Japan for the first time.

In the Japanese lessons here at, we do not teach any rude language. The phrases taught, whether casual or formal, are ok to use in any situation that visitors to Japan may find themselves in.

  • Timber7

    Thank you!!! I love the fact that you added Japanese to your list of Languages.

    Would it be possible to also get Romaji text listed under the Japanese text for each of these Japanese phrases & words? It would certainly help many of us who can’t read Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji yet.

    Something similar to the following:

    • 日本語が少し話せます – Japanese Text
    • Nihongo ga sukoshi hanasemasu – Romaji Text
    • Origin sun language GA(subject) (a little) (can speak) – Literal Translation
    • I can speak a little Japanese. – Good Translation

    Thank you for considering this request,


    • ockey

      Hey Tim!

      Thanks for the response! Romaji is a common request that we get. We have had many discussions about this and have also sought out the opinions of other non native Japanese speakers. The overwhelming idea is that it’s not in the best long term interest of the student to use romaji.

      Having recognizeable words (even if just for the sake of pronunciation) is very comforting. While in the beginning it seems to help, it will actually impede improvement in the long term. Studies have shown that it is easier for the brain to learn new information than it is to forget old information. If a student begins associating the words of a new language with the sounds of his or her native language, it will make it much more difficult to break that association and move closer toward a more native-like ability to speak the language.

      In my personal experience, Japanese people are not used to non japanese being able to speak Japanese. Even after 12 years, I still come across many people who are surprised at my ability to speak their language. Because of that, even being slightly off with things like pronunciation can prove to be a problem.

      Something we are thinking about is the ability to hide the characters so they are not so much of a distraction. We will also be simplifying the direct translation line.

      My advice is to focus on what is being said and just let the kanji sink in naturally. But even if that doesn’t happen, that’s ok. Focusing on listening will take you along a path that is closer to native style learning.

  • Timber7

    Thank you for your response Ockey – it is Greatly Appreciated!!!

    I totally get the fact that “it’s not in the best long term interest of the student to use Romaji”; however in the short term, couldn’t there be some sort of added value if it was programmed into the lessons properly?

    For example: You could have the Romaji gradually disappear after a certain preset number of times that a person reviews a word/phrase, especially the ones that contain Kanji as part of the Japanese text. The first few days you have a line of Romaji text. Then the next preset number of times of reviewing the word/phrase, like day three (3) through day five, have a Romaji/Hiragana/Katakana text.

    And thereafter, totally remove the Romaji from view, but have a built in function that allow someone to be able to mouse over the Japanese Text in order to get a visual reminder in Romaji if they need it.

    As an example of what I mentioned above, have the following show up for the first few days you try a new word or phrase (especially the ones that contains Kanji):

    • 日本語が少し話せます – Japanese Text
    • Nihongo ga sukoshi hanasemasu – Romaji Text
    • Origin sun language GA(subject) (a little) (can speak) – Literal Translation
    • I can speak a little Japanese. – Good Translation

    Then the next preset number of times of reviewing the word/phrase, like day three (3) through day five you try a new word or phrase that contains Kanji, have a Romaji/Hiragana/Katakana text similar to the following:

    • 日本語が少し話せます – Japanese Text
    • Nihongo が sukoし hanaせます – Romaji/Hiragana Text
    • Origin sun language GA(subject) (a little) (can speak) – Literal Translation
    • I can speak a little Japanese. – Good Translation

    You do have a small element of Romaji in your “Hiragana Syllabary ; Katakana Syllabary” like the following examples, so I do believe Romaji could have some sort of value when you’re first trying to figure out what is actually being said the first few times through the exercises – especially when Kanji is involved.

    あいうえお;アイウエオ Japanese text
    A I U E O
    かきくけこ;カキクケコ Japanese text
    Ka Ki Ku Ke Ko

    Oh well, just a thought – Thanks again,


    • ockey

      These are very interesting ideas. Unfortunately, those would require a great deal of change with the basic programming of the website. Japanese is the first language we have that has a totally different way of writing. With the other languages, it wasn’t really necessary.

      We are always looking at ways to improve the experience. Thanks for your input!

  • Jessica

    There seems to be something wrong with the free lesson for Japanese. I just used the German one and it worked perfectly.

    • ockey

      Hello Jessica.
      I just tried the lesson myself and found no problem with it. I’ll forward your email address and the issue and hopefully we can help you out.


Leave a Comment

I want to learn

Forgot your Password?
Remember Me