"sore wa ii" and "sore ga ii"

Christmas is just around the corner and 2018 will end soon. I'm glad that I can make this post today! Minasan, Merry Christmas to Yoi Otoshi o!! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!)

I’ll be comparing two simple sentences today.
Sore wa ii desu.
Sore ga ii desu. 

The obvious difference between them is just “wa” and “ga,” but is that really all there is to it? And do both mean “That’s good”?

The basic rule states that text following “wa” and text preceding “ga” is emphasized. 
Please keep this rule in mind and consider the following examples. 

example 1
A: fuyuyasumi ni Nikko ni ikimasu. (I’m going to Nikko during winter break.)
B: sore wa ii desu ne. (That’s nice.)

“Sore” refers to going to Nikko during winter break, and B is trying to say, “It’s nice to go to Nikko during winter break.” B wants primarily to communicate his/her opinion that “that’s not a bad idea at all, but is good,” based on the rule that text following “wa” is emphasized.

example 2
A: renkyu chu wa kuruma ga komu kara, densha de iku koto ni shimashita. ( I decided to go by train because traffic will be bad during the holiday week.)
B: sore ga ii desu ne. (That sounds like a good idea.)
B is agreeing that “It’s a better idea to go by train rather than by car” because the part preceding “ga” (“sore”) is what is focused on.

It seems that A and B don’t have any plans other than A’s Nikko trip. 

example 3
A: Tokyo no fuyu wa tenki mo ii shi, fuyuyasumi wa ii ne. (The winter weather in Tokyo is pleasant. Winter break is NICE.)
B: Itsu bonenkai ga shitai? Christmas no mae? Christmas no ato? (When would you like to have a year-end party? Before or after Christmas?)
A: Christmas no ato ga ii na. (AFTER CHRISTMAS is better.)

Christmas no ato ga ii na” has the same connotation as “Coffee ga ii desu” (Coffee is better/I prefer coffee/I’ll have coffee) when answering the question “Nomimono wa kohi to ocha, dochira ga ii desu ka?” (Which would you like, coffee or tea?).

example 4
A: watashi no kaisha wa Christmas kara oshogatsu made zutto yasumi nan desu. (My company will be closed from Christmas till New Year.)
B: sore wa ii na. (That sounds nice.   * I think “I’m jealous” is also implied.)
B: watashi wa 29 nichi kara wa yasumi dakara, 29 nichi ni bonenkai o shiyo ka? (I’ll be off on the 29th, so let’s have the year-end party on that day.)
A: sore ga ii! (Now that sounds great to me. * I’m trying to make the meaning of “ga” visible in English.) 

“Sore wa ii” in example 4 shows the speaker’s opinion on whether the previous sentence, which “sore” refers to, is good or not. It’s just like examples 1 and 3 too.

example 5
A: kodomo o tsurete kite mo ii? (May I bring my children?)
B: sore (kodomo) wa ii yo. (Yes, you can bring them.)
A: inu mo tsurete kite mo ii? (May I bring my dog, too?
B: sore (inu) wa dame. C san wa inu ga suki ja nai kara. (No, you can’t bring him. C doesn’t like dogs.)
This “ii” indicates giving permission. Further, “wa” in “kodomo wa” and “inu wa” lines up the two topics in contrast. This means I allow you to bring children, but no dogs.  

example 6
B: 29 nichi ni kaimono o tetsudatte moraeru? (Can you please help me with grocery shopping on the 29th?)
A: sore wa ii yo. demo, asa hayakattara, tetsudaenai kamo. (I don’t mind, but if you go in the early morning, I might not be able to.)
In this case, A accepts B’s request in the previous sentence, which “sore” refers to, and says, “Okay, I’ll do it!” This has a different connotation from “ii ne!” (That’s nice!). 

After going through those examples, I think you’ll see that it’s better not to consider “sore wa ii” and “sore ga ii” to simply be equivalent to “That’s good” and “That’s nice.” They often imply something else besides those simple translations. In either case, you can’t interpret these phrases correctly without understanding the previous sentences. Please be aware of the context where they are used.



sonna ni

Nihon wa atsui desu!! (It's hot in Japan.) Kyo mo Tokyo wa totemo atsui! (Today is another hot day in Tokyo.) Despite the heat I hope you're having a great summer.

