If you are a Japanese learner, you might be shocked when you visit the country for the first time that nobody speaks the way you they do in your Japanese textbook! In any language, it often happens that people do NOT always speak in the “correct” way. So, it is highly recommended that you try to get used to “natural” conversations. This is where TV dramas can serve a great pedagogical purpose. Watching TV dramas is not only fun–it’s also useful! Let’s learn some non-textbook-style ways of speaking by watching the drama The Hours of My Life!

First, let’s listen carefully the conversation between Takuto (the boy) and his superior.

はやかった(hayakatta)? Was I going too fast?
I’m sorry.

The superior sounds mean, doesn’t he? But that’s not the point. Takuto said すいません (suimasen) to apologize. すみません (sumimasen: I’m sorry, Excuse me) is one of the most frequently used expressions in Japanese and if you learn the language, you should be mastering it at the very beginning. But wait a minute! Takuto said すいません (suimasen), not すみません (sumimasen)! Is this a mistake or a personal habit?

Let’s watch the next scene. Poor Megumi (a girl)! She is having a hard time with another job interview.

あのわたしなにたりません(ano, watashi no nani ga tarimasenka)
Um, what do you think is missing from me?
えっ (e)?
What? (Laughter)
すいません (suimasen)。
I'm sorry.

Again? Megumi also said すいません (suimasen) not すみません (sumimasen)! If two people are saying it, then すいません (suimasen) seems not to be a mistake or habit! Are the textbooks wrong?

Relax! No, your textbook (including Nihongo Master) isn’t teaching you the wrong expression. すいません (suimasen) can be categorized as “spoken language” or “colloquial language.” What does that mean? A casual way of speaking? No, not necessarily. In the two scenes above, Takuto and Megumi are speaking in formal situations. So, you can safely assume that すいません (suimasen) is acceptable, even when you speak to your superiors. “Spoken language” or “colloquial language” such as すいません (suimasen) are words or expressions that can be used only when you “speak”–not when you “write.” So, when writing in Japanese, you should useすみません (sumimasen) just as you learned it.

Actually, in the real world, there are many words or expressions that sound different from those you learn in textbooks. Let’s take a look at some of them:

The う(u) in おはよう (ohayou: Good morning) and ありがとう (arigatou: Thank you) is often dropped, leaving just おはよ (ohayo) and ありがと (arigato).

さようなら (sayounara: Good-bye) can sound like just さよなら (sayonara) sometimes. Some people even may say さいなら (sainara).

It seems some Japanese people thought こんにちは (kon'nichiwa: Good afternoon) is too tedious, and made up a shorter version: こんちは (konchiwa)!

In any case, it is important to learn both “spoken language” and “written language.” When you’re tested for your Japanese language proficiency, you’ll need to be able to write the words correctly. But in your daily life, it is good to learn the “spoken” versions, too. By mastering them, you may sound more natural and your Japanese friends would definitely say “にほんごペラペラ! (nihongo perapera: You speak Japanese fluently!)” No matter what your mom, girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse tells you, you’re not merely killing time by watching TV dramas -- you’re learning “living” language! That makes you feel better, doesn’t it?

Nihongo Master

Guest Post By Nihongo Master

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