Have you been looking for a way to make your Japanese even more natural and native-sounding? Look no further than aizuchi (相槌)!
Aizuchi (相槌): Your New Best Friend
Aizuchi are words you use when someone is speaking to you as a way to: 1) React to what the speaker is saying, and 2) Assure them that you are indeed listening. Once you learn what the common aizuchi are, you’ll hear them literally everywhere.
An important note before we dive in, aizuchi were really hard for me to get down. I was taught that it’s rude to talk over people, so throwing out words while people were talking felt awkward and rude. But it isn’t in Japanese. It’s actually more polite to toss in aizuchi regularly, so the speaker knows you care about what they’re saying.
Aizuchi are especially important in phone conversations, and if you don’t use them, the person you’re calling could think the call dropped, you fell asleep, or there’s some other reason you aren’t listening.
With that, let’s get into things with the helpful chart I made for you to use as a reference. Keep reading after the chart, and I’ll break some things down for you.
|Sou (desu ne)||そう(ですね)||Informal (Formal)||That’s it.|
|Naruhodo (desu ne)||なるほど(ですね)||Informal (Formal)||I see.|
|Honto (desu ka)?||本当(ですか)？||Informal (Formal)||Really?|
|Sou (desu ka)?||そう(ですか)？||Informal (Formal)||Is that it?|
We’ll break these down by section, starting with the words for agreement. The biggest thing to remember with this is to nod your head. It might seem clumsy at first, but you’ll get used to it. Body language is just as important as aizuchi to show you’re listening. You’ll nod so much during conversations, you’ll end up even doing it on the phone.
The first three are probably the ones you’ll hear the most. “Un” can be pronounced without even opening your mouth, so it’s a go-to for most informal conversations. “Hai” will be used in practically every formal conversation.
I found a lot of controversy while I was researching for this (yes, I do research to make sure I’m giving you the best information) when I looked into “Ee” on if it was formal or informal. It seems like it’s more on the formal side, but it’s only really used in speaking. This fits with how I’ve heard it used. I also saw things saying it’s kind of feminine, but I’ve heard guys use it too. If you don’t want to risk using this one wrong, “Un” and “Hai” will work just fine.
For “Sou” and “Naruhodo,” you can make these ones more formal just by adding “desu.” “Sou ne” and “Naruhodo ne” are also used in informal conversation, and the desu just kicks it up in formality so you can use it with your boss. This works in the next section with “Sou ka” and “Honto” as well.
“Sou” and “Naruhodo” are a bit difficult to translate. I did my best coming up with simple phrases, but make sure to listen for these in context to help you get them down.
On the other hand, if you want to sound more like an o-baa-chan, you can say an emphatic “Ne~!” to agree with people. I never really heard younger people use this one. But hey. Live your life the way you want.
Aizuchi2 : Surprise/Disbelief
Did the person you’re talking to say something absolutely wild? Or maybe even just a little wild? A tiny bit wild? Use one of these aizuchi to express that.
The aizuchi you will hear the most (I promise), is “Eeee?” There’s not really an English equivalent to this one, so I’ll just explain the meaning. It’s a sound you can use to express your surprise at something. The tone and length of it shows exactly how surprised you are. If you make it really short and clipped you can even express confusion (see the last row on the chart).
“Maji de” is the aizuchi all the cool kids like to use. And by “cool kids” I mean I’ve only heard young people use this one. A lot of the times they’re high school boys, but not always! This one has variations including “Maji ka?”, “Maji?”, and even “Maji desu ka?” Even with the “desu” though, these are all pretty informal.
If you don’t want to be a cool kid (or if you probably shouldn’t try to be one), stick with “Honto.” Everyone uses “Honto,” so it’s always safe to say.
If your friend said something totally unbelievable and you want to call them a liar, you can say “Uso!” and call them out on it. While this one is fun to say, keep it in your informal conversations. Calling your boss a liar would not go over well.
Have Fun With Your New Best Friend!
Aizuchi can be a fun way to speak Japanese in your own style. A lot of people kind of pick a few that they use regularly, and so can you.
Using aizuchi will also help you engage in conversations in a more natural way, and it will help your Japanese friends feel comfortable when you talk to them. Before long, you’ll be nodding and using aizuchi in English too!