Talk to other Foreigners in Japanese

Speak Japanese. Speak Japanese. Where’s a Japanese person? He’s gotta be hiding somewhere. You want to speak Japanese. Obvious fact. And if you don’t live in Japan, or you do but are in a heavy English environment (like an English conversation school), you are limited with conversation opportunities. So what do you do when you are all out of Japanese people?

5 Reasons Foreigners Don’t Talk In Japanese To Each Other

Talk to other foreigners who speak Japanese.

You knew that. And it makes perfect sense. Not only are you likely to have fellow learners somewhat near you, but they really want to talk in Japanese, and are enthusiastic and passionate about it.

But there is a strange trend. One that I don’t like and think needs to be obliterated for all time.

Foreigners often don’t like talking to other foreigners in Japanese.

Here are the reasons I’ve heard before:

5. Awkwardness

Two foreigners speaking Japanese looks weird. It feels weird. It creates a sense of uneasiness. It isn’t natural.

4. Lack of need

There is no reason to speak in Japanese to each other when we both speak English perfectly.

3. Fear of being judged

Most likely when two foreigners come together, their levels will vary. The weaker level may feel intimidated by the stronger level and worry that he will be judged in a negative light. He also may not want to trouble the higher level.

2. Not wanting to lower one’s level

On the opposite end of the above, the higher level may not want to have to simplify his Japanese, slow it down, and make it easier to understand for the lower level. He came this far and got this good and doesn’t want to purposefully drop his ability.

1. Not liking the other person

When you speak in Japanese, it is almost always a fun and pleasurable experience. Some people don’t like to share this experience with a person they don’t like.

Foreigner talk or foreigner silence?

Do you talk with other foreigners in Japanese? Why or why not? Can you think of any other reasons holding people back?



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

Talk to other Foreigners in Japanese — 32 Comments

  1. I try to avoid it if I can, simply because it is often a case of “the blind leading the blind”. I don’t want to have conversations riddled with mistakes that could potentially form bad habits.

    • I don’t believe this a problem. The benefit of working together with other motivated foreigners is you feed off each other’s energy.

      The downside of listening to imperfect Japanese is extremely minimized when you have an immersion environment.

      Speaking to a foreigner for a total of an hour or so a week (assuming they speak half the time) is dwarfed by the dozens of hours you will be listening to natural Japanese in a week.

      You are influenced by what is around you most.

  2. To be honest I never speak to foreigner when I’m learning a language. Because of the fear that it could influence my immersion negatively. If I’m very advanced or even have native level (probably even a bit lower) I wouldn’t mind speaking with a foreigner because I don’t think anymore that it could influence my Japanese.

    • The above comment goes to your comment as well. I understand the worry, but I think it isn’t a big concern, and highly worth any minuscule influence that may or may not be present.

  3. I used to also worry about the poor influence, but now after years of talking with foreigners at lower levels and higher levels than me, I realize they haven’t affected me at all. I make the same mistakes I would with a native speaker, and the foreigner is more likely to correct my mistakes we both know are incorrect (like if I say いる by accident instead of ある) while a native speaker will just ignore it. I agree with Adshap. The only benefit of talking to a native speaker is extra native-level immersion, unless they are very good at correcting you consistently.

    I try to encourage foreigners to talk with me in Japanese more. Some are just totally uncomfortable with the idea, even if their Japanese is good! They’ll only talk with a Japanese person around or they’ll feel awkward because they could just be talking in English. To me, I love talking in Japanese, so I love the chance.

    I talk in Japanese with my sister-in-law’s husband from Egypt. Even though he speaks English, we somehow are just more comfortable speaking in Japanese together, probably because we’re both in Japan. It’s good for both of us. He speaks in English with his wife though, since she likes to speak in English.

    • Really great point about foreigners way more likely to point out each other’s mistakes, as opposed to natives which usually will ignore them. That’s a really nice benefit to add on.

