Many Japanese people lament their inability to carry out a proper conversation in English despite 10 years of study during junior high, high school and university.

While anyone who has taught English at a public school in Japan would probably be quick to point their finger at a curriculum still largely grounded in rote memorization and strange textbook phrases, it’s also important to realize that Japanese has absolutely nothing in common with any of the European languages and most other languages in the world.

But aside this inherent disadvantage, there just seems to be something about Japanese people that makes them terrible with foreign languages.

In a recent article at Excite, Japanese columnist Ryuji Haneishi offers his insights as to why that may be. He cites four major reasons, originally put forth by native German language instructor Roru-chan:

1. Japanese aren’t aggressive speakers
2. Japanese are scared of making mistakes
3. Japanese learn words using furigana (pronunciation written in Japanese)
4. Japanese don’t start studying early enough

Haneishi’s analysis of the first reason, supplemented with a few personal anecdotes, follows below. (Or read part 2 here!)

1. Japanese aren’t aggressive speakers

According to Roru-chan, “Japanese are unbelievably silent compared to to Westerners! This is particularly apparent when speaking in a foreign language.”

By contrast, in Europe, the further south you go the more vocal the people are. From a German’s standpoint, the Greeks and Spanish are unbearably loud and have no sense of verbal restraint. Despite the existence of the proverb “Speech is silver, silence is golden” in the West, Westerns love to speak.

But for Japanese people, it’s not just the volume of conversation that’s troubling but the content as well. Take jokes for example. Get a group of Westerners together and it’s only a matter of time before the room is filled with nonsensical banter. Put almost any Japanese person in the middle of that and they’ll have no idea how to react.

This is usually because most Japanese people:

・Don’t understand what point the speaker is trying to get across by telling the joke (when there may not even be one – after all, it’s a joke!)
・Don’t even realize that the speaker is joking
・Concentrate on trying to comprehend each detail of the joke or story as its being spoken
・Aren’t familiar with the kind of colloquial expressions often used in jokes
・Are put off by the vulgarity or rudeness many Western jokes are known for

Japanese people are brought up being told that they shouldn’t say out loud many of the very things that Westerns love to joke about, and hearing these kind of conversations leaves many Japanese people shocked and disgusted.

On top of that, Japanese people tend to silently dwell on if they correctly understood what the speaker was saying instead of responding, giving Westerns the impression that Japanese people have no sense of humor.

Haneishi continues by illustrating the observations above with the following two personal stories:

■ Anecdote 1: Birthday party at the company office

A cake was brought into the office (during work!) for a coworker’s birthday and everyone gathered in the meeting room and began chowing down. Instead of talking about the person whose birthday it was, the room was filled with vulgar, inappropriate and useless conversation. I had absolutely no idea what the point of the party was. Japanese people (myself included) usually hate these kind of gatherings. Not only is the conversation boring, but it’s hard to understand what the point of it is and how we should act in the middle of it. The party ended without me having the chance to speak a word.

■ Anecdote 2: Bragging

Where I went vacationing last year, where I’m going to go this year and next year, all the amazing things I’m doing at work, all the great hobbies I have… one of the quirks of visiting a Westerner’s home is enduring the host as they go on and on about their life.

Japanese people aren’t used to people boasting about their travels and so it’s difficult for them to know how to respond. They also don’t know how to praise their host and end up feeling embarrassed. This is compounded by the fact that Japanese people aren’t the most expressive (especially when speaking in a foreign language).

It’s not easy being Japanese…

Read part 2 here!

Source: Excite Bit