I'm sorry for the radio silence. I haven't posted anything since June.
Today I’d like to discuss something that I sometimes notice when talking with foreigners.
  • It's so kind of you.
  • This is so good.
  • He is so kind.
  • It's so kind of you.
How would you phrase these English sentences in Japanese? Dictionaries say that the English “so” =  “sonna ni” or, conversely, that “sonna ni” is “so”. Therefore, I think many people would use “sonna ni”. But unfortunately, that isn’t correct.

You need to review how to use “so” in order to understand this mistake. “So” is used as “very” or “extremely” in the sentences above. In this case, “so” can’t be translated into “sonna ni”. Use “honto ni”, “totemo”, “cho” or “sugoku” instead.
1) A came 30 minutes late to a meeting with B.
A: B san, honto ni gomen ne! (I’m so sorry. = I’m very sorry.)
2) A had a bite of food.
A: Wow! Cho oishii! (This is so good. = This is very good.)
“So” can be replaced by “very” in these sentences. Once you understand this usage of “so”, please move on to the next example.
2) A had a bite of food. B is watching. 
A: Wow, cho oishii!  
B: Eh? Sonna ni oishii no?
B said “sonna ni”. This doesn’t mean “very” or “extremely”. B is asking “Is it that good?” while seeing A’s reaction.

“Sonna ni” refers to what was previously said in the conversation. It’s about something the second party is experiencing or has experienced. So, it refers to the degree of deliciousness that A has mentioned. 

Let’s go back to example 1.
A apologizes many times. 
A: honto ni gomen ne! gomen ne! (I’m really sorry! I’m sorry! 
B: sonna ni ayamaranakutemo ii yo. (No need to apologize that much.)
“Sonna ni” refers to something the other party is doing and has just said, and it indicates the degree of A’s apologies.

There is another way to use “sonna ni” also. I think the third one is actually similar to “so” in English. I’ll write about it sometime soon. I don’t want to confuse you, so I won’t write too much this time. 



JLPT N4 and N5

JLPT summer test is just around the corner. I'd like to quickly show you my charts which explain the differences of particles.

Look at
the object
すきです(non-active verb or adjective)
Other examples: じょうずです、
たべます(active verb)
Other examples: のみます、みます、

Look at the place marker!
いきます(action with destination)
Other examples:
Other examples:
Other examples:

As you can see, the object and place markers change depending on the verbs (sometimes adjectives). Verbs matter! Please don't forget it.
When you choose a correct particle from four choices, check which verb is used in the sentence first! The verb will guide you as long as you remember the patterns above.

Ganbatte kudasai!


New classes!

NEW! Small group classes:
1-2 lessons per week, face to face at your office, a cafe, your home, or by Skype! 5,500 yen/hour for two students (as opposed to 3,800 yen/hour for one student). Highly recommended for couples studying together!

Starting this year, I’ll be offering special classes geared for businesses in Japan with foreign workers. The courses are custom-made, so the content can be adjusted to your organization’s needs. Examples of possible subjects might include the lack of distinction between L and R in Japanese, how consonants and vowels in Japanese are different from those in English, why translation software like Google Translate sometimes just doesn’t work correctly between English and Japanese, and more. This is a chance to help employees unfamiliar with Japanese to learn more about Japanese in a more conceptual way and to help minimize cross-language communication errors. Of course, I also provide more traditional Japanese classes that cover vocabulary, grammar, and kanji. I think you will find that, whatever your needs, I can help. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, I would be happy to discuss this with you to find a custom curriculum and pricing that works for you and your organization.


Japanese phrases at stores

Long time no see! Hisashiburi!

One of the most difficult parts of Japanese is is keigo (polite Japanese). It’s representative of Japanese culture (or East Asian culture), where hierarchy and the relationship between employers and employees play an important role. I strongly feel that culture and its language play off each other in this respect.

As you know, Japanese people are taught to use keigo when speaking to those older than themselves, their superiors, customers, or strangers, so Japanese store staff can’t stop speaking that way even to children or non-Japanese people who don’t know keigo. That’s why you can’t figure out what they are saying and experience difficulties. If they spoke normally, you would understand them better.

Let’s have a look at some phrases store staff often use in the chart below. Normal sentences are written in the left column and polite sentences that store staff use are in the right column. Red text indicates keigo into which blue words transform.

