4 Learner Questions I Dislike Being Asked by Japanese People
I studied Japanese. I got good. I got fluent. Because of this, when I talk with Japanese people who don’t know me, I often get an inevitable 4-question barrage which I don’t particularly like answering. Here are those 4 questions and what to expect.
4. Why can you speak Japanese?
Umm… because I studied it? I ponder for a second whether this is rude. I realize that they probably want to ask “why you can speak Japanese well?” But then again, that would only slightly alter my answer to “umm… because I studied Japanese a lot?“
I (mostly) refrain from a playful and/or sarcastic “why can you?” and try to turn my obvious answer into a “because I studied reaaaaaaaaally (vowel emphasis >3 seconds) hard.”
3. How did you study Japanese?
But Adam, you have a blog with 1000+ articles spanning over 8 years explaining how you study Japanese. You must love talking about this? Not in a normal conversation. I kind of just want to link them to the site – but that’s not proper in-person conversation etiquette.
I suppose an appropriate sum-up answer would be something like:
I used a spaced repetition system of flash cards that works off the i+1 principle, introducing one new small piece of info at a time, leading me to J-J only, while all at the same time immersing myself in level appropriate material.– Adam’s most generous answer
But this kind of response would result in “you lost me at spaced repetition.” So I just tell them that I binged on more Japanese TV than should be humanly bingeable. This technically isn’t incorrect, because most of my time with Japanese in the past 14 years has been dedicated to TV (not sure if I should be proud of that).
2. How long have you studied Japanese?
This question implies that studying Japanese has never come to an end for me. While I’m always interested in learning new Japanese – this pursuit of knowledge is the equivalent of my native language. I like looking up things I don’t know so I can subsequently know. I wouldn’t call this studying English.
In reality, I studied for around 5 years. Saying this creates confusion because it sounds like I started 5 years ago. Saying I studied from 2005-2010 makes it sound like I studied for a number of years ago, but stopped, and haven’t touched Japanese stuff since (which is far from the truth). Saying I studied for 14 years is entirely incorrect because it makes it sound like it took 14 years to become fluent.
1. Why do you know … Japanese thing?
Because I’m a sentient being that is capable of acquiring knowledge – Like AI minus the “A.”
It feels like I’m being accused of knowing a secret that wasn’t intended for me. What makes this question so strange is that I often hear it after telling someone I’m a big fan of a popular Japanese TV show.
Q: How do you know this TV show (which 30 million other people know)?– How this conversation should play out.
A: Because I’m an esper.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve walked into the wrong dungeon room:
Any questions that bother you?
Maybe we can figure out a way to answer them together and free you of some frustration.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
My least favorite question is usually a follow-up to one of the questions you posted. “Have you lived in Japan before?” And I’ll usually reply with a, “yeah, for a little bit.” Then they have a face that says oh now I get it. あれで納得するのはちょっとイライラするんですね。なんか自分の努力が無駄になっちゃった感じがして虚しい気分になります。
Ahh yes, the pleasant “you were able to become fluent because you lived in Japan.” 全否定されているような気がするよね。
Another one related to this is if someone finds out you are dating and/or married to a Japanese person.
I get this one all the time as my wife is Japanese – only thing is…she’s completely fluent in English and we didn’t speak Japanese at home for 15 years til my son was born! Its interesting – when other non-Japanese ask I feel like they are trying to justify their own Japanese skill level. It all comes down to how hard we work and how bad we want it – as I think everyone on this site knows :) With Japanese people they just seem dumbfounded that I speak any Japanese at all – but this goes way back to when all I knew was how to introduce myself – somehow this elevated to me god-status with super human powers that I knew one sentence in Japanese. Of course, not everyone is like that but I get these reactions quite a bit.
I dislike when they say “Japanese is hard isn’t it?” I mean, I don’t disagree necessarily, but it doesn’t fit well in conversation. If I say yes then what, is this going to become some pity party for me and all my struggles to learn big bad Japanese? I could say no, but that would only confuse them and be a lie. The question also implys that Japanese in particular is challenging.
I also sometimes get “Where did you learn Japanese?” which I don’t quite understand what they mean. I can say “the internet” as that’s probably the most accurate. I’ll often just say “at my university” though since that requires less explanation.
While I obviously like meeting Japanese people, you usually have to prepare yourself for a game of 20 questions (most of which you’ve answered a hundred times before).
Those two are also both tough. Especially the second one, because the “online” response for some reason still results in some kind of strange shock to some people. If it were still the 1990s I’d understand the reaction…
I feel like every Japanese learner needs a few canned responses (of least resistance for them), so that they can move into the real conversation where you get to know someone and make friends.
Its hard to maintain motivation and effort over a long period of time – no matter what the task is. But is each individual step particular hard? No I don’t think so…Completing 10000 steps?…yes I think I’d say that’s hard! :)