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Forum Spotlight: Japanese people don’t understand my Japanese?

Welcome to Forum Spotlight! Here we’ll be introducing interesting and useful posts made by members at our very own JapanesePod101.com Forum. This week’s forum spotlight post is by reboundstudent, who asked about why Japanese people might be having trouble understand her when she speaks . Forum user Javizy responded with some possible reasons and gave advice on how to help remedy the problem.

Asking for advice
I am an American doing the JET program since about the end of July (so going on 2-3 months.) I was a Japanese minor in college, but my listening comprehension is dreadful, and my speaking is halted and usually filled with bad particles.

My situation is, I speak and understand only a bare minimum of Japanese. But it seems whenever most Japanese people talk to me, they speak pretty rapidly and with advanced vocabulary. Whenever I try to speak back, they either ignore that I just said anything, or just kind of stare at me. 

Has anyone else ever found themselves in this situation? How do you respond? As a last ditch effort, I switch to English and body language, but that really doesn’t give me the speaking practice I need with Japanese… yet when I speak it, the Japanese people around me seem totally unable to comprehend what I’m saying.


Hard to say definitively, but judging by the reactions you describe, it sounds to me like you’ve got some serious accent issues. I think a lot of people do, but since pronunciation isn’t really considered one of the difficult points of Japanese, it seems to get overlooked.

If you don’t know this stuff already, then let’s get it out of the way… Syllables in Japanese aren’t as complicated as in English. You can think of them as a unit of time, each one equal to the next, or even more simply, each hiragana character represents one syllable. This includes so-called long vowels.

Take おおきい, for example, the long vowel おお should be the same length as any other two syllables, like きく, あく, ばか, etc. There’s a little quirk with these though: おう should be treated as おお and えい should be treated as ええ. So the word 欧米(おうべい) is actually pronounced おおべえ.

Since ん、ら、り、る、れ、ろ have no English equivalents, you should pay special attention to them, and make sure you pronounce them like Japanese natives do (record yourself if you have to). Try to up the amount of listening you do as much as possible, and you’ll be able to tell when your accent sounds good, and when it doesn’t, since you’ll soon develop a strong sense of what Japanese should sound like.

Pick up one of these books, and start shadowing for at least 10 minutes a day as soon as possible, and you will notice improvements in your pronunciation, intonation, pitch, listening comprehension, and ability to fluidly reproduce the material that you shadow Japanese Conversation Training and Shadowing.

You’ll probably notice improvements in a matter of weeks. I’ve used these techniques for over half a year, and the first time I ever spoke to a Japanese person was about 6 weeks ago, and she could understand just about every word. In fact, even a bunch of conversations later, I can only recall a couple of times when she asked me to repeat anything. So there’s no reason it can’t work for you, too. 頑張ってくださ~い!

Thank you Javizy for those great suggestions!

You can find a lot more useful information and tips like this at the JapanesePod101.com Forum, so stop by and join in the many discussions with fellow listeners and the JPOD101 crew!