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Traditional approaches to Japanese language learning are changing

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When Nagiko Umino started out as a Japanese language teacher, she didn’t realize how much she would end up learning from her foreign students. Last year, she released Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo (“Japanese the Japanese Don’t Know”), a collection of manga-style stories based on her years of experience. The book was a surprise hit, topping the sales charts for 2009, and a second volume has just been released.

"Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo" has caused quite a stir. How does that make you feel?

First, I’m happy that more people have become aware of Japanese teaching as a profession. I’ve also gotten lots of comments from readers saying that they were inspired to study more about Japan and Japanese, so I’m glad that I could be the cause of that interest.

What are some other surprising things that your students have said or done?

Once, when we went on a field trip to the mountains, one of my students caught a turtle by the river and said to me, “I’m going to take it home and eat it.” On another trip to a lake, one of the female students went swimming. Even though it was only May, she had brought along a swimsuit and even a swimming cap (and of course, we’d warned the students beforehand not to swim).

You teach foreign students from many different countries. Have you noticed certain strengths and weaknesses depending on their native languages?

Many of my Chinese students have trouble using particles like "ka," "wo" and "he." But in the advanced levels, where the text involves lots of kanji, they are able to understand more easily. Korean students seem to have problems with pronunciation (for example, “tsu” becomes “chu”). But the Korean rules about formal keigo speech are very similar to Japan, so they understand that quickly and use it correctly.

With European and American students, kanji of course is a big hurdle. But students who memorize kanji because they think it’s interesting do advance quickly. Unlike students from Asian countries, when Western students are here, Japanese people won’t always speak to them in Japanese. Because of this, many of them seem to have trouble increasing their conversation skills.

Do you think Japanese people’s language ability has gotten worse compared to the past?

I wouldn’t say it’s gotten “worse,” but I certainly think that people use less polite speech (myself included). If you watch movies from 40-50 years ago, there are many scenes where even parents and children speak to each other using very polite expressions. They talk more slowly, and it feels like they use a more varied vocabulary than we do now. Compared to back then, I think that now we have many more newly created words, and the tempo of our speech has increased, but the words lack the same flavor and resonance. Whether that’s “worse” or not, I don’t know…

Thinking about how foreigners are taught Japanese, versus how it is taught to Japanese people, do you think that there are problems or methods that should be changed in the current Japanese language education system?

With both Japanese and foreign students, I think the teaching methods need to be tailored to suit the goals of each student and their reasons for studying Japanese. Foreign students tend to come from an environment where they can choose different study methods based on their goals, but Japanese students—especially in elementary and junior high schools—aren’t really learning “Japanese.” It’s extremely important to learn your native language properly; I think that’s a very fundamental thing, and I think some measures need to be taken at the national level.

What do you think about the recent revisions to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

From a teaching perspective, the changes to the test will make things tougher, but I think it’s a good thing for the students. They are going to be judged from a different perspective, so their study tools will have to change as well. Until now, memorization has been the main focus, but with the revisions, I think that’s going to change.

What do you think is the most important thing for foreign students learning Japanese?

Well, I think this holds true for anyone learning a foreign language, but… Language is something that can never be separated from the culture of that area. If you want to become more fluent, it’s important to work hard at understanding Japan’s culture and customs, too. If you can think “that’s different,” or “that’s interesting,” then studying will probably come a little more easily.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


54 Comments
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Wow! "Traditional" "Japanese" and "change" are all used in the same sentence!

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Oh my -- here's another book that caters to the narcissistic self-rapture that Japanese can revel in about themselves.

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It's the same in any language. Americans don't know how to spell, don't know correct grammar, blah blah blah. I get some nasty looks when I correct Japanese people on their Japanese though.

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by all means study japanese as a hobby - just dont expect japanese companies to hire you if your a foreigner... japanese like gaigin who speak 'cute' (kawaii) japanese - not those who can actually speak the language as they prefer to keep this 'cultural' wall between themselves and non japanese...

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Bicultural, I'll go one step further on this:

I get some nasty looks when I correct Japanese people on their Japanese though.

