How to Say “Can You Speak Japanese?” in Japanese: Formal and Informal Ways

Learning how to ask “Can you speak Japanese?” in Japanese is a great way to start conversations and connect with Japanese speakers. Whether you are planning a trip to Japan, meeting new people, or simply want to show your interest in the Japanese language, this guide will provide you with the formal and informal ways to express this question. Additionally, we’ll explore some tips, examples, and regional variations to enhance your understanding. So, let’s dive in!

Formal Way to Say “Can You Speak Japanese?”

When addressing someone formally, it’s important to use the appropriate polite language. In Japanese, this is known as “keigo.” Here’s the formal way to ask “Can you speak Japanese?”:


(Nihongo o hanasemasu ka?)

This polite form is suitable when speaking to someone older than you, in a professional context, or when meeting someone for the first time. It conveys respect and demonstrates your understanding of Japanese etiquette.

Informal Way to Say “Can You Speak Japanese?”

If you’re in a casual setting or talking to a friend, you can use a more casual way to ask “Can you speak Japanese?”. Here’s the informal way:


(Nihongo o hanaseru?)

Using this form showcases a friendly and relaxed approach, especially among people of similar age or in a casual atmosphere. It’s important to note that using the informal version with someone you should address formally could be considered disrespectful, so always choose the appropriate level of politeness according to the situation.

Tips and Examples

1. Add “か” for a Question

In both the formal and informal versions, you’ll notice the “か” (ka) at the end of the sentence. This is the question particle in Japanese, which indicates that the sentence is a question. Adding “か” at the end of a statement turns it into a question.


  • 日本語を話せる (Nihongo o hanaseru) – Can speak Japanese
  • 日本語を話せるか (Nihongo o hanaseru ka?) – Can you speak Japanese?

2. Use “を” (o) as the Object Marker

The particle “を” (o) in the sentences indicates the direct object. In this case, “を” follows “日本語” (Nihongo), meaning “Japanese.” It shows that the language being spoken or understood is Japanese.


  • 日本語を話す (Nihongo o hanasu) – Speak Japanese

3. Combine with Other Phrases

You can use the question “Can you speak Japanese?” in various scenarios. By combining it with other phrases, you can ask more specific questions or make longer sentences. Here are a few examples:

  • 日本語を話せますか?旅行ができますか?
  • (Nihongo o hanasemasu ka? Ryokō ga dekimasu ka?) – Can you speak Japanese? Can you travel?
  • 日本語を話せますか?日本の文化に詳しいですか?
  • (Nihongo o hanasemasu ka? Nihon no bunka ni kuwashii desu ka?) – Can you speak Japanese? Are you knowledgeable about Japanese culture?

Regional Variations

While the formal and informal versions mentioned above are widely used throughout Japan, it’s worth noting that regional dialects can influence the way people speak. Here are a couple of regional variations:

Kansai Dialect:


(Nihongo ga wakarimasu ka?)

The Kansai dialect, popular in the Osaka and Kyoto regions, often uses “わかりますか” (wakarimasu ka?) instead of “話せますか” (hanasemasu ka?). This variation still conveys the same meaning, so don’t worry if you encounter it while traveling in this area.

Hokkaido Dialect:


(Nihongo ga wakarimasu ka?)

The Hokkaido dialect uses “分かりますか” (wakarimasu ka?) instead of “話せますか” for the question “Can you understand/speak Japanese?”. Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island, and its dialect carries some unique characteristics.

Remember, while understanding regional variations can be fascinating, the standard formal and informal versions will serve you well in most situations throughout Japan.


Congratulations! You’ve learned how to ask “Can you speak Japanese?” in both formal and informal ways. By using the appropriate level of politeness and practicing these phrases, you’ll be able to connect with Japanese speakers and enhance your language skills. Remember the tips and examples provided, and don’t be afraid to engage in conversations with native speakers. Keep practicing and enjoy your journey into the world of the Japanese language!

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