Has learning Japanese made you think differently about anything?

Different languages have different ways of expressing things and some of them reflect different ways of thinking about the world. For instance, Inuktitut has multiple words for “snow,” German has a single word, “schadenfreude,” for pleasure at the misfortune of others, and “hygge” has become trendy because I guess the Norwegian word evokes more than just “cosy,” encompassing togetherness as well. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong; I don’t speak any of these languages.)

Since you’ve been learning Japanese, do you feel like any words or phrases have made you think differently about the world?


I use things like ‘can’t be helped’ or equivalents more often in conversations.

Not really a lot though, outside the influence Japanese culture had in general.


A big part of Japanese grammar involves empathy. In Japanese, it’s ungrammatical to say “Bob received a present from me”, because it shows that you feel greater empathy for Bob than for yourself.


I’m pretty sure I speak more passively and say “I think” a lot more than I used to.


In some ways, I thinks it’s the other way around - my personality has sort of contributed to my love of Japanese. I’m not terribly confrontational, and I’ll often argue for both sides without realizing.


I don’t think that learning Japanese has made me think differently about things, but I often find an inability to express certain things in English or Japanese because I don’t know the equivalent expressions if there is one. More than anything, I feel that the influence of living in Japan has had a marked effect. For example, I’m more cognizant of the intended aim of what’s being said when I translate things.

Additionally, I’ve subconsciously picked up other habits that people have pointed out:

  • Using more backchanneling in conversations
  • Automatically denying compliments by resorting to self-deprecation
  • Body gestures, etc.
  • Rather than openly dissenting, I’ve been keeping my opinions to myself more often. Admittedly, this came about due to my own communicative deficits.

Wow, while reading this I was thinking I don’t remember posting anything. These are pretty much my exact thoughts on the subject.


You’re referring to passive form (The action was done by Bob) vs active form (Bob did the action), but that’s not an error. (see Tae Kim)

He points out that:

it is useful to know that using passive form is another more polite way to express an action. In Japanese, a sentence is usually more polite when it is less direct.

In English, using the passive form is generally discouraged, although it does tend to show up frequently in formal writing. Ultimately it’s a matter of preference, but English speakers tend to be more direct, where Japanese tends to be more indirect, generally.

There are definitely a few things I think differently about, or realizations I had, although my mind if blanking out on most of them at the moment. One that comes to mind is that I remember in genki 2 learning that “to let” someone do something and “to make” someone do something being conjugated the same way (although you’d probably use ~てくれる with the “let” meaning) was really confusing because to me they were two very differnt things. But the more I thought about it, I realized English is actually very much the same way, although we use different words. Saying “the teacher let us watch a movie in class” and “the teacher made us watch a movie in class” has the exact same meaning, its just the sayer’s perseption of whether it was good or bad that changes the meaning. It made me realize that I often use “let” when what I really mean is make (for example, when cleaning the house, I might say to my husband “I don’t know where you want this, so I’m going to let you put it away” when from his perspective, its probably a “make you put it away” kind of sentence.

If I remember more examples, I’ll come back lol.


This is a bit of a mundane answer, but it’s caused me to be much more conscientious of formality. In Japanese formality is directly rooted in the language with the words themselves changing to suit the situation. In English, I’ve realized that formality still exists, but it’s very much in subtle grammar rather than any explicit structure. And that in turn made me realize that sometimes my formality is all over the place. So now rather than saying things like “I’ll get a ___” when ordering, I consciously say “May I have ___” instead. Also other things like saying yes instead of yeah or yep which I’ve realized is a bad habit of mine. Generally extending my speech in length when wanting to appeal to someone (because length = formality in any language it seems lol).

Oh, also randomly omitting subjects. I’ve realized that not having to use subjects is actually pretty comprehensible even in English so I’ll sometimes just not write it in informal posts and such.


No, in that specific example I’m referring to the verb もらう. It only comes across as passive in English.

