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Textbook Japanese VS Real Life Spoken Japanese

A Beginner’s Note

July 4, 2021

Alright, so you started studying Japanese using a textbook, maybe Minna no Nihongo or such. After browsing the lessons and doing grammar exercises, you finally feel ready to use your newly acquired skills in daily conversation.

Sure enough, you quickly realize that conversational Japanese do not sound quite the same as what you have seen in the textbook. Of course, they can understand what you are saying. But as with most languages, and even more so with Japanese, actual spoken Japanese tend to differ greatly from its beginner-friendly textbook version.

In this post, we will take a look at three relevant examples, among many others, that illustrate this point.

Japanese Grammar in a Nutshell

Let’s start with general Japanese grammar. The grammar itself is not very complicated as it is well- structured, but there are many conjugation patterns to memorize for verbs and adjectives. Thankfully, there are not that many irregular ones, so once you have memorized all the grammar rules you do not need to worry about the irregularities here and there. Japanese also does not have articles nor genders, which is a relief to many learners coming from Romance languages.

Verb conjugation mostly comes in three forms, plain form, polite form (a.k.a. MASU-Form), and honorific/humble forms. In textbooks, many example sentences provided in sample conversations are normally written in the polite form.

We also must mention the different speech levels of politeness in Japanese. As you may know, there are specific speech levels depending on interlocutors and situations. From the possible most informal speech used with your close friends, to the extremely formal and standardized business Japanese used in professional settings, the differences in grammatical structure and choice of vocabulary are quite remarkable.

Textbook Japanese is positioned somewhere between casual and formal. Those grammar points are important nonetheless, as they provide a solid foundation for your studies. But we will show how different the sentences could be when you compare them with actual Japanese that native speakers use in their daily conversations.

1. Conjunction

Let’s look at the sentences below. Pay close attention to the conjunctions.

  • I am not going to work because it is Sunday today.

Pattern 1: Textbook


/kyoo wa nichiyoobi desu kara kaisha ni wa ikimasen/

Pattern 2: Real Life Spoken Japanese


/kyoo wa nichiyoobi nanode kaisha ni wa ikanai desu/

  • I don’t want coffee now because I just had it earlier.

Pattern 1: Textbook


/koohii wa sakki nomimashita kara ima wa irimasen/

Pattern 2: Real Life Spoken Japanese


/koohii wa sakki nonda node ima wa iranai desu/

These are the typical sentence structures when you describe a reason for your action. In the textbook for the beginners, we study the grammar point for conjunction as below:

(Because ~)

〇〇です+から /〇〇 desu + kara/

〇〇でした+から /〇〇 deshita + kara/

〇〇ます+から /〇〇 masu + kara/

〇〇ました+から /〇〇 mashita + kara/

A few things to note on this for real-life Japanese:

Instead of using the declarative polite sentence + KARA, we use the declarative plain form + NODE or KARA. The above mentioned textbook Japanese (Pattern 1) appears in the early stage of grammar studies, so beginners tend to use it when they speak. But it is safe to assume that most of the native Japanese speakers would use Pattern 2, not 1.

Additionally, when you make a negative sentence in the second clause, it is likely to become 〇〇 NAIDESU instead of 〇〇 MASEN. It is simply more natural to say it like that when it comes to spoken Japanese.

2. Particles

There are also differences with the usage of particles in real-life spoken Japanese. Please see the sentences below.

  • Your Japanese is good. How long have you studied?

Pattern 1: Textbook


/nihongo ga ojoozu desu ne. donokurai benkyoo shitandesu ka/

Pattern 2: Real Life Spoken Japanese


/nihongo ojoozu desu ne. donokurai benkyoo shitandesu ka/

As you may have noticed, Pattern 1 has が particle as a subject marker. In the second one, the が particle has been dropped, which often happens in spoken Japanese. All particles are not systematically omitted, but some tend to be. If you do so you will sound more natural.

For example, を particle which is an object marker, is often dropped in the real life conversation.

  • Would you like some coffee?

Pattern 1: Textbook


/koohii wo nomimasu ka/

Pattern 2: Real Life Spoken Japanese


/koohii nomimasu ka/

  • Why don’t we go to watch a movie this weekend?

Pattern 1: Textbook


/shuumatsu eega wo mimasen ka/

Pattern 2: Real Life Spoken Japanese


/shuumatsu eega mimasen ka/

3. Sentence-Ending Particles

There are quite a few sentence-ending particles which are used in spoken Japanese. They slightly alter the sentence and add nuances to the meaning. These particles are particularly useful for convey a variety of feelings.

Let’s use this sentence as an example:

  • I want to go on a trip.

Textbook Japanese:


/ryokoo ni ikitai desu/

Real Life Spoken Japanese (a few examples…):


/ryokoo ni ikitai n desu yo/

(Nuance: I tell you what, I want to go on a trip. Polite.)


/ryokoo ikitai n da yo ne/

(Nuance: You know, I want to go on a trip. Informal.)


/ryokoo ikitai naa/

(Nuance: Ah, I wish I could go on a trip. Informal, muttering to yourself.)


/ryokoo ikitai waa/

(Nuance: Ah, I wanna go on a trip. Informal, a little frustrated.)

Normally, these little nuances are not explained in the textbooks, so you may wonder what they are supposed to mean when you come across them. We recommend listening to native speakers as much as possible to get used to these different sentence-ending patterns for more natural speaking.


Why do these things happen, though? Beginner’s grammar books are designed to teach you a simple grammar structure and the polite form is one of the very first things you learn. Sentences like 〇〇 DESU+KARA or 〇〇 MASU+KARA are a consequence of the study for polite forms, as it is easier for the learners to get the idea of the sentence structure. It is always a step-by-step process.

I can assert that textbook Japanese and real life spoken Japanese are very different. It might sound cliché to say this, but basic grammar studies are very important to understand the structure of the Japanese language, so it is best to study grammar points with textbooks and then apply this grammatical knowledge in real life settings.

So, stay focused and improve your grammar and speaking skills!

And, if you're searching for native speakers to practice with, give the Belatone App a try.

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