Not necessarily correcting, but just defending your own Japanese usage when it differs from what someone else expects. I had a linguistics professor at a very high-up Japanese university who taught in some of the clearest, easiest-to-understand language you could imagine, and when he instructed his students (Japanese natives, mostly) on the finer points of usage, we listened. One such point he impressed on uswas to make sure to write 「にも拘らず」and not「関らず」(ni mo kakawarazu) when it's used to mean "regardless of...", and he gave examples from literature and such.

Fast forward to my career in a Japanese corporation -- I'd get many compliments on the quality of my e-mail correspondence, but once a co-worker walked past my desk, saw something I was writing, and pointed at a 拘らず and said it was wrong and that 関わらず was the only correct one.

I mentioned that that word was one of my professor's favorites, and that I trusted this professor, and the co-worker, instead of even discussing it or defending his position, just started to get angry. A deep, emotional anger, as if my calm rebuttal was a slap in his face.

It was as if that professor's knowledge and stature were totally negated just because the same knowledge had passed through the brain of an untermensch like myself.

One thing I'll say in defense of English speakers is that they have a healthy respect for the English ability of non-natives, and will cheerfully admit that sometimes a native might make a common mistake where a non-native will have learned it correctly. In Japan, I find, there are still too many people who don't give any thought to language use, but then they they suddenly do think about it, it's only to insist that their opinions are always the correct ones.

Japanese and English are both rich languages full of variation (in both time period and location), and I wish speakers of the former would learn from those of the latter and be a little less stuck up about it.

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ThonTaddeo: Amen!

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nylex4, I'll second that.

I used to work at a Japanese company in Osaka. Out of 600 employees, an American and I were the only foreigners. His Japanese was basic (few kanji, only simple sentences), whereas mine was -- while not perfect -- better. His understanding of Japanese customs and manners was also relatively limited.

Many of the people in the company seemed more comfortable dealing with him than me, and I honestly believe it was because he fitted the preconception of "gaijin" whereas I was uncomfortably occupying a space in between stereotypes.

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Sometimes my work involves checking E-J translations done by native Japanese speakers, mostly to check that they've got the meaning of the English correct of course but also checking the Japanese itself. People don't only not show a 'deep, emotional anger' when I point out their mistakes (mostly using the wrong kanji, but sometimes just weird language - it happens when you get too tied up in a difficult translation) - they thank me and pay me for it, and ask me to do it again.

I also find that most people are more comfortable dealing with someone who speaks the language and understands the customs - someone who doesn't emit 'I'm foreign, treat me different' signals all the time - than they are with someone who 'fits the preconception of "gaijin"'.

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Nylex4; "by all means study japanese as a hobby - just dont expect japanese companies to hire you if your a foreigner..."

You are dead on here ! The company I worked for in Japan had dozens of people completely fluent in Japanese, yet none of them were ever hired, or even interviewed, by any Japanese multinational corporation. Doing translation wor and material development like brochures or videos was the extent of their empoyment. On a few ocassions we would be invited out to meet with clients to discuss the details of a project. In one of these meetings with one of Japan's top pharma companys we actually heard the head of the international department say that he's never gotten used to hearing foreigners speak Japanese- boy, what a "put-down" that was as everyone clammed up afterwords. In short, I agree wholeheartedly- if you are expecting Japanese speaking skills to get you into a Hitachi, Toyota, Toshiba, Novartis etc- forget it ! Only J nationals need apply.

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I actually interviewed for a large japanese travel agent back home one time. After passing their japanese language test (reading a newspaper article and telling them what it said) the two japanese bosses then said, "well thats great you can speak and read however you will not need to use it here". Upon asking why, I was told that my ability to understand the language meant I had some understanding of japanese culture which was all that was required. In this role they said, my job is not to think but just do as they order, thats all. Needless to say I declined the job offer.

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Ok I had to get me dictionary out-to find the search pages gone(some). So one dictionary of Japanese mostly finally had me on some kind of track where you were stating a difference between 関 拘。I did slip onto this by accident 抱, which if you could use the same after-ix! would be nice?