Normal sentences
Polite sentences (keigo)
Chumon onegai shimas.
Can I take your order?
   Gochumon onegai shimas.
Koko de tabemas ka?
Will you be eating here?
  Kochira de omeshiagari des ka?
I understand.
M size de ii des ka?
Would you like M size?
   M size de yoroshii des ka?
480 en des.
Your total will be 480 yen.
   480 en ni narimas.
500 en azukarimas.
I’ve received 500 yen from you./That's out of 500 yen.
⑥  500 en oazukari shimas.
20 en kaeshimas.
Your change is 20 yen.
   20 en no okaeshi des.
Shohin wa counter de dashimas.
We’ll give you the item at the counter.
   Shohin wa counter de odashi shimas.
Sorry to have kept you waiting.
   Omatase shimashita.
Card o motteimas ka?
Do you have a membership card?
  Card o omochi des ka?
Hukuro o tsukaimas ka?
Do you have your own bag?
   Hukuro o goriyo des ka?
I’m sorry./I apologize.
   Moshiwake gozaimasen.
Chotto matte kudasai.
Please wait a second.
   Shosho omachi kudasai.

In sentences 1, 6, 7, 8, and 9, the changes are minor. Only the honorific markers “go” and “o” are placed in front of words and verb endings are slightly changed, so if you know the normal sentences, it’s still easy to guess the meaning of the polite ones.
In sentences 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, and 13, the red and blue have the same meanings, but different words are used or else most of the sentences have changed. Thus, if you don’t already know the keigo words, you can’t guess what they mean.
“Tabemas ka?” becomes “omeshiagari des ka?” and “Sumimasen” becomes “moshiwake gozaimasen.”
They are completely different. You probably wonder why, but just need to accept that that’s how it is and learn the keigo words and phrases. You’ll get used to them if you live in Japan and hear them every day.

I’d especially like to explain sentence 5, “480 en ni narimas.” First of all, can “narimas/naru (become)” be treated as keigo? This is not a particularly polite word. However, when someone says “anata no kaimono no gokei kingaku wa 480 en ni narimas” (The total amount of your purchase will be/has become 480 yen), he or she is trying to avoid being too assertive. It gives a softer, nicer impression than saying “480 en des” (It’s 480 yen) does. The store staff is informing the customer of the amount in a reserved manner. Stores requiring a polite attitude towards customers without exception is representative of Japanese culture.

So, how should customers speak politely to store staff? Well, they don’t need to be super polite or rude. Just use normal Japanese. For example,
Coffee hitotsu to cheesecake hitotsu kudasai/onegai shimas. (Can I have one coffee and one cheesecake, please?)
M size/mochikaeri onegai shimas. (I’d like M size/take out.)
Hukuro wa kekko des. (I don’t need a bag, thanks.)
         And so on.

Also, store staff often ask the following questions.
Hot to ice, dochira ga yoroshii des ka? (Which would you like, a hot one or cold one?)
Kami no cup to tennaiyo no mug cup, dochira ga yoroshii des ka? (Which would you prefer, a paper cup or a mug?)
(Tabemono o) atatamemas ka? (Shall I warm up this food?)
Ijo de yoroshii des ka? (Is that everything?)
Please ask me about other expressions you always come across and can’t figure out in the comment section. 
Recently two of my students told me that "reshito (receipt) kekko des." was the most useful expression I'd ever taught them. I think I've taught them more important things, but apparently they need practical phrases!

Japan is famous worldwide for its high quality of service. I totally agree with this. I experience good service everywhere, but they often lack flexibility when something unexpected occurs. At supermarkets outside of Japan, I see store staff chatting with customers in a relaxed manner, but some staff don’t smile and look unsatisfied with their work. I think they are always honest.


Belated Happy New Year!!

Akemashite omedeto !
I'm going to do a lot of Japanese lessons and try hard to help my students with their Japanese in 2018. I also intend to present useful information to you through this blog. Many people start something new in January. To those who have decided to study Japanese, here are our available classes!

  • Regular lessons in Tokyo: 1-2 lessons per week, face to face at an office or cafe. Students request the content of the classes and the teacher designs the lessons accordingly.
  • Skype lessons: 1-2 lessons per week. Students request the content of the classes and the teacher designs the lessons accordingly.
  • Visitor lessons in Tokyo: Tourists can learn practical Japanese and improve their language skill while staying in Tokyo.
  • Intensive course: 2-3 weeks. Students request the content of the classes and the teacher designs the lessons accordingly.
  • JLPT course: The teacher creates a plan for achieving a target level with the student.
* A one-hour lesson costs 3,800 yen. Please ask me about the details.


wakaranai v.s. shiranai

Merry Christmas everybody!
Thank you very much for reading my blog this year. I wanted to write this post, but was very busy for the last one month. I'm glad that I made it right before my winter break. I'm leaving for Shanghai tomorrow! What are you doing during this Christmas break?

