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When is 日本語、お上手です (your Japanese is good), or possibly 上手い instead of 上手, used? Is it based solely on the person's level of proficiency, or their proficiency compared to what was anticipated, or visibly making an effort?

Please don't be too ranty in your answers.

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    「日本語を上手です」とは言わないですけど、「日本語、お上手です(ね)」なら言いますね。。。
    – Chocolate
    Sep 11, 2016 at 4:29
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    Maybe you want to replace "please don't be too ranty" by "I am looking for (or would welcome or would be happy with) short answers".
    – Earthliŋ
    Sep 11, 2016 at 7:37
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    When do you say "Your English is good / fluent" to a foreigner or learner? What makes you think a Japanese person would say it in other context? If you expect users to be ranty, why not refrain from asking such a question?
    – Rathony
    Sep 11, 2016 at 8:31
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    @Earthliŋ I think he included the ranty part because people visiting Japan have written rants about how they don't like being told 上手ですね all the time, just for saying a few words in Japanese or for using chopsticks properly. I think there's a clash of cultural expectations where the people writing these rants consider it inappropriate by the norms of their own culture and unfortunately take offense, and Andrew Grimm was trying to avoid those sorts of responses.
    – user1478
    Sep 12, 2016 at 0:10
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    @snailplane I see. I have never encountered such rants before.
    – Earthliŋ
    Sep 12, 2016 at 7:32

3 Answers 3

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I wouldn't imagine it really has any connotations that are different than if you told someone, "Hey, your English is pretty good." I think generally we expect others that speak our native language as a second language to have some issues, so we might be prone to say that even if they have some issues with grammar or pronunciation that a native speaker would be looked down on for. Here are two example situations where I would imagine this phrase could be used:

A Japanese native talking to a foreigner they just met might say this if the foreigner shows competency in Japanese, whereas the native may have been (reasonably) expecting their Japanese to be somewhat broken or possibly nonexistent, especially if they're just a tourist or something.

Maybe you used some phrase or word that shows you have a deep understanding of the language, and the person saying this was legitimately impressed at your skill.

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  • Is this a logical guess, or based on actual knowledge? Sep 12, 2016 at 11:58
  • I'm saying these are some situations where I would imagine a similar phrase being used, regardless of the actual languages in question. I have never personally been told this, but I honestly don't think the phrase has any specific implications in Japanese that it wouldn't in some other language.
    – Kurausukun
    Sep 13, 2016 at 0:42
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https://www.italki.com/#/question/85474 -- ................ 正直に言えば、日本人は外国人に「日本語がお上手ですね」と言ってどういう意味でしょうか?

相手は本当に上手でも、ちょっとだけ話せても言われるから、真正の意味はあまり分からないかもしれません。僕は初めて日本人に会う時、いつもそれを言われていますが、実は なんか ちょっと馬鹿にされていると感じるようになります。 ............

       ( I love this last ようになります。-- the responses are good too. )

i think often it's another way of saying -- [ I'm very happy (or glad or pleased) that a you (a non-Jp person) are studying Japanese. ]

Often a genuine 「日本語 お上手ですね」 is prompted by, e.g. :

--- Using both 手前 and 前 while differentiating them correctly

--- Using a difficult word or construction correctly, or exactly at the appropriate context.

--- Using a word or construction that this native Jp person feels is uniquely Japanese -- and i don't mean Wabi, Sabi, Mono no Aware, etc.

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上手 is used for anything that is done well. Example, someone sings well, dances well, speaks Japanese well, does origami well, for all of these you can say 上手! to express how you feel.
On a note, you mentioned 上手い, I have found it is used more about good food. Your Japanese can be 上手(jyouzu) or 上手い(umai) but good food is 上手い or 美味い and can't be 上手 (if you say 上手 you would then be talking about how it is prepared).

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  • Hmm... うまい as "tasty" is written as 旨い, 美味い, not 上手い...
    – Chocolate
    Sep 12, 2016 at 2:53
  • yeah, I though it an odd form as well but when checking it here jisho.org/search/%E4%B8%8A%E6%89%8B%E3%81%84 it returned an answer so just went with it
    – Mark
    Sep 12, 2016 at 3:24
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    ううむ・・・?? 普通、「上手い・巧い」は「[上手]{じょうず}だ」って意味で、「美味い・旨い(・甘い)」は「おいしい」って意味で使いますよね・・・
    – Chocolate
    Sep 12, 2016 at 3:39
  • 基本的そういう意味を伝たかった。「日本語上手い」って使っている人もいるけど、「このラーメン上手」って聞いたこと無い
    – Mark
    Sep 12, 2016 at 3:50
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    I am not talking about how weird 「(food) is [上手]{じょうず}」is. I am saying using the kanji [上手]{うま}い for "food is good/tasty/yummy" is strange.
    – Chocolate
    Sep 12, 2016 at 3:58

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