What I thought about this book is that it is good to stimulate the Japanese to question their language, because they tend to know it pretty well. I do think that the change that has been adapted can be seen in English too, especially in areas where, lies, politics and human rights issues came to consideration. Thus the language becomes more local , is the word colloquial? So I think returning to keigo style is neither right either. The eye-opener is good though.

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I bought the book last year. Each story is only 2 or 3 pages long and the manga-style makes its really easy to understand.

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My wife read it and found it interesting and amusing. I won't venture an opinion, however, having not read it myself.

I must say that

People don't only not show a 'deep, emotional anger' when I point out their mistakes (mostly using the wrong kanji, but sometimes just weird language - it happens when you get too tied up in a difficult translation) - they thank me and pay me for it, and ask me to do it again.

seems a bit weird to me.

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I've never found speaking, reading, and writing Japanese to present any barriers, create any anger or resentment, or lead to my being treated with anything but respect for my efforts. Although I do get tired of being asked if there's a zipper on my back and am I just wearing a white-guy suit.

As for correcting the Japanese of other (Japanese) people, well, it's just common sense--do it when it matters, shut up about it when it doesn't, and be sensitive to the feelings of the person you're correcting.

And call people out on their prejudices! If someone (I don't care who) made a remark in my presence, to the effect of never having gotten used to "hearing foreigners speak Japanese", he would've gotten a witty but pointed earful.

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You wrote:

am I just wearing a white-guy suit.

That sounds weird.

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that should have been "costume" not "suit"...

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What I find annoying is that these so much effort put into making English really childish and "fun" looking...

But when you go to learn Japanese... you just get these big thick, boring books and a line of bull about how difficult Japanese is to learn. I threw these all in the bin, found some foreign texts and did my own study... practised everything on the people around me and it worked really well.

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As a student currently studying Japanese in Japan I can def. say that people always assume I don't know Japanese and speak to me in English. How is that supposed to help me to learn?!

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As a student currently studying Japanese in Japan I can def. say that people always assume I don't know Japanese and speak to me in English. How is that supposed to help me to learn?!

Simple. Answer back in Japanese. If it's just a store clerk or someone at a fast-food counter, don't worry about it--their responding to you in English (if you can even call it that) isn't exactly going to set your efforts back significantly.

Language learning requires resourcefulness and adaptability. Whatever the language, the rest of the world has no clue what--or how well--you speak, and one of the frustrations (but also one of the joys) of learning a new language is that every interaction is, from a learning point of few, a fresh new opportunity.

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(correction)

"...has no clue what--or how well--you speak until you open your mouth, and one of the joys (but also one of the frustrations) of learning a new language is that..."

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interesting book. The Japanese learning approach should indeed change with the times.

dont expect japanese companies to hire you if your a foreigner... japanese like gaigin who speak 'cute' (kawaii) japanese - not those who can actually speak the language

@nylex4, false for "career builder" jobs. If you are a qualified specialist (language is the tool) and need to for example present and write reports, you need fluent Japanese and Japanese companies in general would be happy to take a professional foreigner in the open role. When I hear fellow gaijin say its better not to be totally fluent, I think they are excusing their short-comings.

people always assume I don't know Japanese and speak to me in English. How is that supposed to help me to learn?!

True. Native English speakers anywhere in the world have a hard time to learn a second language because everybody wants to learn English from us. The only solution is to self-study (reading, listening etc)to where you speak thier language better than they speak yours. Then speaking slow English becomes awkward and speaking Japanese becomes natural.

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nylex4 - spot on there, mate ! Most Japanese do seem to prefer "funny gaijins". They like to maintain the myth that it's impossible for a foreigner to fully understand the language even though the majority of natives only seem to use a rudimentary vocabulary.

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Japanese love to speak English to foreigners even though these foreigners are able to speak Japanese. It is due to mood-setting as Japanese find it difficult communicating in Japanese with foreigners for reasons cited already by the readers. What I do is, and my Japanese friends agree with it, they talk in English and I talk in Japanese. Eventually, they will resort to Japanese without realizing it.

