Ten ideas for smooth communication with native English speakers in Japan
While our ten ideas also apply to communication with English speakers outside of Japan, they are not as important as they are with English speakers in Japan. This reason that these ten ideas are important is that English speakers in Japan seem to hear the same comments over and over. Imagine you went to America. Imagine everybody you met complimented you on how you well you use a knife and fork.
Think for a minute how you might feel.
Taking your feeling one step further, image yourself in another country. Imagine how you would feel if everybody you met asked if you knew any geishas.
As the last step, image how you would feel if many people talked about Pearl Harbor, how terrible it was, and how we must stop war.
At Aaron Teaches, we have talked with Japanese who have been to the United States. They tell us they were not asked the same questions over and over and over again. Unlike Japanese in the United States, native English speakers in Japan do have the same experiences over and over again. They learn to live with the same questions. However, our suggestions for you are ten ideas that could help to avoid the same kinds of foolish questions and comments.
1. Speaking machines
If you find native English speakers in Japan to talk in English with, don’t tell them that you like to see them so you can practice your English. Don’t make them feel that is their function for you. Tell them that you enjoy their company, that you like to do things with them, and that you had a good time with them.
We hope you enjoy both, but native English speakers can easily be offended or hurt when people they consider friends tell them that they missed speaking English with them. They can feel like English speaking machines. A better comment is, “I’ve missed you.”
2. Getting information by giving information
Instead of asking if they have a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife, tell someone that you are married. People normally respond with information about themselves. Information exchanges are normally a process. If I tell you about some aspect of my life, I expect you to tell me about some aspect of your life. In contrast, interviews are one-sided relationships. You do not want to be an interviewer.
3. Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be difficult to discuss. Americans are not quite sure what to say. True, the atomic bombs were terrible attacks that never should have happened. Most people would prefer that the bombs had never been dropped. Information about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is repeated over and over in many contexts, but Japan’s attacks in Asia and the United States and Asia are almost ignored. Both the bombs and the attacks are conversations to avoid.
4. Telling people you are Japanese
Most people already know that you are Japanese. This is too obvious to mention. Saying I am Japanese is almost like saying I am breathing.
5. Commenting on how people use chopsticks
If people are not skilled at using chopsticks, being unskilled is inappropriate to mention. If they are skilled, using chopsticks is a pretty basic skill. Using chopsticks is no more or less difficult than using a fork and knife. Native speakers have heard comments on their level of skill with chopsticks many times.
6. Complimenting people on their Japanese
Everybody does this kind of complimenting, regardless of the language level for non-Japanese speaking Japanese.
7. Asking questions
Manners are manners. Just because you are speaking English does not give you the freedom to forget your manners. Think of the questions you would avoid asking people when you first meet them, and follow the same pattern when you meet with native speakers.
8. Taking time to start friendships and other relationships
Friendships and other relationships are a process. The process requires time. Friendship and other relationships are not the same as buying new shoes. Take one step at a time.
9. Avoiding generalizations
Sometimes it seems that people in Japan believe that everyone in Japan does everything exactly the same. Of course, that is not true. However, Japanese people seem to say that we Japanese do something this way. Perhaps people from the United States make the same statement. Both statements are generalizations, and both are inaccurate. People in the United States are not copies of each other, and people in Japan are not copies of each other. Much better to say is, “I usually do that this way.”
10. Avoiding negative comments
Unless, they are Japanese-Americans, native English speakers do not have the same appearance as Japanese do. However, appearances are generally not appropriate topics of conversation. Avoid telling people that they are so tall or that their feet are so big. Avoid asking if they have found places to buy shoes or clothes.
We hope our suggestions will help you.