I always ask my students if they want to practice casual speech, like that you would use with friends in daily life, or formal speech, like that you would use when you shop or ask directions from someone in the street.
However it is likely that most teachers, including me, will initially talk to you or introduce themselves in formal speech unless you start speaking informally. This is because Japanese people always act politely in front of someone new. Therefore I would like to concentrate on giving you some highly useful formal phrases that you can use with your Japanese teacher, especially on your first Japanese lesson.
How to introduce yourself
Even if you are a complete beginner, you should at least try to do this in Japanese.
You think Japanese phrases and words sound like long wizard spells? No worries, even little 7-year-old Misa could memorize the Harry Potter spell 「ウィンガーディアム・レビオーサ」 (Wingardium Leviosa)! You can do it too!
Like a witch dipping a quill into a pot of ink, dip your はし(chopstick) into しょうゆ (soy sauce) and take notes on what you didn't know. If you already know these, you should take some rest and have some sushi instead!
Here's how to begin your first Japanese lesson:
Sensei (Teacher): こんにちは！(Konnichiwa!) - “Hello!”
You: こんにちは！ (Konnichiwa!)
Sensei: はじめまして。〔なまえ〕です。よろしくおねがいします。 *bow*
- Hajimemashite. - “Nice to meet you.” Hajimete （初めて）means first time, so the literal translation is something like, "This is our first meeting."
- 〔name〕des(u). - “I'm [name].”. Have you read somewhere that it's correct to say "Watashi no namae wa [name] desu"? Well, it's grammatically correct, but you would rarely hear it from a native speaker.
- Yoroshiku onegaishimasu. - The word "yoroshiku" is hard to translate, but something like "Please be kind to me and take care of me." Onegai shimasu means "I beg you/ please," and you put it after yoroshiku for politeness.
- But you can just remember all of this together as a phrase, beginning with Hajimemashite.
Recite the above sentences. Or, if you wanna step out from beginner level and impress your sensei a bit, you could add kochira koso in front of yoroshiku onegaishimasu.
This magical kochira koso means, "I'm the one that should really be saying that." So, kochira koso yoroshiku onegai shimasu would basically mean, "I’m the one who should be asking you for kindness.”
How to tell your teacher you don’t get it
Sensei : *super fast what-on-earth-am-I-listening-to Japanese*
You : あの・・・すみません。わかりません・・・。
- Ano... is like "ehm… well..." In fact, あの (ano) and えっと (etto) are both filler words that mean "Well...". When you stutter or don't know what to say, you just say those. Just like that, you’ll start sounding authentic. Iya, hontouni. (No, seriously.)
- Sumimasen - “I'm sorry / Excuse me.” Gomen is the casual way of saying "sorry".
- Wakarimasen - “I don't understand.”
Sensei : *After explaining*
- わかりましたか？(Wakarimashitaka?) - Did you understand?
You : いいえ、まだ・・・（わかりません。） / あんまり・・・ / なんとなく・・・
- Iie, mada...(wakarimasen.) - mada + a negative adjective or verb (or a phrase implying something negative) means "not yet". Mada by itself, without a negative word, means "still".
- Anmari + a negative word (or a phrase implying something negative) means "not really". The actual word is amari, but pronouncing it “properly” would sound too formal here.
- Nantonaku - here, this means "sort of" or "vaguely". But it also has a meaning similar to "Just because" or "somehow". For instance, nantonaku suki means, “I just… like it, for some reason.”
Alternatively, after being asked 「わかりましたか？」, you could respond: もうすこしゆっくり いってください／しゃべってください。
- Mou sukoshi - a little bit more
- Yukkuri - slowly
- Itte kudasai - please say
- Syabette kudasai - please talk
- Together, mou sukoshi yukkuri itte kudasai/syabette kudasai means, “Please say it/talk a little bit more slowly.”
Sensei : *Explains more slowly*
You : あ、なるほど (A, naruhodo) - “I got it.”
This is a very nice phrase for expressing that you understood. It sounds like you really listened to it carefully, too.
"Thank god" or "Good to hear".
How to ask the meaning of a word
Sensei : にほんごはむずかしいですか？(Nihongo wa muzukashii desu ka?)
You : 「むずかしい」はなんといういみですか？／むずかしいはえいごでなんですか？
Nihongo means "Japanese language". Muzukashii means "difficult". So, the teacher asked if Japanese is difficult.
- ~wa nan to iu imi desu ka? means, "What does ~ mean?"
- Imi means "meaning".
- Alternatively, ~ wa eigo de nan desu ka? means, "What is ~ in English?"
- Eigo means “English.”
You could say it this way too:
wa nihongo de nan desu ka?
“How do you say in Japanese?”
wa nihongo de nan to iimasuka?
This means the same thing, it’s just longer.
Casually, you can ask: ~ wa eigo de nani? - “What is ~ in English?”
Another casual way to ask this is ~ wa nihongo de nan te iu? -
“How do you say ~ in Japanese?”
How to thank your teacher :
You : きょうはありがとうございました。たのしかったです。
- Kyou wa arigatou gozaimashita. - “Thank you for today.”
- Tanoshikatta desu. - “It was fun.”
Sensei : いえいえ、こちらこそありがとうございました。
- Ieie - “Don't mention it.”
- Kochira koso arigatou gozaimashita. - “I'm the one that should be thanking you,” or “No, thank you,” or simply, “Thank you, too.”
How to say goodbye to your teacher:
Sensei : では、さようなら。 ／ じゃ、さようなら。 ／ じゃ、また。
- Dewa - “Well then.” Casually, you can say Ja or Jaa.
- Sayounara - Goodbye. A casual alternative is Mata, which literally means “again” or “next time”.
Thank you for reading. And, I hope your lesson is a successful one. ^_^
がんばってね！ Ganbatte ne! Good luck!
Japanese ammo is a new exciting resource for passionate learners. Become a kid again, and have fun using the power of your imagination to unlock your Japanese learning potential. The site is still a baby, so please show it some love and it will grow. The baby belongs to Misa, an enthusiastic multilingual ninja, eager translator, manga lover, and happy world traveler. Tell her what you would like to learn and she will help you!