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Yeah, I always speak more Japanese with my Japanese English-speaking friends. That way we both get practice. It's also interesting the looks we get when we go to restaurants and do that, haha.

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Simply ask to practice your Japanese. Most people will accomodate you unless your pronunciation is just too hard to follow. As thanks you should let them practice their English with you as well.

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"Simply ask to practice your Japanese"

Why ? Doesn't the old adage "Go ni ireba go ni shtigaie" (sp?) "When in rome do as the romans do" hold water in Japan ? Yo shouldn't have to "announce" that you want to "practice" anything. Japanese should understand that if you are going to live in Japan- you need to be able to speak Japanese- to some degree ! I have found it extremely selfish of Japanese people to continue to force their poor English upon me, even though my Japanese is conversationaly fluent. I believe the best approach to Japanese learning is to actually use what you study on a daily basis- unfortunately many Japanese interfere with this learning process by interupting with their attempts to "practice" their English- this does not help the foreign community "live like the romans" ! This only continues the "us and them" mentality so deeply rooted in Japanese culture- sad !

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Yo shouldn't have to "announce" that you want to "practice" anything. Japanese should understand that if you are going to live in Japan- you need to be able to speak Japanese

I don't think 'should' comes into it. Most Japanese who have been abroad for any length of time have experienced a great sense of relief when they find someone who understands Japanese and they don't have to keep struggling with the foreign language. Speaking in English to someone who appears to be struggling in Japanese is one way (they think) of making the visitor feel at home. Most people are more than happy to lapse back into Japanese once they realise you can manage and they aren't putting your nose out of joint by speaking Japanese. All it takes is a polite 'Can we speak Japanese, please? I need to practice'.

(There are also of course the 'Please give me free English lessons' nincompoops, who are quite easy to deal with - just speak to them in convoluted sentences with long words and making no allowances for your own regional accent, and they'll soon remember they have to be somewhere else in a hurry.)

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"Most Japanese who have been abroad for any length of time have experienced a great sense of relief when they find someone who understands Japanese and they don't have to keep struggling with the foreign language."

So why go abroad "for any length of time" ? Living in a foreign land requires one to speak the language to some degree. If you are content on just "visiting" then fine- but if you actually intend to "live" then you need the basics. Could it be that Japanese citizens don't expect, want, or can imagine foreigners wanting to live in Japan ? Ahh- the ol "us and them" factor rears its ugly head- again.

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Branded -

I'm sorry, but I really do not understand what your problem is here. People go abroad for all kinds of reasons. When they're abroad they have to speak the language of the country they're in. For some, that's stimulating and wonderful from start to finish; for others, it's tiring and it's nice to have a break and speak their own language once in a while, especially if they're not very advanced in the foreign language. When they come back home they remember how they felt and try to give people who are obviously struggling with Japanese a bit of a break. There are no ugly heads being raised anywhere, just people trying to be nice. (Leaving aside the Free Engrish Lesson Prease folk)

When I lived in Hokuriku it was a common occurrence to have furriners I didn't know from Adam come up to me in the street and start a conversation like I was a long-lost friend, simply because they wanted to speak English. Maybe all those Americans and sundry other English-speakers were suffering from 'the ol "us and them" factor' - or maybe they just fancied a bit of a linguistic rest?

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cleo, havent used Japanese for over 6 months. Dont use it for business or in the home. Glad i don`t have to try it further, my school days were long ago.

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cleo; I sense you are writing your posts "on the run" recently.In your first post you wrote this;

"Most Japanese who have been abroad for any length of time have experienced a great sense of relief when they find someone who understands Japanese and they don't have to keep struggling with the foreign language."

I comprehend this to mean Japanese "living" abroad- not just on vacation right ? So what's up with this;

"People go abroad for all kinds of reasons."

Yes ! There are students who study, workers who are transferred, and couples who get married- all of which should understand that by living in a different counrt requires a different set of language skills. I hope you are not promoting the "I'm a foreigner, treat me different" syndrome ! I hope not as I've seen you post one negative comment after another about those who grasp at this silly life preserver. As for me- no problems at all. I learned the language when I lived in Japan and used it as much as possible. My wife is currently enhancing her english skills here in the US and has enjoyed every minute of it. Our child is already bilingual and enjoys tossing back and forth between english and japanese- all is good ! No "us or them" mentality here in the US to muddy the waters for sure.

