I woke up to a strongly worded comment on my blog this morning. To quote:
For me, Japanese, what you described about the people at the immigration office offended my feeling pretty much. Because the nuance of your story is telling me that the people at the immigration office should or must communicate with non-Japanese in English. What on earth are you talking about. Why can’t you speak some more Japanese besides “visa wa” or “godochosha”? Do you look down on us? I strongly believe that if Japanese had the same situation, some or more than half of them would try to speak in their language in spite of wrong grammar or horrible pronunciations. Simple question for you. Are you a racist?
My response was that, of course, I’m not a racist. I just think that in a place such as an immigration office, which deals with foreigners on a daily basis, there should at least be English signs, if not someone who can speak the language. Or, in Hamamatsu’s case, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had found Portuguese and no English – and that would have been understandable (there’s a huge Brazilian population in Hamamatsu).
When living in Japan, I think it is SO important to learn Japanese. I don’t think you have to speak it fluently, but if you want to get by without constantly having to ask someone to help, you’re going to need some Japanese. I often find myself frustrated when I’m put in important situations though, because I lack the vocabulary or grammatical structure to be able to express myself well, and my Japanese comes out broken and probably sounds silly (like yesterday at the immigration office).
Anyway, the reason for this post is to get your opinion. Should Japanese speak English in Japan?
In my opinion, no. Why should they? However, if someone chooses to work in a job where they will be dealing with foreigners on a daily basis, I believe it wouldn’t hurt to learn a few key phrases at least. In big cities, where many foreigners live, I would expect to see signs in English (and other languages), hear announcements in various languages, and find people who can speak languages other than Japanese. That is the case already, in many places.
As you know, my job is to teach English to Japanese students. My students range from college students looking for a job, to bored housewives, to retirees. Everyone has their own reasons for learning English, but generally speaking they seem to be:
- I need it for my job/I might need it for my job
- I need it for school/college
- I want to travel
- It’s my hobby
In the first category, some of these students almost never have to use English at work, but they know how important it could be. So they make the effort to come to English conversation school once a week to try to learn a few phrases. I really respect them. Not only are they trying to improve themselves by learning a new skill, but they are also trying to help others.
Come on fellow foreigners in Japan, admit it, you’re often slightly relieved when you go to an official office, the doctor’s office, or a hotel and find that someone speaks to you in English, right? Or is that just me? I love the challenge of speaking Japanese, but sometimes, just sometimes, isn’t it nice to find someone who can help you in English?
Well, that’s how I feel anyway. How about you? Please take the poll below and also leave a comment. If you leave a comment, I’d be interested to know how long you have been living in Japan (if you are) and what you would say your level of Japanese ability is. I’ve been in Japan almost three years and I would say “intermediate”, or JLPT (old) 3 Kyuu.
Thanks for joining in! 🙂