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I’ve noticed the way I structure sentences in my mind has changed. I try to use as few words as possible while still getting my point across, and I don’t complete my sentences nearly as often as I used to if the rest of a sentence…


After living in Japan for six years my Japanese speech style is certainly “Japanese” in many of the ways people here have already said; reservedness, backchanneling, softly phrasing counter opinions and the like. However when I speak English I feel I’m exactly the same as I’ve always been, it’s just a two modes kinda deal for me, so much so that I can feel a personality difference/communication style when I’m speaking in English vs. when I’m speaking in Japanese.

This is to the point where my bilingual Japanese friends will often laugh at how different I am in one language compared to the other, my Japanese side being soft spoken, agreeable and occasionally “cute.” My English side on the other hand is excitable, boisterous and assertive, pretty much how I’ve been since a child. The major thing I’ve learned then is how closely language and culture are related, it’s very difficult to effectively convey yourself in Japanese through your own culture’s communicative style, at least not without getting frustrated.


well said. i can relate to this completely!


I was like that long before I knew anything about Japan :wink:


As for picking up things from Japanese - I sometimes also tend to omit subjects/personal pronouns when writing in English. It’s reinforced by the fact, that in my native language (Polish) they can also very often be omitted (but then, contrary to Japanese, our verbs conjugate by person, so it’s a bit less confusing :wink: )

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Already been doing this way before learning Japanese. Really bad habit. Can’t stop. Help.


Maybe not only the learning but being regular in japan has changed the way i think about myself. I grew up in a part were people are very direct and sometimes very loud (especially my family). Im a more calm character (relative seen to the others) and many people don’t get it when i refer to something indirectly or im too polite for them. So its seen as a bad character that im like this. I often need to push myself to be more harsh.
When im in Japan i get the opposite feedback, unlike many other foreigners i behave pretty Japanese in Japan and they are often surprised and like me for that. In japan im actually even more polite than here.

On the other side i also notice and discussed often with my wife how our personalities differ depending on which language we use. So even if i feel my personality fits japan more, i behave and talk different in german, english or japanese.
For example in german im more swearing and direct, in english im also direct but more relaxed (saying things in a different language just don’t seem to be so serious like in the native language). In Japanese i really like to use those things like ちょっと for all different situations and people understand! I wish i could use it in german :smiley:


Oh, hello fellow German, English and Japanese speaking person. :smile:

I’ve noticed that about myself as well, I’m way more direct in English and German and I definitely cuss more in those languages.

As someone mentioned above, I also used “can’t be helped” in GER/ENG because I love using “仕方がない” in Japanese and there are definitely other phrases/words that I use in GER/ENG because of my ability to speak Japanese.

Oh and yeah, I also love ちょっと, I also used that in German sometimes and I probably sound like a giant weeaboo when I do but oh well, 仕方がない!


Hello :smiley:

yes 仕方がない is also very nice! Don’t worry, you are not alone. I also use sometimes the wrong language in the wrong places.
I think my colleague just got used that i sometimes with じゃあ :smiley:

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In the past, my stance when receiving a compliment was “if that’s how you feel, then that’s how you feel”. So unless someone claimed something counter to fact, many times I would say “thank you” and quickly bow out somewhere or change the subject. I hate being the center of attention, so people complimenting me (especially in front of a group of people) always made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. It still does.

Being very opinionated, I usually have something to say when being faced with something unreasonable or not factual. Essentially living in an area where people don’t speak English makes asserting yourself more difficult. That, combined with people not showing me how the really feel, has made me more hesitant to be more openly opinionated. As my speaking skill improved, I’ve become more persuasive using Japanese over the years, but I’m more likely to let things go because it makes getting along with coworkers easier.

Because I can often go through a day without speaking English, I have to double and triple check my emails and posts because I tend to do this without thinking. It’s really embarrassing sometimes because some of the mistakes I commit makes me seem like English isn’t my first language. haha.