  4. Although ultimately I’ve probably learned more Japanese overall from speaking to natives I feel like my biggest leaps in learning have come from other foreigners. The main reason is that language learners can relate to the confusions of trying to learn Japanese and can correct thinking-style mistakes. It’s easier for a native English speaker to point out when you’ve confused a word or phrase because they can quickly figure out what English-style phrase it came from.

    In general when I’m out in groups we follow the highest participation rule which means we use whatever language would allow the most people to participate. Fortunately that often means that with a single native speaker present we will all just switch to Japanese and I thus I do end up speaking to friends in Japanese.

    However the one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s really hard to have long and deep relationships when the composite level of Japanese is relatively low. This has a lot of implications, but for the sake of this discussion, it means that we tend to switch to English in order to increase the emotional depth of our friendship.

    In addition I think making every meeting a Japanese lesson can be tiring for everyone involved. The strong speakers find it tiring to say things that aren’t understood and have to be re-explained in English and of course the weaker speakers tend to stay at the same level for long periods of time because of inadequate study.

    Despite all of that TheOneJapanesePerson is a very powerful item. It can easily turn the entire conversation from English to Japanese just by it’s mere presence. Everyone should seek this powerful object out and have one at all times. Foreign style bars usually have these in abundance in case you have lost or temporarily misplaced your own.

    In addition to this I’ve found that it’s fairly easy to turn the conversation to Japanese if there is at least one native speaker present and everyone can utter some basic Japanese. Due to the group dynamics present in Japanese culture it is very hard for one Japanese person to keep the conversation in English if all of the foreigners present are pushing in Japanese. It might sound a bit insensitive to abuse social convention like this, but for anyone in Japan it should be obvious that you are the one spending the time and effort to live here and deserve a bit of deference in choice of language.

    I personally have never really learned Japanese while living outside of Japan, but I do think if Japanese is important to you it is very important to try and make some like-minded friends who live close to you. Adshap has a lot of experience with this so hopefully he can shed some light into organizing and running a learning support group like the one he enjoys at home!

    • I love the idea of this OneJapanesePerson. Any time you want a conversation with multiple foreigners to be in Japanese, press a button and he appears.

      When you live outside of Japan, yet are involved with Japanese and Japanese culture, your friends start to naturally become those who speak Japanese or are Japanese. As these are the people that share similar interests to your own.

      Also when your job requires fluent Japanese, this becomes even more obvious.

  5. English is a burden sometimes. If one’s native language were Russian or even French one would not be constantly pressed to speak it! When I was in Japan I always told people I was from Mexico (which I am – though I always dreaded meeting a real Spanish speaker). They would be interested and ask (in Japanese) how to say ohayou gozaimasu or konnichiha in Spanish (always the same questions, interestingly), and I would tell them, and that would be the last non-Japanese we spoke.

    PS – I would guess another benefit of talking Japanese with Chinese people is that while their pronunciation may not be perfect, their errors will not be reinforcing the typical English-speaker errors of stress and timing.

    My best experiences with non-native Japanese speakers been with Chinese people. This may be a personal thing, as I tend to find the sensibility of Chinese Japanophiles much closer to mine than that of Western Japanophiles. I very much value Chinese Japanese-speakers as language-partners since I don’t have to “exchange” by speaking English and their level of Japanese is usually very good, and also we seem to think quite similarly, which I rarely find with Western people – but that’s just this particular doll, of course.

    PS, Another advantage of speaking Japanese with Chinese partners is that while their pronunciation may not be perfect, their errors will not be reinforcing the standard English-speaker errors of stress and timing.

    • Though they have their own form of errors. Depending on the native language, the type of errors you make in Japanese tend to vary.

      • You are right, of course. And speaking Japanese with non-natives always has that hazard, but at least they aren’t reinforcing the mispronunciations that English speakers tend to make or constructing Japanese grammar in ways influenced by English. Of course there is no substitute for listening to a lot of native Japanese and conversing with native speakers wherever possible.

  6. I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue lately. To me it is rather amazing how reluctant learners seem to be to communicate in Japanese. They very much want to talk about Japanese but do it in English, it seems.

