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How to communicate with Japanese people who are weak with foreign languages?

Japanese people are extremely shy and there are many people who are quite conscious of their weakness in other languages. Even to the point where if you greet them or ask a question in the street, they run away...Here are some things to check so you can easily get a response even from the shyest conversation partner!

1. First, try "sumimasen" instead of “excuse me”

Although it’s compulsory for many Japanese people to study English, there are many people weak at English conversation. This causes a complex where the majority of people can’t speak, thinking that, “I would like to speak English but I have no self-confidence.” Even if you talk to them, they don’t respond. When you speak to them, they get nervous thinking “but if I can't answer what do I do...” To avoid that, be sure to convey to them from the start that “I would really like to speak Japanese." By saying “sumimasen”, it conveys to them that “ah, so it’s not like they don’t speak any Japanese” and it alleviates the wariness since they can understand something of what you say. So if you ask a question, they will try their best to answer.

2. If the content is simple, it's easier to get an answer if you have visuals like maps or photos

In the cases where you’re asking for directions to the place you would like to go, or if there’s something you want but would like to know where you should go to get it, be sure to show a map, illustration, or photo. Since there are many Japanese persons who are weak at listening, even if they catch bits and pieces of the words spoken, they may not be able to determine what is being asked from just the conversation alone. As a result, show them what you want to know from the start and if you can ask them the who, what, where, why, when and how, then they will surely be able to understand you. Also, so that the conversation can be followed, please try to speak as slowly as possible.

3. If you carry a pen and notepad, then communicating in written English and having them on maps are also effective

Similar to the previous suggestion, this is a good countermeasure against Japanese persons who are unaccustomed to conversation. Since Japanese persons are relatively tolerant of reading and writing in English, there are cases where written communication can be used to communicate smoothly. However, assuming that the Japanese person can understand what you’re trying to convey, that person might not be able answer in English. In that case, you should hand the pen and notepad to them. They should be able to convey it not by conversation, but through words and illustrations.

4. The Japanese people who run away don’t have any ill-will so please don’t mind

If while you’re talking to a Japanese person, they force a smile, apologize then run away, it may seem to be because you are a foreigner, but no offense is meant; it is a national trait of the Japanese. Most Japanese people think things like “I must respond in English,” “it’s inexcusable if I can’t answer the question,” or “rather than me, there must be many people around that can speak English so please try someone else.” If you can understand the Japanese people’s shy disposition, by trying to speak a little Japanese or showing an open posture, most Japanese people would surely try to respond to you.

What did you think? Japanese people are shy and serious and as a result, their behavior can often be misunderstood. However, Japanese people tend to be very happy about being spoken to by foreigners. If we become a bit more aware from here on then the Japanese people will try their best to reply. Be assertive with your communication and enjoy your trip.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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