In A Relationship – Speak In English Or Japanese?

In a relationship with a Japanese guy or girl? Having trouble getting him to talk to you in Japanese? Welcome to a common problem. Even after years of your Japanese ability improving, English may still be the dominant relationship language. The issue usually stems from one or more of the following issues:

1. His English is better than your Japanese
2. You met and developed the relationship speaking English, and that is what the person has grown accustomed to, and most comfortable with.
3. He really loves English (just like you really love Japanese)

Now this is a sticky issue, and one that must be approached carefully. After all, you are not with him so that you can have a conversation partner or a Japanese teacher. But it is a good discussion to have at some point, especially when your Japanese starts getting good and you want to talk more in the language.

However, regardless of the outcome, and what you guys decide to do, there are some great and non-pressured ways you can enjoy Japanese together.

Watch movies, anime, and J-dramas together, no subs needed!

MoviesWhen you are with a native speaker, no subtitles are needed! This is something that often prevents you from enjoying the same thing with non-Japanese friends. In addition, you can go off of his reactions to help you understand the content more, and you can ask him questions if you missed something like a joke. Not just language-wise, he will also understand cultural references you don’t get and know things such as other movies certain actors have been in that you can follow.

Ask him to go over studying with you

Often he will be willing to help look over something you’ve written in Japanese or something you don’t understand. If he cares about you, he will be kind and willing to help. But remember, don’t go overboard. Think about it if the situation was reversed.

Share secrets in Japanese (if you don’t live in Japan)

This doesn’t have to be secret talk about someone in front of them (though it can!) It can just be things that you’d rather not have everyone listening in on such as private conversations or inside jokes. Knowing another shared language gives you the ability to be yourself anywhere, without having to worry about what the next person in line is thinking about you. This is a huge benefit.

Have a Japanese date  date

Although he may not speak only Japanese to you on a daily basis, it doesn’t mean you can’t set times to speak Japanese together in. One idea is to go on a date that is strictly Japanese, or to have a full weekend of just Japanese. That way, you get to know his Japanese side, without pressuring him to give up speaking in English forever.

Hang out with other Japanese people together

If possible, have frequent outings with other Japanese people. Often people tend to want to talk in their native language together (and will eventually slip into it), which will give you a chance to use your Japanese.

Even though the person you spend time with on a daily doesn’t speak much Japanese with you, there will be someone who will. There’s always the Japanese friend who hardly knows English, or who just is more comfortable with Japanese. And if you’re lucky, actually cares about your Japanese and wants to help you improve. For me, that person is my mother-in-law, who has been adamant about speaking only in Japanese with me, despite her English being good, from the beginning.

Keep it all in the proper perspective

Even though my husband prefers to speak in English, he still cares about my Japanese. He shows me this by willingly correcting my Japanese, and insisting on watching Japanese TV together (even when I feel lazy). He shares in my improvements, and is supportive of every step forward I make.


Not conversation partner.
Life partner.

It’s all about figuring out what you both are comfortable with, adjusting, compromising, and deciding things together.

Have you felt the English-Japanese struggle in a relationship? What have you done about it? Do you have any good suggestions or advice?

Pictures taken from the manga/movie ダーリンは外国人

Related posts:

The following two tabs change content below.

Rachel M.

Writer and Educator. Learning Japanese using immersion, currently soaking up as many novels and manga as possible in hopes of one day writing her own novel in Japanese. Also because she loves Japanese books.


In A Relationship – Speak In English Or Japanese? — 14 Comments

  1. Generally speaking, my conversation ability is to the point that I can manage a conversation in Japanese, nevertheless English is the dominant language between my partner and I, mostly because;

    1) we don’t live in Japan at the moment, and 2) she studies English, this is her time to practice her second language as much as she can.

    We have a pretty good system in place though, she recognises that its important I keep up my skills too, so shes happy to switch to Japanese in an instant if I ask her too (plus there are those moments where she’ll get ticked off with English and refuse to speak it all together, aha).

    It’s about sharing, you nurture the other persons needs as well as your own. Everyone is happy when you can manage that. =D

    • Whenever I visited Japan, I’d reach a point in which I became too tired to speak Japanese temporarily so having my husband to speak with in English was relieving.

      I think at some point once you’re immersed enough, speaking on a daily basis and your language ability is high enough, you no longer get tired and don’t need to switch to your native language to restore your energy. My husband never tires of speaking English.

  2. My wife is from Hanoi, but being around other native speakers and listening to music in Vietnamese always helps up the ratio of Vietnamese to English in our house.

    Also: arguments. Although I don’t like these at all, I’ve learned a lot about the language from them and my speaking ability is much better because of them, too.

    Of course, that last part is because I switch into Dread Pirate Roberts mode. “I’ll explain. And I’ll use native words so that you’ll be sure to understand!”

    • When I met my husband, my Japanese was very basic, so he had to pick up the pace very fast with English when it came to arguing with me! Especially since I tend to argue strongly and bring up a lot of points and inquire a lot of points from him.

  3. My husband and I swap languages every other day – so today we’re speaking English, and tomorrow we’ll speak Japanese. It works really well for us at the moment (when we can remember what day we’re supposed to be on!), and we try to be pretty flexible with it, and change it when having a Japanese day rather than an English day makes more sense and vice versa. Obviously it won’t work for everyone,and could be frustrating if one of you has a much lower language level than the other.

    I think the important thing is to talk things through, and make sure that you’re both happy. I think as in most relationships, these kinds of things work best if you both compromise a little bit.

    • That’s awesome that you and your husband worked out something like that!