    I think there is quite a fundamental mind-shift necessary here. The unspoken assumption is that English is the “default language”. One uses English unless there is a particular reason to be speaking in Japanese. As far as possible I think one should make Japanese the default language. One uses Japanese unless there is some very good reason for using English. And if possible (at least in my case) one establishes 英語禁止 relationships with anyone who can speak some Japanese.

    There seems to be a huge reluctance to leave the English comfort zone on the part of learners and I think this is partly due to the unspoken assumption that English is Language, and Japanese is “a language”. For me at least, although I am barely fluent, Japanese is Language and English is “a language”.

    • I think one of the biggest barriers for JALUP users is a lot of the method here is based on input first. It can be difficult to decide when is the best time to speak. Moreover, most people don’t even make it to the recommended JALUP guide level for beginning conversations. Personally, I’ve only started to speak recently. It’s also quite daunting to have your speaking skills evaluated by another person, as it is often not indicative of a learners true ability.

      Furthermore, opportunities to speak are hard to come by without laying down some money depending on where you are situated. Language exchange partners and other free services are available, but you really have to put yourself out there and face potential rejection in order to take advantage of these opportunities. These factors and more combined can make speaking a very daunting task for even advanced learners.

      But I agree, speaking doubts need to be mitigated long term. But it is not a swift process, and one that can only be achieved with some uncomfortable encounters. I was sweating like a pig in my first Japanese conversation and that was paid for and using a VOIP service. I can imagine other scenarios far more nerve wracking than that.

      There are also certain learners that take as much importance in speaking. Adam himself prefers his reading comprehension and listening over speaking. Not to say he doesn’t place importance on it, but he believes one precedes the other. Additionally, most people tend to specialise in an area in language learning, and JALUP is a site that focuses heavily on input -I repeat-.

      Your points are duly noted however, and I assure you even the most novice of Japanese users of this site are fully aware of that. The walkthrough here is very transparent and direct. Not much is left to interpretation, most users that take the time to read through it properly are fully aware of the importance speaking has in improving well… speaking!

      This is not aimed as a criticism of your comment, but rather a reflection of someone who has walked the JALUP path somewhat, at least to the point of entering the conversation battlefield. I hope I have given you some perspective into what the average JALUP styled learner experiences on their language slaying journey :)

    • I agree with the effort to make Japanese a default language as a Japanese learner. I have always desired this. My husband’s default language is English, even though he’s from Japan. He finds English easier because you don’t have to think about it as much.

      However, it’s not always as simple as banning speaking English with someone. Depending on what your level of Japanese is, it can impede your relationship, because you don’t have the language to discuss important topics. But also, the other person may not want to do this. This has been a struggle with me and my husband for years. I could totally speak all in Japanese at this point with him, but he just won’t. But I do have people in my life I do speak all in Japanese with to make up for that. For instance, my mother-in-law knows English, but we only speak in Japanese together. There has to be two willing partners. Because in the end, the relationship is more important than the language.

    • I think you make a great point here about the necessary mind-shift to effectively think in and communicate in Japanese. IMO it’s pretty much the core of why J-J works so well (with more accurate definitions being merely the icing on the cake), and I like the idea of trying to apply it to output as well wherever possible.

      One of the most mind-bending things I had to get over earlier on was the distinction between language and meaning. I can’t remember the time when I was so young that I had to think without language, but I was able to understand the world around me somehow, right? Little kids smile or cry even before they can put the reason why into words.

      Likewise, it was a shock when I realized I could be emotionally impacted by things I read or heard in Japanese *before* any kind of mental translation to English occurred. It really took a while to accept that my understanding was directly connected to Meaning, and that it wasn’t just some kind of unconscious translation.

      But of course, while meaning truly is independent of language, you still need language to organize and communicate your thoughts. It’s scary to try to do that in a language you’re much weaker in. It sucks getting 3/4 of the way through a complex thought only to realize you’re missing a critical word or grammar bit to complete it. There’s also the fear of screwing up and making a fool of yourself. I have that problem even in English, so of course it’s considerably worse in a language I’m less confident speaking in.

