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  • September 7, 2016

Intercultural Communication with Japanese Associates

Communicating with non-native English-Speakers can occasionally come off as a Wong Kar-Wai movie. I often find myself speaking with my Japanese counterparts in English, but getting back most of my answers in Japanese. The beauty of it is somehow we both understand what the other is talking about 90% of the time.

I cannot speak formal Japanese for the life of me. Instead of risking to offend my co-workers with my casual conversational Japanese skills, I would rather resort to English because it’s easier for me to speak directly without having to beat around the bush.  Down below is a couple of tricks that has served me well over the years working in Japan:


Colleagues that can’t speak English that well

I would speak a little more slowly and I don’t mean speaking in broken English either. I would continue to speak in complete sentences at a type of pace where I am dying to speak faster, but I am restraining myself to not speak like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Choosing elementary school vocabulary is also a good start until they can develop the confidence to gradually say something in English. Sometimes I add in some familiar Japanese keywords if they have trouble comprehending.

Colleagues that are somewhat fluent

If a colleague is trying to speak in English,  a good rule to remember is not take anything they said personally. Most of them are not aware of many of the nuances of their word choice, so patiently try to understand what their overall intention is. I believe many of them are not trying to come off as rude or inappropriate, so it’s unfair to hold them to the same standard as fluent English-Speakers.

Anyone that is learning how to speak another language understands the struggles of trying to be articulate outside of their mother tongue. I’ve certainly had my fair share of struggles speaking in Japanese. The countless amount of times I unintentionally infuriated Japanese-Speakers not only kept me humbled ,but it made me more empathetic to those learning how to speak English.

In all, it’s never easy for anyone to speak in another language. Having patience and empathy will definitely be key to having a better relationship with Japanese colleagues, but also a better understanding of them as well.

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