      I’ve come to the realization that I don’t really need to speak with my husband in Japanese, I get so much practice elsewhere. So I’m content. My Japanese continues to improve. We speak Japanese from time to time together, but our default is in English.

      But perhaps I’ll try a schedule like yours. Even though I don’t need to speak Japanese with my husband, of course it’d be nice to speak with him in Japanese more consistently! I’m not sure if it’ll work, just because I tend to fall off of schedules easily. I tend to need things to be more organic. But I think I’ll give it a shot, see if it works.

      • Just was talking about it with my husband now. He said we can do it, but I have to force him or he’ll be lazy or won’t want to do it. I replied for most people lazy is their native language but for him English is his lazy. He agrees and says for some reason English is easier.

        It’s hard for me because I have to deal with his lazyness, not just mine. But at the same time, he’s helped me out so much with correcting my writing and study notes. So that’s our compromise. But maybe I’ll try the every other day thing.

        • I find it easier to talk to my husband in Japanese to be honest, even though it isn’t my native language. I think it’s because I can speak without really thinking in Japanese, and I know that he’ll understand whatever I say (unless it’s nonsense!), whereas when I speak in English I guess I have to be more careful about what I say? (Not so much now, but when we first started dating I definitely did!) It also just feels more natural to speak in Japanese sometimes as we are living in Japan, and I feel sometimes when I speak in English like I have to translate from Japanese, if that makes any kind of sense.

          It might be worth a try! Obviously what works for me may not work for you, but I have found it helpful in improving my Japanese, and I think my husband has found it has improved his English too, and it’s a really good compromise for both of us as I think ideally we both want to speak our non-native language all of the time, haha.

          • My husband and I are on Day 1 of trying this!

            Already a fight in the morning about it because he isn’t comfortable texting in Japanese and had a bad commute that morning (-_-). But then this afternoon he downloaded Line for me (which before he said he’ll never download) so that we can text in Japanese while apart. Made me really happy. So we’ll text in English regardless, but at least we have Line to talk in Japanese through when there’s wifi!

            We’ll see how talking in Japanese goes tonight when he comes home.

            Even if we can’t keep this up, at least him downloading Line came out of it.

  4. I do like a lot of the points in this article, and maybe they can help me. I’ve been married to my wife for a little over a year now, and I’ve been studying Japanese these past couple of years so I can communicate with her family as well as be able to help communicate things with her that she may not understand in English. Most of the time she does fine with English, but she does struggle to understand especially in larger crowds and when people are talking faster. I think she’s more comfortable expressing herself in Japanese, so I don’t have to try very hard to convince her to speak in Japanese instead. Often our communication, both spoken and over text/IM is about 50/50 between English and Japanese.

    The problem that has developed, however, is that in the process of our relationship forming habits and norms, the depth of language that we’ve been using has stagnated as we’ve developed a sort of comfort zone in our Japanese speaking. On one hand it’s OK because I’ve been able to reinforce what I know quite easily, but on the other I’m not growing in the language as much as I would like. I think she’s gotten an idea of what she knows I understand and doesn’t often try to push beyond those boundaries perhaps out of fear that I’ll just be confused and / or frustrated, and perhaps she lacks the instructional skill to explain it to me. I know she’s not a teacher, and while her English is good she is no linguist by any stretch of the imagination. Any ideas or suggestions on how I might try and get her to venture outside of those boundaries more often? Maybe something she could do if I ask her what something means but she has a difficult time explaining it to me?

    • I really understand your struggle here. My husband is not a teacher either and he gets self conscious around people who are learning Japanese because he doesn’t know what kind of language to use with them so would just prefer English (kind of more extreme than your wife, as your wife at least uses Japanese to some extent). It took me so long to break his shell and get him to talk in Japanese with me. I would tell him, “Why did you say that in English? I would’ve understood that in Japanese.” It wasn’t easy and still isn’t. But it’s definitely gotten a lot easier over time.

      My advice is to first be confident in your own studies. You don’t need your wife to improve! You will improve. And when your Japanese gets better to the extent that you can discuss deeper topics, then you can initiate that with your wife. And you can be proud that you got to that point on your own.

      One thing that might be good is to plan a day in which you both promise to only speak in Japanese. That way, if you two need to discuss something more complicated, you eventually have to break that comfort zone.

      I also suggest finding a Japanese community in your area. For me, I go to a Japanese church. Although almost everyone can speak English, they speak to me in Japanese there. I have improved so much from the experience that now I can even join in on group conversations when at first it was a struggle (my husband struggled with this too with English a long time ago, as does your wife, common struggle!). I also get to see my husband talking about deeper topics and can jump in on the conversation. Seeing your wife talk with other people about more complex topics can prepare you for having them with her on your own.

      Some places it’s harder to find a Japanese community than others, but if you can find one, that would be great!

      Also, as much as you want to help her, I recommend letting her struggle with those group conversations and not explaining things. Her reliance on you can stunt her growth in her English. Back when I was first dating my husband, my Japanese was very poor, so he caught up in his English quickly. He had no one to rely on. Instead, try to explain things to her in English in a different way when she gets lost. Just as you would want her to in Japanese, instead of reverting to English. Of course, only if she’s comfortable with this. Some people are okay with not improving their language skills, just want to get by and would rather be comfortable.

  5. I am single but i have and understanding how i should go abput talking to the japanese girl i like in college bit i can never talk to he cause i did not know how npw i do so thank u …..i hope it is not to late

  6. I will only have relationships with japanese girls, cos if i had a girlfriend that doesnt speak japanese i will waste 99% of my life speaking english

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *