Thursday, October 8, 2009

Let's enjoy Japanese: No, I really do suck

Humility is regarded as an admirable quality by many cultures. If you know much about the Japanese language, no doubt you are aware at least of the existence of various patterns of speech that are used to convey different levels of politeness and formality. There are humble and honorific forms (which are a pain to learn) and all kinds of super-polite expressions and phrases. But that's not what this post is about.

No, I want to talk briefly about how to tell people that you're not very good at all at X.

As you might imagine, there are many ways to convey the fact that you're inept at something. Here are a few:

  • 下手(へた)です-"heta desu"- unskilled or poor at something.
Usage: X が下手です。

Example: "日本語がすごく下手です!" [ I'm really bad at Japanese!]

Notes: Easy to remember and use - not a bad choice. And if your Japanese fails you, you can just point at yourself and lamely repeat "heta heta" over and over. They'll get the idea.

  • とんでもない -"tondemo nai"- not at all; to the contrary; no way!
Usage: "日本語上手!" "いや、とんでもない!" [Your Japanese is great!] [Nah, not at all!]

Notes: I don't use this one very often, but it is more stylish than 下手, methinks. Note that とんでもない is the casual form of とんでもありません (tondemo arimasen).

  • 足りない(たりない)-"tari nai" - insufficient, lacking
Usage: "日本語ぺらぺらやん!" "いや、足りないよ." [Wow, your Japanese is fluent!] [Nah, I'm not good at all.]

Notes: This one is pretty good and not too difficult to remember. If you want to frill it up a bit, you can stick it in this construction: "足りないところばかりです."

That's it for now. Have fun telling people you're really not very good at stuff.


  1. [You're Japanese is great!]

    YOUR English is slipping! ;-)

  2. [Shame]

    Ugh. Thanks for the catch!