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holy crap, I guess me speaking japnese at home, at work and everywhere I go have made my other 3 languages pretty rusty..I still remember the last time I visited home and I was speaking japanese non-stop for the first 2 days(therefore driving my family insane)until finally my native language started to kick in. LOL

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I comprehend this to mean Japanese "living" abroad- not just on vacation right ?

Like I said, people go abroad for all kinds of reasons. To live, to work, to study, to sightsee. Some of them just visiting. Other reasons too, probably. I don't understand which part of 'for all kinds of reasons' means 'to totally assimilate into another society'.

I hope you are not promoting the "I'm a foreigner, treat me different" syndrome !

Of course I'm not, and I don't understand what makes you jump to that silly conclusion. All I said was that some Japanese people who have experienced having to use a foreign language day in day out feel they understand the feelings of non-Japanese in Japan who are obviously struggling with the language and so make the effort to speak with them in their own language. I really do not see where people just trying to be nice (misguidedly perhaps, but trying all the same) trips off a rant on the 'us or them' mentality.

My wife is currently enhancing her english skills here in the US and has enjoyed every minute of it.

Good for her. Pleased to hear it. But can you honestly and truthfully say that she never, ever enjoys a chinwag in Japanese? Never wants to watch a TV programme in Japanese? Never wants to read a magazine, book, newspaper, Internet website in Japanese? And when she indulges herself do you worry that she's sinking into an 'us or them' mentality? Or are you sensible and just appreciate that she can get enjoyment out of using Japanese now and again?

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cleo, havent used Japanese for over 6 months. Dont use it for business or in the home. Glad i don`t have to try it further, my school days were long ago.

I find this really sad. Why would you want to live here and not learn the language? More specifically, not learn the culture? (And you can't really learn a culture without learning its language)

I am by no means fluent but I enjoy my studies of Japanese as it gives me a greater insight into my country of residence, plus really makes life a whole lot easier. I also get the very polite advantage of not forcing people to speak my language when I am a guest in their country.

As a student currently studying Japanese in Japan I can def. say that people always assume I don't know Japanese and speak to me in English. How is that supposed to help me to learn?!

Simple, don't reply to people in English, say you only speak Japanese in Japan. I do this frequently when someone speaks to me in very halting English (usually to be friendly and accommodating, I find, not to get a free lesson). I find that most people express relief when you tell them you are comfortable at least trying to speak their language.

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The biggest mistake I seem to be making these days is putting my personality into what I say. Japanese think I a) learned Japanese in Kansai b) Am a bit mental or c) am hitting on them!

I try to be funny when I am nervous...always a BIG mistake when I do it in Japanese!

I am in deep doo doo with hubby right now after he busted me helping my daughter with her speech for her kindergarten graduation this Friday. I thought it might be fun to shake things up a bit from the usual doctor/vet/nurse thing, so she learnt to say (perfectly!) 大きくなったら。フ―タスウエートレスになりたい。男性からお金たくさんもらえるだから。Needless to say I am WELL in the dog house now....and she is going to say "nurse"! De-Nied!!

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As someone who DID learn her Japanese in Kansai, I find it gets me a lot of freebies and smiles.

I dislike the English leeches and the folks who assume I am a native English speaker (or American) because I am white. As for the "guest" comment, not all of us here are "guests". The faster the Japanese learn that, the better off Japan will become.

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I think foreigners look silly speaking Japanese as a Japanese. I cannot get used to it myself. The male personality traits of the culture are things I do not want to emulate. Sorry, it is just not my style. However, if someone just wants to stand upright and have a conversation as a human to a human, without all the cultural baggage, then we are getting somewhere. I do not grovel well and never will for those more formal occasions. Of course mind your manners as best you can. We have a common humanity and this is what I try to reach.

