Voices
in
Japan

have your say

How do you feel when you speak fluent or reasonably good Japanese to a Japanese person and they insist on answering you in English?

26 Comments

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
Login to comment

Used to really bother me for some reason but now I do not really care any more.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

If they speak good English, it doesn't matter. If their English is poor and I'm pressed for time, I ask them to speak Japanese. And if we are in a group where that person is the only one who speaks any English, I'll ask them to use Japanese because I don't want to shut the others out. It just depends on the situation.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I then shift to Spanish and that really blows their mind.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I look at them, tilt my head and say "eh?"

If that fails, I suck through my teeth and mutter "Taihen desu..."

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I think some Japanese are just looking for a chance to use English (I don't want to say "show off" their English). Most people may not have many opportunities to use their English here.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

It can be annoying but there's no ill intent behind it, unlike as happens in other countries.

At least they are making an effort to want to communicate with you.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

And what happens if the gaijin doesn't know English?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I generally don't mind, and will talk to them in English. I don't need the Japanese practice, and giving them a chance to practice only pays it forward to the next person they deal with who doesn't speak Japanese. If it's at a business, and I'm in a rush however, I'll just say 日本語でお願いします ("Japanese please"). I've never had someone react poorly or continue speaking English at that point.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It always got me when the Japanese person wold just turn to anyone with me and try to interact with them when I would use Japanese.

Made me wonder if my owned Japanese really sucked ALL the time.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I think some Japanese are just looking for a chance to use English (I don't want to say "show off" their English). Most people may not have many opportunities to use their English here.

gokai - I think that's often the case. If I'd been brought up as a Japanese in Japan and had to study those soul-destroying English vocab books that you see students studying on the train, then I'd be dying to try out my English too. Unless their English is a problem, I always let Japanese people who want to speak English do so.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Some Japanese are very self-conscious about using English, so it's appreciated when they do make the effort. And usually welcomed when the situation is reversed etc.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

After moving to Tokyo I found no one talks to me at all so I have come to not mind a friendly person trying to communicate to me in English.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Although occasionally someone speaks to me in English, I can’t really recall any times when anyone “insisted” on speaking in English. Depending on circumstances I might respond in English but it’s pretty rare. In any case, if what they’re saying is normal give and take and not some obnoxious drunken comment or something, I do not get upset, regardless of the language used.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

What I find far more annoying is when I speak to a Japanese in their language and they avoid the encounter by attempting to talk to my wife, who is Asian but not Japanese.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I just think it is a little odd. When in Rome do as the Romans do, and then the Romans do the opposite.

I think that there is a belief amongst Japanese that no foriener can ever learn the Japanese language.

Mind you, when in my native country, I meet Japanese people who are struggling with English, I speak to them in Japanese. Many seem surprised and even shocked, but I'm only trying to help them.

Maybe it is the same in Japan, they are only trying to help.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

MY Japanese is not good enough for this to be a problem. And the reason my Japanese is not good enough is because every Japanese I speak to wants to answer and speak in English.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I’ve had very few insisting on speaking English. Then again, I just tend to go with whatever the speaker is using. I remember once switching to Japanese when a doctor was speaking to me in really poor English. I hate hospitals and wanted to get out sharpish, but I can’t say for sure if there wasn’t an element of taking pleasure in seeing his ego deflate in front of my eyes.

I speak basic Mandarin badly and have helped a few Chinese people in Tokyo. I can’t say for sure if I do this to be nice or try to show off. Maybe a bit of both but I have had visions of them walking off saying “what the hell was that clown on about?”.

I remember one young returnee at work impressing the young ladies at the office with his flawless, American-accented English.

Why not?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Except for Jehovah Witnesses, I've never met a Japanese who wants to speak English with me.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

No matter what, I always try to remember that perhaps this is their first foray into a foreign language, and many Japanese I know tend to be apprehensive, so I don't want to be the one who causes them to think it is pointless and/or a negative experience.

That said, sometimes it is irritating if I stop to think about it. I mean, let's say a Japanese were living and studying in Canada, the US, or what have you. If they started speaking to me in English and I say to them, "Ni hao ma, shei shei!" I'm quite sure they would be insulted or at least feel awkward about me assuming they are Chinese without knowing better. So, despite the fact that they'd be right English is my native tongue, why would they assume it just because I'm a foreigner, or that I even speak it if it's not my native tongue? It's a bit of an overthink, I know, but I do know some non-English speaking foreigners who get annoyed by this. That, and it's a little unnatural if you don't know them. I have good friends who speak Japanese to me while I reply in English sometimes, or I speak Japanese in response to an English question, and it seems natural and even fun, but again, if you don't know the person and you speak Japanese, it seems natural they would answer in Japanese. The greatest case for this is when they especially can't speak English well, just want to try it out (or underestimate your level of Japanese), and time is an issue and they are taking it up at the cash register stumbling for the right words.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ideal with it case by case - at least they're trying so I give them credit but if it hinders getting an important message across in timely fashion I have them speak in Japanese. What can be really nerve wracking especially for us old Japan hands is when we say something to a Japanese person in perfectly clear Nihongo and maybe even repeat it once or more for more clarity, but the Japanese listener still looks bewildered. Then a Japanese native standing next to you says the same exact thing exact wording pronunciation intonation and the listener suddenly understands it! Drive us foreigner nuts and it happens!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This used to happen a lot to me in Tokyo many years ago, then disappeared for ages but has become really common again in the last three years. No doubt due to the huge influx of overseas visitors, many or most of whom don't speak Japanese and would be glad of anybody who would speak to them in English. But it can be annoying when the person doesn't even try Japanese and attempts what can be very rudimentary English, or in extreme cases, no words at all, only grunts! Once things start in English, it's hard to switch to Japanese without being rude so it creates an impediment to communication and a moral/societal dilemma which I would rather not bother with. If the person speaks good English it's fine, of course.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I will add that I never ask or demand that they speak Japanese. However as I usually continue to respond in Japanese, they generally switch from English on their own.

If a clerk in a store or whatever gets flustered right off the bat and looks set to have a panic attack, I will with a friendly smile, say in Japanese “it’s alright, I understand Japanese.”

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Relieved.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

For me I don't care, both languages are not my tongue.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Only time is at restaurants when the clerk will say the amount to be paid (looking at the Japanese person) but the money comes out of my wallet.....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Even though I do sometimes find it annoying, I try to be nice about it for a number of reasons. They have been told by someone, such as an English teacher, to try and speak English to foreigners. They may not get many chances to speak English and would like to practice. It seems mean, unless I am in a real hurry and just can't understand them, to begrudge them the opportunity. It's really not going to have an adverse affect on my life and it's nothing for me to be nice to someone who's making an effort, even if it does sometimes seem like a misguided effort.

The funny thing is that, of the group of friends I often hang out with, my Japanese is the worst and yet when a waiter speaks to us, they almost always pick me as their focus and will speak to me as if I'm a native, almost to the point of ignoring the others. Like I said, it's not because of my superior language skills and it's sure not because of my looks. One friend said that I have a face which suggests I understand. Maybe.....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites