My Favorite Compliment About my Japanese

Everyone can use a boost through positive words now and then. It’s nice to know that what you’re doing is paying off. It’s easy to be hard on yourself, and think that you’ve been moving nowhere fast. One objective person who sees your progress from the outside, and says something to let you know you’re doing okay can bring you back on track.


How about a nicely timed 日本語は上手ですね (your Japanese is great)? Nope. That’s like someone saying “how are you?” as a greeting in English and actually expecting them to want to know how you are doing. Maybe for beginners, or the first time you hear it, it has some effect. It’s still fresh and you don’t yet need to resort to sarcastic reactions.

But what about a real compliment? A compliment that would actually light your eyes up with a fire of accomplishment?


I prefer three types of compliments, rather than specific words.

1. The compliment has to come after significant conversation.

The less words you say before you receive a compliment, the faker the compliment is, and the less likely it is to bring a confident reassuring smile. Too often the compliment comes after a はじめまして、アダムです (Nice to meet you, I’m Adam). This is meaningless. I’ve even gotten a compliment after a mere こんにちは.

After we’ve had a conversation, or at least talked for a few minutes, the words actually start to carry weight.

2. The compliment is directed at the content, rather than form

Directly saying “your Japanese is great” is limited. But someone saying that they found what you said to be “interesting,” or “you articulated your viewpoint well,” or “your explanation was easy to understand” goes beyond just mere Japanese form. It goes to the substance of your ability.


3. No compliment at all

The most interesting trend advanced learners discover is that the better their Japanese becomes, the less often they hear 日本語は上手ですね。Not being complimented can be the best compliment of all. Someone is having a conversation with you like they would be with a Japanese person. The “foreigner speaking Japanese” aspect isn’t even present. When you have a conversation with a fellow native English speaker, it doesn’t ever cross your mind to compliment them “wow, your English is great.”

Even if your Japanese is perfect, you may still get compliments. However, the frequency will significantly decrease. You’ll start gaining more confidence from less compliments. Then if you actually get a compliment, something might be wrong!

What was your best compliment?

Have you ever been complimented about your Japanese in a way that was motivation boosting? What were you told? If not, what could you hear that would mean something to you?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


My Favorite Compliment About my Japanese — 24 Comments

  1. A few years ago it would have been the time that my pen pal told me that my intonation is very natural. It was my first time getting anything other than “wow your Japanese is great.

    Recently though one of my closest Japanese friends told me she sometimes forgets I’m not Japanese (despite the fact that my face is very obviously not Japanese) because my Japanese is so good. That was pretty awesome.

    Also pretty cool is when I’m in the changing room at work people and can’t figure out who is replying to them in Japanese (because they’re trying to match the voice to one of the Japanese staff)

  2. My favourite compliment is having someone laugh (genuinely) at a joke I made in Japanese. I also like it when people assume that my husband (who is Japanese) has written texts or emails that I wrote myself (this one is only a compliment if I’ve only just met the person saying that, otherwise it’s more of an insult to my speaking abilities, hehe)

  3. When I started my exchange studies in Japan, I talked to my professor, who apparently also was in charge of some international exchange association/group. After maybe 30-40 minutes of talking he said he didn’t think I needed to take any Japanese courses, even though he knew I was going to read regular courses in Japanese.

    Other than that I don’t get many comments on my Japanese ability, other than questions about how long I have been studying. Which, after reading this, I guess is a good thing. I have only been here for about 2 weeks though.

  4. I honestly don’t really like being told anything directly..
    But there are some patterns that I kinda liked.

    When doing sort of application/procedure where a second person comes in and speaks simple Japanese and the first person then cuts them off and tells them to speak regularly as I can speak/read Japanese fluently

    When speaking over the phone and they are given a piece of information which hints that I am not Japanese, then they ask in surprise/confirm that I am not Japanese person speaking on behalf of someone else.

    Had an off-kai for a mobile game and exchanged pictures before meeting up, and none of my guildmates were shocked and thought I was joking at first.

    • You are definitely right that the indirect (and unintentional) compliments are often the best. That would be funny on the phone someone telling you to put the foreigner whose account is in question on the phone.

  5. > I’ve even gotten a compliment after a mere こんにちは.

    I don’t think this is necessarily a fake compliment. The way you say こんにちは has a huge impact on how the rest of the conversation is going to proceed and native speakers seem to be able to tell a lot by how clean and correct your greeting is.

    • You do have a point, that you based on pronunciation/intonation you can tell if someone is saying it right or not (and there are plenty of foreigners who say it wrong). However, it is still just a minor starting point, and way too early to judge someone’s ability.

  6. I’ve been most pleased when people I haven’t seen for a while tell me my Japanese has gotten better since the last time we met. But I’ve never actually received a direct compliment from anyone I consider a friend!

  7. Wow, your English is great Adam!

    I think the best sort-of-compliment I’ve gotten was just recently. I met someone, said a few words and got the typical 上手 compliment. But after that when I start to say more complex things it was just the look of surprise they gave me that acted like a compliment. It was like they thought, “Wait, you can actually make sentences and stuff?”

    • I try :P

      I’ve heard something similar which is quite ironic. The first 上手 was a mere kind gesture, and the follow up is “wow, you actually are 上手.”

  8. Before we drop off the front page I should add my personal favorite compliment:

    「話しやすい」・”Easy to talk to”

    I find this one to be the most sincere because it always implies that your Japanese is really easy to understand usually because minor things like pacing, intonation, and phrasing are near-native. Quite often you will also get quizzed about your Japanese study methods because they assume you’ve found some secret sauce to Japanese language learning. It always seems to disappoint people a bit when I tell them that I just watch a lot of Japanese TV.

    • Maybe you are just easy to talk to regardless of language :P

      Your last point also rings true because telling someone you studied a large part through TV just sounds like a fake answer to most people (despite being true).

      • The most humorous version of the comment I ever got was from a guy who was a former host and he said something equivalent of: “I have other foreigner friends who know Japanese but I always have to speak really slow or simply with them but with you I can speak normally and you answer immediately. That’s cool.” After that I almost fell out of the ski lift laughing. I really, really wish I had a better memory of what he said in Japanese because the way he said it was awesome.

  9. It’s not related to speaking, but I really enjoy getting complimented on my Kanji knowledge. Especially when it’s a rarely used Kanji that I can write and they’ll be like: “Who tf remembers that shyt?”

    I take this as a compliment.

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