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pawatan, why should i want to learn more japanese than i know. The more i look into society here the more i dislike it, same as my home country. Nothing sad about my life. Happy living my way and the need to learn fluently and act like a Japanese is not imaginable for me. I despise foreigners who take on Japanese mannerisms whne they speak, they become more fake than many Japanese.

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not all of us here are "guests"

right on, tmarie!

I also agree that the grovelling leaves me cold. I am neither physically nor emotionally able to do it. I watched my doctor being talked down to by the hospital head while I was in labour. She was giving him hell because he actually listened to me, empathised and granted one of my requests against her wishes - and yet he was a far better doctor than she could ever be (from my patient perspective). I wanted to tell him to grow a pair and tell her where to go - but he just put his head down and apologised. That aspect of the culture I can`t stand.

I agree with everything oneforall said.

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oneforall: I totally agree. I've been learning more Japanese again recently and it bugs me when I'm told I should say something a certain way because 'it's Japanese culture'. Of course I want respect the language an I don't want to sound rude when I speak Japanese but at the same time I want to make the language my own and say things the way I feel comfortable saying them. And I am an expressive person by nature so saying a sentence with little or no intonation just doesn't sit right with me. Besides, isn't the whole point of learning another language so you can express yourself and communicate with other people?

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As for the "guest" comment, not all of us here are "guests".

If you are not a citizen, you are a guest. This is my home and I have no intention on leaving, but I am not a citizen of Japan nor do I see myself becoming one. So: guest.

There are a few foreigners who have taken Japanese nationality but by and large, yes, we are guests.

Happy living my way and the need to learn fluently and act like a Japanese is not imaginable for me.

You don't have to act like a Japanese person to speak the language. You can still be yourself and speak fluently. There is nothing in those two statements that is contradictory. Without speaking the language you miss 99% of the experience here.

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Pawtan, if you want to be seen as a guest go for it but I don't. How can you call it your "home" and yet think of yourself as a guest?

Kira, I agree with you on the talking down. Keigo and all that goes along with it (kissing butt/looking down on others) bothers me. I'll use "polite" Japanese with folks I don't know but I certainly don't like the nastiness that goes on with the language here. To me it is just another form of bullying.

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cleo, cleo, cleo; First, when discussing topics with me please remove the word "rant" from your accusations. I never rant.

As for this about the wife;

"Never wants to watch a TV programme in Japanese? Never wants to read a magazine, book, newspaper, Internet website in Japanese?"

None of these activities involve "give and take" spoken communication. We both know better- it's rude to sit in a room full of Americans and chatter on in Japanese excluding others from our conversation. We "never" did this in English in Japan. And when confronted with the siutaion there we always steered the discussion back into Japanese- sometimes with some difficulty as we have found the average salary man sometimes just doesn't get it- KOY syndrome !

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The most practice I get speaking Japanese turns out to be with my children, it seems that every time I'm out (with the exception of my local area where they know me) and speak Japanese someone avoids me and pushes someone else forward that may speak a few words of English or they try answering me in broken English!

But my favorite of all things (that happens quite regularly) is walking up to a cashier or store clerk and asking "Ikuradesuka?" and getting the reply "Aigo wakarimasen" this just floors me.

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I know I will never be Nihonjin and after all these years I found out that I don't want to be really. I am Half-Japanese/All American and very content with that. I would like to speak Nihongo fluently just for the hek of it but not living in Nippon makes that goal very difficult. I do what I can. I have other hobbies and intrests and repsonsibilities anyway.

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Regarding the above comments, I think one thing is that most Japanese people haven't heard bad Japanese before, so when they hear it they instantly think "he's got no idea! I'm going to help out the poor fool by using 100% katakana words because that's English..."

People who have studied English tend to be more open I find because they know what it's like to not speak a language natively. Maybe your accent/grammar/word selection is a bit different, but this does not mean you're a non-speaker (as many uneducated people would assume.)

Just keep practising... I find that as you get better and get to know people; more and more of them will resort to Japanese because they realise your Japanese is better than them speaking in 100% katakana (which is Japanese! Many don't realise that... they think they're speaking English when they speak katakana...)

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it's rude to sit in a room full of Americans and chatter on in Japanese excluding others from our conversation.

