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  • Writer's pictureBen M

Communicating in Japan

One popular misconception in Japan is that "most Japanese people speak basic English".

However, the reality is. Even though most Japanese people studied English in school, most people cannot speak basic English.

In Japan, English taught in schools is primarily focused to textbooks and passing tests. The average Japanese person may understand a few words, but will not really be able to hold a simple conversation or understand a native speaker.

When tourists and new students arrive in Japan, communicating can be very frustrating and challenging. Typically I am asked to call people, escort students to hospitals, clinics, dentists, opticians, city hall, police stations, mobile phone stores etc. to interpret on behalf of the student when they need assistance.

Common problems for new arrivals in Japan are asking directions, ordering food, understanding what something is as well as the basic 5W2H (what, where, when, why, who, how, how much).

Here are some common phrases to get your started.

What is your name? o namae wa nan desu ka?

What is this? kore wa nan desu ka?

What time does it start? nan ji hajimarimasu ka?

Where is ____? ___ wa doko desu ka?

When? itsu desu ka?

(often when is replaced with "what time" in Japanese)

Why? nande desu ka?

Who are you/is (s)he? dare desu ka? / ano hito wa dare desu ka?

How can I get to ___? dousureba Tokyo ni ikemasu ka?

How do I use this? douyatte tsukaimasu ka?

How much is this/that? kore wa ikura desu ka? / sore wa ikura desu ka?

Regular coffee please. regyuuraa kouhii kudasai

Eat/Drink in / Take out. koko de tabemasu/nomimasu / omochi kaeri desu

Can I have the bill please? okaike kudasai


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