Many readers of this blog may be thinking, “She’s finally writing about this!”
Soon after you began studying Japanese, you learned that “wakarimasen” means “I don’t understand.” However, it’s also used as “I don’t know,” right? So which one is correct…?
I’m sure you’ve wondered about this. My apologies for this late explanation.

Let’s begin from an easy point. I think you can interpret “understand” like this:
I understand. wakaru (rikai shiteiru)
I don't understand. wakaranai (rikai shiteinai)
You can use either “wakaru” or “shitteiru” for “I know” and also use either “wakaranai” or “shiranai” for “I don’t know.” It’s this complication that’s confusing.

First of all, “shiru” means “to get information” and “shitteiru” indicates the state of having information. When you say, “I know him” or “I know this restaurant”, it refers to having information about him or the restaurant.
(watashi wa) kare o shitteiru.
(watashi wa) kono restaurant o shitteiru.
I think it’s okay to use “shitteiru” when you’ve seen, heard, or read about a certain topic. It indicates that you have at least superficial information about it.

On the other hand, when you say “I know what you mean” or “I know how you feel,” it has the nuance of relating to the speaker because you’ve experienced the same thing. It expresses a deeper understanding and not just superficial information, and “wakaru” is best used in this case.
(watashi wa anata no) iitai koto ga wakaru. (I know what you mean.)
(watashi wa anata no) kimochi ga wakaru. (I know how you feel.)
Let’s compare these examples.
Do you know where he lives? → No, I don't know. 
Do you know what you are doing? → Yes, I do.
kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka, shitteiru?  uun, shiranai.
jibun ga nani o shiteiru ka, wakatteiru no?  un, wakatteiru.
① is about whether you possess superficial information, and has more depth to it. Wouldn’t you agree?

Consider this next example from the viewpoint of having or not having information.
kono news o shittieru?  un, shitteiru. (having information) / uun, shiranai. (having no information)
Simple, isn’t it? How about this sentence:
kono hen ni eki ga arimasu ka?  hai, arimasu. (knowing that there is a station nearby) /iie, arimasen. (knowing that there is not any station nearby)
Whether the answer is yes or no, both indicate that you have information about the station. Furthermore, you could say “wakarimasen” here too. This wouldn’t mean “I don’t understand your question,” but instead means "I don't know if there is a station nearby." However, if this is so, the question of why you can't say "shirimasen" arises.
kono he ni eki ga arimasu ka?  sa, shirimasen ne.
This answer isn't necessarily wrong, but I think Japanese people usually answer “sa, wakarimasen ne.” Why is that? Well, if you use “shirimasen,” this would give a cold impression, kind of like curtly saying, “I don’t have that information” or even "How should I know?" Contrary to this, “wakarimasen” carries the nuance of a softer “no,” as if to say, “There might indeed be a station around here, but I haven’t checked into it (or, I’m not familiar with this neighborhood), so I’m afraid I can’t answer…” This expression may be similar to gentle negation, such as “sakana wa suki desu ka?” (Do you like fish?) and “sakana wa chotto…” (Fish is kind of...), or “ashita nomi ni ikanai?” (Why don’t we have a drink tomorrow?) and “ashita wa chotto muzukashii na” (Tomorrow is a bit difficult for me).

Next, let’s think about the different impressions these sentences convey.

(anata wa) konshumatsu nani o suru no? (What are you doing this weekend?)  shiranai. (This gives the impression of indifference.)
(anata wa) konshumatsu nani o suru no?  wakaranai. (This person can’t answer because they don’t have plans yet.)
Lastly, I’d like to share a simple tip for choosing correctly between “wakaranai” and “shiranai.” When you’re unsure how to express “I don’t know” in Japanese, pay attention to the form of the question.
1. When the question ends in “shitteiru?” (), answer “shiranai.”
2. When the question ends in “wakaru/wakatteiru?” (), answer “wakaranai.”
3. When the question doesn’t include “Do you know…” (, , and ), answer “wakaranai.”
It’s always important to listen to the question and answer it appropriately.

OK, this is it! minasan, yoi otoshi o!! ("Happy new year" used by the end of December 31.)