Tag Archives: foreigner

Studying Japanese: Should you do it?

I’ve been in Japan for more than 6 years, and while my Japanese isn’t conversational, I can get by doing some essential things.  However, I cannot describe symptoms to a doctor, nor can I understand the financial terms used in banks.  Amanda at “Whoa…I’m in Japan?” made a post recently about being discouraged from studying Japanese.  What’s the reason?  Because it’s impossible for foreigners to learn Japanese.  What makes Japanese impossible to learn?  Well, in reality, nothing.  It is entirely possible to learn Japanese well.  I’ve heard that what’s impossible to learn is keigo, which is the skill of communicating in different formal situations.  I wouldn’t say that’s impossible, either, just difficult.  And I’m sure many Japanese people don’t even have a good grasp on keigo.

My reasons for studying Japanese are personal.  It’s not for business (although it will be useful in the future for me), it’s for being able to communicate with those around me.  My fiancee is Japanese, and we’re expecting a baby in January.  Our baby will grow up to be bilingual.  I will speak English, my fiancee will speak Japanese, and when we speak with each other, it’ll mainly be in English.  However, even though I’ll be able to speak to my child in English, I can’t do the same with my fiancee’s family.  Her parents, sister, grandparents, most of her cousins, aunts and uncles can’t speak English.  Most of her friends can’t speak English, either.  I need to be able to speak with them in Japanese if I’m ever going to communicate with them.  I can’t rely on my fiancee to translate everything.  It’s important for me to learn Japanese.

There’s another situation that many Japanese speaking foreigners encounter.  When ordering food at a restaurant, the foreigner orders in Japanese, and the waiter/waitress looks at the Japanese people with the foreigner to confirm that he/she is actually ordering that.  When I eat out with my fiancee, I get the same thing.  I say my order, and the server doesn’t say anything.  My fiancee repeats what I said and the server confirms with her, as if he/she was completely ignoring what I said.  When I order food alone when I’m by myself, I have no problems, though.  It’s when I order food while I’m with Japanese people that they always confirm with the Japanese people that I really ordered what I said.  It’s quite annoying.  I ordered in correct Japanese, yet they behave like I was speaking English.

Have you had annoying encounters with people while speaking Japanese?

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