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English speakers and manners




English speakers and manners


At Aaron, we think a lot about manners. For us, manners is a term that includes a variety of behaviors. Sometimes, we notice that in unfamiliar cultural situations people can forget their manners. Such forgetfulness may be caused by excitement, stress, or, maybe, uncertainty.


There are two particular situations that bother us. We are not quite sure how to solve them. Here, we would like to offer an apology on behalf of all Westerners for the rudeness of some Westerners who are visiting or working in Japan. Plus, we would like to offer some advice to people who would like to practice their English with Westerners they meet in Japan.


Our first comment is directed to our Western readers. We at Aaron are sometimes appalled at Westerners in Japan who make negative comments about people when they cannot understand their English. Making negative comments about Japanese people who are trying to speak English is rude and insensitive. Learning a new language is tough and challenging and people who try to learn new languages are smart and bold. They should be commended for their efforts, not ridiculed. Making fun of people trying to learn and use English is extremely rude, not just in Japan, but in the United States, too.


When people live in another culture, they need to remember their manners and use appropriate behaviors. We wish we could be there to remind all people who forget how to behave. We imagine that this kind of bad behavior comes from stress, confusion, insensitivity, or ignorance. Still, we do not have the power to change the behavior of other Westerners. We can only offer our apologies to you as you read this piece.


Secondly, we are concerned about Japanese who insist on speaking English with Westerners in Japan. Which language is spoken is a negotiated responsibility. If I would like to practice my Japanese with you and you would like to practice your English with me, one option is for us to divide our time together in half. For one half, we’ll both speak English. For the second half, we’ll both speak Japanese. The most polite approach is to first check with each other. Remember, that Western-looking people might not want to speak English. They might want to speak Japanese.


In general, our belief is that people communicate in whatever language they feel comfortable using. We do not believe that you should automatically use English with people in Japan just because they look European. If you are here at our site, we imagine that you are interested in English and cultural sensitivity.


If you would like to speak English, you could ask the person you are speaking with. Saying something like, “I am learning English. Do you mind if I speak English with you?” is a polite way to handle the situation.


We understand that many Japanese would like to speak English out of excitement at using their English. Still, imagine you went to America and lived there for ten years. Imagine that you studied English and spoke it reasonably well. How would you feel if you spoke to people in good English and they responded in Japanese, ignoring your English? It is entirely possible that the person you want to speak English with has been studying Japanese and wants to use their second language just as much as you want to use your second language.


If you were in the United States or an English speaking country, we think you would feel better if you were asked about your language preferences. We believe that it would be good if people asked: “Do you mind speaking in Japanese? I do so enjoy getting the chance to practice my Japanese.”


These points are obviously not an issue when there is only one language that both people speak. However, when two people speak two languages, language issues require negotiation and sensitivity. Remember, a culture’s language can extend beyond the actual words used. Manners are also a part of a culture’s language.