      I imagine that’s a big part of why people have a hard time stepping outside their comfort zone and really forcing themselves to rely on a new language. But I totally agree that it’s invaluable to find at least some aspect of your daily life in which you *have* to rely on it. The more, the better =)

      • What you said reminded me of the possibility of setting up zones for talking in Japanese only. For instance, I make an effort to only use Line for talking in Japanese, so any of my Japanese learning friends also can only use Japanese with me there, and I have Japanese native speaking friends there as well.

        Which also reminds me of Cure Dolly’s Japanese only forums (http://kawaiijapanese.freeforums.net/). That is another space in which you can enter, only speak in Japanese, but outside of the forums you can speak in English.

        Associating zones with Japanese can help you mind switch over into Japanese more easily as well.

        This makes me think, maybe I should get my husband to use Line again like we used to do. This time we have smart phones so it makes it easier to use. We’ve been chatting through Hangouts while at work and mostly it’s in English, but I could turn it into an opportunity to use Line as a way we can talk in Japanese together. If only the desktop app for Line worked on Chromebook! I use Hangouts on my Chromebook too, which makes it so effortless.

        I do have some cases where I can actually effectively mix both Japanese and English nicely. There’s one friend in which I do this with consistently. He also speaks English and is a native Japanese speaker. But I haven’t managed this with anyone else. With him we speak an even amount of English and Japanese, but with other people it’s only been either a small percentage of Japanese and mostly English, all Japanese or all English with Japanese zones (like when I was in Japanese club, we’d speak Japanese there, and English elsewhere).

        This really gets my mind going thinking of ideas.

  7. Yes, I think language “zones” are very important. Also relationships. There is a psychological importance, I believe to having certain entire relationships that are Japanese-only, in which you know that everything you have ever felt or communicated about has been through the medium of Japanese.

    It is similar, in a way, to when I was in Japan. If I had spoken *any* English I would never have been sure what was communicated in what language, but since I never even admitted to knowing the language (even when I was picked up by the police) I knew for sure that every possible inward and outward communication had been in Japanese.

    With my 一番弟子(Prof.Layton joke) we have established such a relationship now. At one time it would be

    ちょっと英語でいい?
    命に関わるんですの?

    But we did end up using English a fairish bit. Usually because it was important and we “really had to”. Then we decided on a month of 英語禁止, and since then we have never gone back. It is amazing what you *can* communicate when there is no other language to cheat with!

    The question of how far we can think without language is a fascinating one. I have blogged about this a fair bit. I don’t think we actually can think above the animal level without language. I am inclined toward Chomsky-sensei’s theory of Universal Grammar. Actually not really Chomsky-sensei’s theory. My view is more Platonic, but I am sure you don’t want to know about that.

    The point is that I believe grammar is innate and that one maps onto that innate Universal Grammar the local dialect (“native language”). So when learning a “second language” one can either map it onto the first language (thus placing it at one remove from Language per se) or map it onto innate Language, thus making it a “second first language”.

    In practice I think everyone does some of each, but my aim, and I think the aim of Jalup (though they would express it differently) is to tip the balance as far as possible toward direct mapping. That is what J-J is doing, for example.

    • There can be such a thing as too much output too early. If you have a native speaker to correct you it’s one thing, but if you’re just with other non-native speakers or worse, by yourself (such as on twitter, without anyone interacting back with you), and are trying to express complicated things, you could end up creating bad habits. I know someone like this and because she focuses so much on output, and very little on input, her Japanese is not only stagnant with little improvement, it often doesn’t make a lot of sense or has a lot of mistakes.

      But if you have a Japanese speaker to interact with, even if you aren’t being corrected, or a higher level learner who can communicate in Japanese without having to revert to English easily, than there’s a chance for growth because the other speaker is essentially the input.

      From my experience in Japan, when people found out I knew Japanese, they were relieved they didn’t have to speak English. Everyone has different experiences of course.

      I don’t think a relationship should be based on lies. That is just a moral of mine. I wouldn’t lie to someone that I don’t speak English.

