If you want to learn how to say student in Japanese, then you’re in the right place. There are quite a few different ways to say it, depending on what level of education the person you are talking about is at.
There’s also a little bit of a difference when you want to talk about a pupil of someone, rather than when the word is just generally referring to someone who is enrolled in some sort of public (or private) educational system.
Let’s check out each word individually and then put them in some useful phrases to see how they’re used.
Japanese Words For Students in the Educational System
First let’s start at the youngest age and the work up from there.
To talk about someone who is either in preschool or kindergarten you use the word 幼稚園児 (yōchien-ji) which is a combination of the word 幼稚園 (yōchien) for kindergarten, and the word 児 (ji) which is used for a newborn babe.
- The kindergartner began to cry.
yōchien-ji ga naki hajimeta.
Then we move on to grade school (elementary) students which are called 小学生 (shōgakusei) which is a combination of the word for small 小 (shō) and the generic word for student which is 学生 (gakusei). We’ll go more into depth on just the word 学生 in a minute, but for now let’s continue.
- When I was in grade school I lived in Mexico.
shōgakusei no koro mekishiko ni sunde imashita.
In middle school (Jr. High) you get called a 中学生 (chūgakusei) which is a combination of the words for middle 中 (chū) and that generic word for student again, which you now know is 学生 (gakusei).
- My daughter is not a junior high school student yet.
musume wa mada chūgakusei de wa arimasen.
Are you starting to see a pattern with the words for each level of student? Well if you are, then you can throw it out the window because the Japanese pulled a fast one on us!
The word for high school (Sr. High) student is 高校生 (kōkōsei). Yeah, it still ends with 生 (sei), but it lost the first half of the common word for student! I know, I know… just when you think you’re making progress…
- Next year, I’ll be a high school student!
rainen, kōkōsei ni narou!
And finally we get to university students, which of course returns to the pattern you thought you could rely on earlier for these sorts of things: 大学生 (daigakusei) it’s nice to see that it combines the word big 大 (dai) with our favorite word for student 学生 (gakusei). Three out of four ain’t bad!
- That college student wasn’t honest!
ano daigakusei wa shōjikide wa nakatta yo!
Two Generic Words for Students You Will Probably Hear
The most common word that I hear used for student in Japanese, as just a generic term, is the one that gets combined with most of the above words we went over earlier: 学生 (gakusei).
- Are you a student?
gakusei desu ka?
According to Jisho.org, this word does indeed mean student in the general sense, but it is especially true when it’s used for university students.
Did you really think it was going to be that easy? Hah!
This then begs the question, what does 生徒 (seito) mean? I ask because 生徒 (seito) is another fairly common word in Japanese that’s used when talking about those kids in class.
If you look around the internet, it gets translated as both student and/or pupil depending on who you ask, but the most concise answer I ever received on it was from Kamiya’s book on Japanese sentences which states that 生徒 (seito) is primarily used when talking about middle school and high school students.
- Please tell the students not to touch this clock.
seito-tachi ni kono tokei o sawaranai yō ni itte kudasai.
Technically speaking, Japanese doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural. The word 生徒 (seito) could mean either one student or several.
But there is a word that explicitly makes the noun it’s attached to plural. It is the word 達 (tachi) which is also commonly spelled in just hiragana as たち. The rule is that it can only be used with people, though.
So 生徒達 (seito tachi) is students, plural.
Anyway, feel free to make those distinctions in your mind when you hear people called 学生 (gakusei) or 生徒 (seito) in schools.
Other Types of Students You Might Encounter
Of course everybody gets excited in anime and manga when the transfer student arrives! But how would you say transfer student in Japanese? It is 転校生 (tenkōsei) which starts off with the kanji 転 which can mean revolve or change.
- A teacher speaking to his class:
“I will introduce the transfer student.”
tenkōsei o shōkai suru zo.
And sometimes you get a student who is from overseas in your class. From Japan’s perspective, every county is “overseas” so this word could pretty much be used to mean a student from any other country (i.e. an exchange student) when it’s used by the Japanese people.
The word is 留学生 (ryūgakusei). There’s that lovely WORD + 学生 pattern again! And you thought you were going to get away from that, did you?
- There are two international students.
ryūgakusei wa futari imasu.
Finally, let’s not forget about the new kids. I’m talking about those freshmen! The Japanese word 新入生 (shin nyūsei) is used when talking about new students who are entering a school as first-years.
- A new student came into the class.
shin nyūsei ga kyōshitsu e haitte kita.
You’ll see this 新入 (shin nyū) kanji combination in other areas of the language when people are entering into some sort of organization (like a new job), so keep that meaning in mind.
This Final Word Can Mean Student or Pupil
Sometimes you are a student of someone else, like your martial arts instructor – Master Roshi.
Or it could even be as simple as saying “Professor Tanaka helped his student after class with the lesson.”
In these cases you might see the word 教え子 (oshiego) used for the student or pupil. It is created from the kanji for teach 教 and the kanji for kid 子 and it really shows this instructor-instructee relationship between the two (or more) people.
- I saw one of my students in Shinjuku on Tuesday.
kayōbi ni shinjuku de oshiego o mimashita.
And Now the Student Has Become the Master!!!
What can I say? There are a crap load of Japanese words when talking about students!
Some of them are pretty easy to remember since they are so commonly used. The others might only pop up every now and again.
Either way, let me know what you think by leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: