Is Having a Japanese Girlfriend the Answer to Learning Japanese?

No, they aren’t my girlfriends.

Time and time again, I’ve asked what I can do to improve my Japanese, and I know many other foreigners wonder the the same thing. Occasionally I will get some great advice about different Japanese programs to watch, like Doraemon, ドラえもん, or Sazae San, さざえさん, because the Japanese is potentially much easier to understand than some of the Japanese comedies, talk shows, news, or TV dramas. Honestly, I think watching shows like Doraemon and Sazae San are not only a great way to get listening practice but to experience popular aspects of Japanese culture. The drawback with practicing this way is that it can be a bit one-sided; yes you’re hearing/learning Japanese, but it’s not exactly easy to have a dialogue with a television. The most common advice I hear from some of my Japanese students and fellow foreign friends is to get a Japanese girlfriend. Of course in some cities, that’s easier said than done, depending on your Japanese level, and how open the woman is to dating a foreigner. Nevertheless, foreigners dating Japanese people is quite common. But is having a Japanese girlfriend the answer to learning Japanese?

I have talked to several foreigners who swear by it. They say the biggest changes in their Japanese came as a result of dating, and in some cases marrying a Japanese woman. I do think having a Japanese girlfriend can stimulate that desire to study harder. Being able to communicate with your girlfriend ultimately would mean a better relationship, right?

However, I truly don’t think having the girlfriend is the be-all end-all answer to having good Japanese. There are countless situations where a foreigner may be dating or in a relationship with a Japanese person for a while, and their Japanese stagnates. Why? Well, I think in the relationships where people aren’t learning any Japanese, they have developed a functional, comfortable method of communicating with their significant other. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the communication is purely in Japanese.

Can you learn a lot of Japanese by having a Japanese girlfriend? Absolutely! I believe that a person who is truly immersed in Japanese (on a regular basis) is going to pick up Japanese far more quickly than a person who isn’t. Being around your Japanese girlfriend creates learning opportunities, chances to hear and speak Japanese more regularly, but not everyone takes advantage of these opportunities (it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just the way it is sometimes).

For adults, I don’t think that becoming fluent comes purely by osmosis, it takes work. At the end of the day, I think the only way to acquire good Japanese is to be honest with yourself and work at it. If your environment is conducive to learning Japanese, i.e. having a Japanese girlfriend, working in Japanese office, going to a Japanese university…it’s an added bonus because it can tremendously speed up the learning process.

What’s your take? Is having a Japanese girlfriend (or Japanese boyfriend) the best way to learn Japanese?

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  • Amanda

    It would probably be an excellent way to learn. The frustration of wanting to express yourself to the object of your affection would be a good motivator. But you would have to actually *like* the person. Getting into a relationship just to learn Japanese probably wouldn’t work. The way I see it, picking up Japanese would just be a bonus.

    • Donald Ash

      Yeah, I guess liking the person might be a good idea, Amanda, lol. But I guess on the flip side…if you don’t…maybe you could express how much you hate them. But I’m pretty sure the former is a much bigger motivation to learn Japanese :)

      I agree, there has to be something that actually spurs a person to learn. For me, since I don’t have a Japanese girlfriend, my motivation is being able to converse with my karate teachers more easily, to experience more of what Japan has to offer, and to help those people who may struggle with the language (even more than me, anyway). By the way, how’s everything treating you so far?

  • I would add that female nihongo and Male nihongo are different and if you spend too much time in the company of japanese girls you will certainly pick up a lot of their speaking patterns, used almost exclusively by women. And while other girls might think it:s cute they’ll know where you’ve been studying. And the guys will too. It’ll be a cute inside joke among them that you will never be let on to until you make some Japanese guy friends. If you’re lucky, like i was, they’ll tell you straight up, stop taliking like a josei! So be careful out there and if you want to learn from peers it behooves you to make it a peer of the same sex.
    The girls are good for other things. But I’m sure you know already player!
    I wrote a piece about this back in the days. Here’s a link:
    Anyway, interesting piece, and good advice about working hard and being honest with yourself. especially the latter!
    Keep up the great work Don!

    • Donald Ash

      Uh oh, I guess that means I’m in trouble then, I am around all ladies, just about everyday. The majority of the Japanese staff at my job are women. I want to sound like a man when I speak Japanese. Part of the reason that I joined Kyokushin Karate was because I wanted to be able hear more than the occasional Japanese blurb that I hear at an Eikaiwa…natural Japanese from men and women.

      Thanks Loco

  • Zen

    Loco is right, it helps having a Japanese girl friend , but be careful they speak different from guys…Yo!

  • Hey..I have heard the same thing here in Cali. My students, maid, and Colombian coworkers all say that if I want my Spanish to improve, I need a Colombian boyfriend. My roommate last year met a guy, (I was their translator for their first date) and in a years time, her Spanish was great…and she got married. I am not sure about all of this for myself. I have improved in my Spanish at a much slower rate, but I feel I have improved with each passing year. In the end, it is always, “to each his own”!! Good luck learning Japanese!!!!!

  • Way

    i would say having a Japanse gf is good for other things but lurning japanise from a japanse gf is bad becose thares a difrence in japan girlss are tort the Female Eqivalent of thare native toung ie Femanin Japanise

    I would Recomewnd ppl Inrole tham selfs in a Japanise Langwage School eather its is a actual school or a school that insent a school

    but Natraly Ofcorse you could allways get a progam calld my Japanse coch By Nintendo witch teaches you Japanse both Wiiteb/vocal Japaneese it will teach you every thing of Japanse from beginor to that of a universaty level each time you complet a sirten amount of japanise lessens it gos than to the next grade ETC

    • Donald Ash

      I do agree that having male friends is important in order to learn how to speak like a man. My friend Abasa mentioned the same thing (the one from the interview). But I still think it’s good to hear Japanese on a regular basis, and having a Japanese girlfriend would definitely help with that. I think language schools can be a good way to go, too, if you have the funds. I never looked at the “My Japanese Coach” program from Nintendo. I’ll look into it. Thanks for stopping by.

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