It's the excluding from the conversation that's rude, not the use of another language. On the grounds that they need all the native input they can get, I have always spoken to my kids in English, regardless of who might be in the room with us. This often involved saying things twice, once in each language; or me saying it in English, and the kids passing it on to the room in Japanese if necessary. There are always ways to get around the rudeness.

But sitting in a room full of Americans (perish the thought...) and carrying on an unintelligible conversation in another language is not the same, surely, as trying to make a person feel at home by speaking to them in their native language, which is what we were originally discussing. So long as the rest of the group is kept up to date about what is going on, there should be no problem. And if the person being so addressed would prefer to practice the majority language, he only needs to say so, politely. There's simply no problem as far as I can see, and no need at all the play the 'us vs them' card or take umbrage at people just trying to be nice.

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I guess it's just how I was raised or more to the point where I was raised but I grew up speaking multiple languages and when I'm back home the conversations can get pretty complicated to follow (English, French, Innu (Montagnais), Italian and Japanese) and basically no one ever complains (though some things may need repeating in a different language.

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cleo; "It's the excluding from the conversation that's rude, not the use of another language."

But doesn't that "exclude" those in the room who do not speak that language ? I have found it very rare for hispanics in my neighbourhood to show up at my BBQ and chatter on in spanish while the vast majority of guests are speaking English.

"I have always spoken to my kids in English,"

I'll cut you some slack there. Kids are different, there are lessons to be taught, rules to follow, and manners they must learn- doing it in the mother tongue is the best way, I agree.

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sirgamble- I agree !

"I think one thing is that most Japanese people haven't heard bad Japanese before"

Most learners make the mistake of overpronouncing each and every component of a phrase. They over use mouth and tongue movements like reciting their "ABC's". I learned, after watching many Japanese men speak, that the best way to speak Japanese is to move the lower lip or jaw as little as possible ! Let the tongue do the work inside your mouth- it will create a kind of gargled mish mash at first- but in the end you will be able to communicate with the best of them- void of that hard emphasis on vowels and first letter consonants. Good luck !

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"Perish the thought" ?

T'was a feeble attempt at humour, nothing more....

I have found it very rare for hispanics in my neighbourhood to show up at my BBQ and chatter on in spanish while the vast majority of guests are speaking English.

And if one of them brought along a friend or relative who didn't speak English - would you expect that person to just sit under a rose bush with their hot dog and keep quiet? Or would you be grateful to any of your other friendly, interesting, amusing guests with a basic grasp of Spanish, who went out of their way to make the newcomer feel welcome? I think it would be rude to cut someone out of the conversation simply because they didn't speak the language (or not enough to keep up with the native speakers).

I'll cut you some slack there. Kids are different, there are lessons to be taught, rules to follow, and manners they must learn- doing it in the mother tongue is the best way, I agree.

Well thanks for the slack, but it wasn't a case of teaching lessons, rules and manners (though they got that too, of course) so much as giving them as much native English input as possible.

Now the kids are grown and have flown the nest, and it's only the dogs that are getting the native English input. Friends and neighbours think it's fun to be able to practice their English pronunciation on a dog. (No Fido, I said sit!)

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"And if one of them brought along a friend or relative who didn't speak English"

-The senoritas- more than welcome, All others, banned at the door !

I know, "T'was a feeble attempt at humour, nothing more..."

Moderator: Back on topic please.

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it's rude to sit in a room full of Americans and chatter on in Japanese excluding others from our conversation.

This is why its hard to become bilingual growing up in the US. There is a cultural push to forget the old country, integrate and speak only English.

In Japan its the opposite; "guest" gaijin can't possibly speak Japanese so they are often expected to speak a foreign tongue. Then there is the genereal interest in Japan to learn English.

There are exceptions but the social result is that in Japan speaking another language is encouraged while in the US its practically discouraged.

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Dolphingirl you may think you are "expressing yourself" by adding intonation to your japanese, but to Japanese people you probably sound like a Chinese person would sound using the four Chinese tones in a standard English sentence using a different tone for each word in the sentence

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