      The problem of trying to output too soon at a level too high, I believe, would be that you would essentially be speaking in Japanese on top of your English foundation, so there would be English nuances in your Japanese and they would become habits. You need enough input to get to the level that you’d speak Japanese naturally without it sounding awkward. You shouldn’t try to talk about things that are beyond your level of Japanese.

      • So I guess what I’m trying to say is, everything in moderation. And that it makes sense why people wait. It’s good to be cautious. People aren’t speaking in Japanese with each other because they are being stubborn or scared, they’re doing it because they’re making a choice about their Japanese. They’re trying to build a foundation that will lead to accurate and natural Japanese. Everyone needs to grow in their own timing.

        I see the use of making Japanese your default language. As long as you have a high level of input, I think it’s fine, because you have something to learn from and use as a reference to grow off of. As long as you’re not stopping with that, I don’t think anyone should be afraid of output because they think they’ll pick up bad habits.

        The problem with my friend is she didn’t use native materials because she didn’t feel ready for them, so all she had were her textbook and weekly classes, which is why her output was too soon and counterproductive.

  8. I never actually lied to anyone about not speaking English. I just showed a lot of reluctance and awkwardness (which I genuinely felt). And when asked where I came from I told the truth (it is not an English-speaking country).

    There might be a certain degree of deception by implication, but actually to me it feels even more deceptive if I give the impression that I am an American or whatever, because I genuinely do not understand English-speaking culture even though I understand the language. It has been a kind of problem to me all my life and has kept me rather isolated. When I did language exchange (which didn’t work well for me mostly) I felt horribly deceptive. People would ask me about what they assumed to be my culture and I was faced with either seeming weirdly ignorant or trying to guess at things that I probably had less grasp of than they did.

    Anyway, that is rather off the point. I only mean that I was really not meaning to deceive. In fact I felt I was being truer to who I actually am than I am usually able to be.

    I am afraid I don’t get a lot of chance to interact with native speakers. I am horribly shy and never know quite how to interact with adult humans. I talk a lot of Japanese but only to people below my level (not as a policy, it has just rather unfortunately worked out that way). So really I am always supporting them. It isn’t ideal but I am not sure what else I can do.

    However I do have a lot of native input. In fact I don’t use any English media. If I can’t watch an anime in Japanese, I can’t watch it. If I can’t play a game in Japanese, I can’t play it. If I can’t read a book in Japanese, I can’t read it.

    I am sure my Japanese is still pretty 情けない but I do what I can.

    Oh dear this whole post is rather 情けない isn’t it! Giggle!

    • There are a lot of people who advise to lie about being able to speak English as advice for keeping conversations in Japanese, so even if you were a little deceptive, it’s not like you’re the only one! Sorry to put you on the spot (-_-). Everyone has their own motives and priorities.

      But the fact that you have another country you can say you’re from is a benefit (^_^). Then people would be less tempted to speak to you in English.

      If you’re looking for opportunities to practice with Japanese native speakers, though, you may want to check out chatpad.jp! It sets you up with random people to talk with, but with no pics or anything so you don’t have to worry about people sending inappropriate stuff. There are some creeps on there, but also a fair amount of nice people too! I know someone who’s Japanese output is really good and I always admired that. She uses chatpad.jp. There’s also Twitter and Google Plus for creating friendships, not just talking to random people you won’t talk to again afterwards. I like to meet people on Animal Crossing too (I have the game in Japanese).

  9. Oh thank you for the tips. I will take a look at Chatpad. I am on Google Plus and belong to a Precure community, but ー oh dear ー I am not very clear how to go about creating friendships.

    I actually had a creepy encounter on a Skype meet thing. But at least it was a polite creepy encounter. It went like this:

    もしもし。
    もしもし。
    初めまして。
    初めまして。
    ドリーさんは変態ですか?
    すみません。変態ではありません。
    そうですか。普通ですか?
    はい。普通だと思います。
    すみません。変態の人を捜しています。
    すみません。
    じゃあ。 失礼します。
    失礼します 。

    Well it saves a lot of 遠回し I suppose! But it also makes me a shade nervous of these things.

