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talking on the phone

Denwa (dehn-wah; telephones) are an indispensable part of daily life. Denshi meru (dehn-shee mehh-roo; e-mail) is great, too, but it can't replace the connection you get from hearing someone's koe (koh-eh; voice). This section gives you the essential phrases you need to have denwa no kaiwa (dehn-wah noh kah-ee-wah; telephone conversations) in Japanese.

Before you get ready to make a call in Japanese, get used to the Japanese words and terms related to telephone equipment, systems, and accessories:

  • denwa o kakeru (dehn-wah oh kah-keh-roo; to make a phone call)
  • denwa o morau (dehn-wah oh moh-rah-oo; to receive a phone call)
  • denwa-bango (dehn-wah-bahn-gohh; phone number)
  • denwacho (dehn-wah-chohh; phone book)
  • ketai-denwa (kehh-tah-ee-dehn-wah; cellular phone)
  • koshu-denwa (kohh-shooo-dehn-wah; public phone)
  • terefon-kado (teh-reh-fohn-kahh-doh; phone card)

Conjugate the verb kakeru (kah-keh-roo). You can use it in the phrase denwa o kakeru (dehn-wah oh kah-keh-roo; to make a phone call). It's a ru-verb.


Calling a friend

Moshimoshi (moh-shee-moh-shee) in Japanese is a kind of line-testing phrase like "Hello, are you there?" or "Can you hear me?" Before you start talking, say moshimoshi.

Do you need to call your tomodachi (toh-moh-dah-chee; friend) to hanasu (hah-nah-soo; talk) about the shukudai (shoo-koo-dah-ee; homework) you haven't done yet? Or maybe you want to call your tomodachi just to oshaberi o suru (oh-sha-beh-ree oh soo-roo; chat).

If you call your friend's home and someone other than your friend picks up - her okasan (oh-kahh-sahn; mom), for example - say your name before asking for your friend. If your name were Suzuki and you were calling your friend Ken, you'd say Suzuki desu ga (soo-zoo-kee deh-soo gah; This is Mr./Ms. Suzuki speaking) and then Ken-san o one-gaishimasu (kehn-sahn oh oh-neh-gah-ee-shee-mah-soo; May I talk to Ken please?). If you don't tell her your name, she'll say Dochira-sama desu ka (doh-chee-rah-sah-mah deh-soo kah; Who is calling please?).

Words to Know
moshimoshimoh-shee-moh-sheeHello, are you there?
hanasu [u]hah-nah-sootalk
oshaberi o suru [irr]oh-sha-beh-ree oh soo-roochat
______san o onegaishimasu.-sahn oh oh-neh-gah-ee-shee-mah-sooMay 1 talk to Mr./Ms.______please?
Chotto matte kudasai.choht-toh maht-teh koo-dah-sah-eeHold on please.
Dochira-sama desu ka.doh-chee-rah-sah-mah deh-soo kahWho's calling?

Catting hotels and stores

When you call commercial institutions such as hoteru (hoh-teh-roo; hotels), mise (mee-seh; stores), and resutoran (reh-soo-toh-rahn; restaurants), the employees introduce the business first by saying de gozaimasu (deh goh-zah-ee-mah-soo) - the super-polite version of the verb desu (deh-soo; to be). Of course, with Japanese sentence construction, you'll hear the name of the business before de gozaimasu. For example, Hoteru Sanraizu de gozaimasu (hoh-teh-roo sahn-rah-ee-zoo deh goh-zah-ee-ma-soo) means "This is Hotel Sunrise."

After an employee answers the phone, tell him or her whom you want to speak to:

When you call a commercial institution, you may be put on hold for several minutes. Check out these phrases for "waiting":

Asking for what you Want

Why do you make a phone call? Because you want to talk to someone. Why do you want to talk to someone? Maybe you want to tell him or her what you want. But how do you say "to want" in Japanese?

Although the Japanese do want things, there's no Japanese verb that means "to want." But fear not: Japanese has an adjective that means "to want." Actually, the Japanese use different adjectives to express "to want" depending on whether they want to perform an action or want some item.

Do you want to kau (kah-oo; buy) a big house with a tennis court and a swimming pool? Do you want to taberu (tah-beh-roo; eat) as much as you want without worrying about your health or your weight? Or do you want to iku (ee-koo; go) to Japan? Saying the phrases to want to buy, to want to eat, and to ttiant to go in Japanese is easy. Simply add the suffix -tai (tah-ee) to the end of the stem form of the verb, as in kaitai (kah-ee-tah-ee; to want to buy), tabetai (tah-beh-tah-ee; to want to eat), and ikitai (ee-kee-tah-ee; to want to go). Use these -tai phrases just like you use regular i-type adjectives (Chapter 2 has more on these adjectives). Check out these examples:

When you call a store, restaurant, or hotel to tell them what you want - or when you tell anyone what you want - end your statement with -n-desu ga (n-deh-soo gah). This phrase injects a friendly, cooperative tone.

The function of -n-desu is to show your willingness to hear the other person's response; the ga is actually the sentence-ending particle that means "but." You're literally saying "1 want to do such and such, but." What you actually mean is something like "I want to do such and such, but is it okay with you?"

Suppose you call a hotel to make a yoyaku (yoh-yah-koo; reservation). If you say yoyaku o shitai desu (yoh-yah-koo oh shee-tah-ee deh-soo), it means "I want to make a reservation." But phrasing your statement this way sounds too blunt in Japanese - you almost sound like you're making a protest or stating a demand. By contrast, if you say yoyaku o shitai-n-desu ga (yoh-yah-koo oh shee-tah-een-deh-soo gah), it means something like "I'd like to make a reservation, but could you help me with it?" Now your statement sounds soft, and you're kindly inviting the clerk's reply.

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