    Oh! What version of Animal Crossing do you have? I have the 3DS one (飛び出せ)

    • Me too! We should exchange friend codes then if you still play and try to connect (and talk Japanese (^_^))! I’ll email you my friend code later.

      Yeah, that’s why I feel apprehensive about using Skype for random encounters, because you never know! But at least with Chatpad.jp there’s no pics so I won’t see anything I won’t want to see :(

      Even meeting creeps is Japanese practice at least (>_<). Except when they try to speak to you in English. I did not like the creep I met. My Japanese was better than his English, but he decided to speak mostly in English just because I’m American, and kept saying how much he hated Chinese people but liked Americans. It was just overly awkward. I told him he was racist. Ugh. That's just a small part of it, ha, Fortunately, the next person I met was really nice! She lived in Canada short term studying English. Even so, she only talked to me in Japanese. We talked about language learning methods.

      • It was kind of funny in a creepy kind of way. And it taught me that 普通 can be used to mean – well- ”not 変態”. So I did learn something. I might have said:

        普通じゃないもん。 特別な人形なの。

        But who knows what he might have made of that? I didn’t want to find out!

  10. With some inspiration from Cure Dolly, I would like to extend an invitation to all JALUP learners to engage in Japanese conversation with me. My skype ID: final_rpg and my email: james.kyprianos@gmail.com
    Please have a webcam or microphone for skype conversations at the ready. I will do instant text chat(or email) as well if you’d like but would prefer spoken/seen conversation if possible. Don’t be shy, I’m probably as bad or if not worse than you at speaking.

    I welcome any high level speakers to get in contact with me if they don’t mind a pretty poor speaking partner. If anyone decides to contact me, I’d like to communicate only in Japanese. Don’t be surprised if I outright refuse to reply in English unless absolutely necessary (1 word or 2 most likely). Really, I welcome all, but I doubt higher level learners would care to speak with a Japanese conversation noob. I am around level 38-40, my comprehension is high, but my speaking skills are poor.

    Please get in contact with me as soon as you want. I look forward to making some new JALUP friends, as well as growing the friendships I have already made on here (Matt V, I’m looking at you!).Please do not be shy to add me, no judgement here at all. However, I would prefer if you were at least at the intermediate level or higher.

    よろしくお願いします!

      • haha yay! By the looks of things I don’t think anyone else is really interested just yet. But that’s OK, you and I will talk heaps and improve just as quickly!

  11. I’ve only been to Japan for 3 weeks but rarely spoke Japanese to other foreigners – heck, it took will power speaking Japanese to Japanese people. Don’t get me wrong – I might throw in a phrase or two in Japanese but 98% of the conversation is English. I was attending a Japanese learning school and on a field trip one of my mates wanted to speak all Japanese the whole trip but he was the only one. Why?

    I think it’s because when you’re talking to someone and trying to get to know them the goal isn’t as much about language learning as it is forming a bond with the other person. The better the communication the better the bond. The better the conversation. One’s native language is just the obvious choice here. For the language school field trip I think we could have made an effort to speak some Japanese and then switched to English later after we had put in a good hour or so of work. I kind of regret not doing that.

    People always talk about the blind leading the blind and learning bad habits from others. I see some comments above to the same effect. I’ve studied other languages in the past and I absolutely do not think this is a problem. If we were 5 year olds then it might be different – but we are not sponges absorbing language without critical thought. We’re just the opposite. As adults it’s hard to absorb anything and we look at everything critically until we understand it. Speaking Japanese to native speakers unfortunately doesn’t mean you are going to absorb their high level of Japanese. You have to sweat over the grammar and study it. If talking to other learners were bad then language learning classes would not have so many activities where students talk to each other in the target language, right?

    I plan to go back to Japan for an extended amount of time teaching English and I am going to be very motivated to learn Japanese. I will make an effort to speak some Japanese to other foreigners but I suspect we’ll end up speaking mostly English anyway.

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