How offensive is it to try to articulate something -?

Hi! I studied Japanese in high school and college and have recently gotten back into it. I’m working through L.5… I was never taught on’yomi & kun’yomi this way, so some of the readings are hard for me to memorize. Anyway, my question to those of you who live in, or have studied/worked in Japan - Is it more respectful to speak English well, or to risk speaking Japanese terribly? This obviously depends on the situation, but if you have any thoughts, I’d appreciate hearing them. Thanks!


If it’s obvious that you’re still a beginner at Japanese no one would take offense in you trying, they would appreciate it.


People generally are supportive of foreigners trying to speak the language.

And you’re going to be given the benefit of the doubt if you say things that would be considered offensive if said by advanced or native speakers.

I think a common one is when beginners are unaware of the contrastive usage of は, and say things like 今日はきれいですね! which could be interpreted as “you’re pretty today (but not other days)”. But if they know you’re a beginner, they probably won’t look at it that way.


I think it’ll be fine to just speak Japanese. Even low level, awkward Japanese would be preferable to English. The former can feel a little foreign and fun, if a little bit of a bother. The latter can be much more intimidating depending on their knowledge of English back from school.


(good advice from dia and Xyz and Leebo) One other thing to keep in mind. If you are doing/talking about more complicated things and the other person speaks really good English, then maybe just switch to English for the sake of clarity.


I was thinking more… well, I was thinking how I’d refer to my coworker at the factory I work at now… “kaishya no tomodachi” for co-worker. That sounds idiotic, I’m sure. I can look it up and find the word for coworker, but my problem has never been reading or writing - it’s been speaking. I get too nervous about not saying things perfectly. Would that be offensive, if I said that?

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The more advanced English-speaking Japanese people I encountered (through school) just wanted to speak English!

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会社の人 would be fine for trying to come up with a way to say coworker on the fly, if the person isn’t actually a friend. When you’re speaking, it’s far better to just say something and work from there than wait a long time trying to craft the perfect phrase, or remember the specific word.

I don’t really see how anyone would take offense to 会社の友だち though.


Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the feedback. Also I am NOT an alt-right weirdo, I just like old movies. I’m still working on fixing my avi.

I agree with what others have said, but one extra piece of advice is don’t worry any more about being ‘respectful’ in Japan than you would anywhere else. So many people have this weird hangup about ‘respecting’ Japan. It’s just another country. Don’t be openly obnoxious and you’ll be fine.


You could at least give them the correct way to say it too :stuck_out_tongue: 今日もきれいですね!

Why japanese can be a pain…one particle can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

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As a general rule in any country I think it’s only polite to attempt to speak their native language than assume they know yours, even if you only know a tiny bit and it’s not “good”. Or at least learn the expression “Is English okay?” in said language. Never ask “do you speak English” because some people get offended because they feel you’re assuming that they don’t.

I’ve seen more than enough looks of fear/being overwhelmed when a fellow foreigner just goes up to a cafe worker, for example, and just jumps into ordering in English.

The only exception I make for this is when you’re in a country where English is one of their national languages, I’ve heard from some Europeans that they find it offensive to “assume” that they don’t speak English.

Also who ever speaks first is the one who sets the tone, if someone starts the interaction in English, stick to English. If they start in Japanese, stick to Japanese. Some people want to practice English naturally. Others don’t want anything to do with it.

Trying to speak a language, even badly, especially when you live in another country shows you are trying to adapt to it and don’t expect everyone to cater to you. Me trying has only made me more likable than anything, in my experience.


That’s good advice. It’s hard not to have that hang-up though! The different verbs for giving & receiving to/from “superiors/inferiors” & the the different terms for older vs younger siblings, etc., it’s so different from English!

On that note, if you ever happen to travel to the Netherlands, do NOT make the mistake of saying “danke” or “danke schoen” (German). It’s “dank je” or “dank je wel”. :sweat_smile:


If you’re in Japan, you’re lucky enough to be in one of the few countries/cultures that’s actually embracing/supportive of language-learners rather than frustrated by them. I’d use the opportunity to try as much Japanese as you can, and to listen closely. (In addition, depending on where you are, most people won’t be able to speak conversational, or even sub-conversational, English anyway.)

You might want to brush-up on basic things to avoid, like using second-person pronouns, but other than that, I can’t imagine a situation in which earnest, learner-level Japanese is more offensive than simply assuming the other person’s command of English. Or really offensive at all.

The race to fluency is a race to make the most mistakes first, or something like that.

Currently living in Japan, by the way.

EDIT – Of course, if there’s any issue where English would help clear up confusion, use it! And if you get a specific request from someone that they’d like to practice English with you, respect that (assuming you’ll have other opportunities to practice Japanese in the country while they may not have many outlets for English).

But if it’s offensive to try your hardest to articulate something, even if it doesn’t come out perfectly, then I offend people every day (which I’ve been told, at least, isn’t the case).

From my short experience in Tokyo I’d say even awkwardly trying to express yourself in Japanese will get you further than English. From the Tourist Information Center where I bought the Pasmo card, two out of three hotel receptionists I encountered, to the three shop assistants I employed in an eight story department store, English was pretty much useless.


In Flanders, especially in certain dialects, saying “danke” is perfectly fine. Of course, without the “schön”.
And from my limited experience, Japanese people are among the most appreciative nations when someone tries to speak their languages. The other end of this spectrum - the French…


Careful, I was one accused of being a bigot on this site for suggesting that that reputation made me less interested in studying the language.


My personal experience of France was that people were charmed by my clumsy attempts to speak their language. However, I hear too many people report their apparent unsupportiveness with language learners to think that there’s absolutely no truth in it whatsoever. The French are a misunderstood nation… At the hostel I work French guests are so relieved and grateful that I speak a bit of French, it certainly doesn’t bother them that I don’t speak it at C2 level.

Being accused of being a bigot is a bit ridiculous. Bigot means you won’t tolerate someone who has different opinions. The words racist and bigot get used way too much these days in situations that have nothing to do with their dictionary definitions.

I don’t care - I have a university diploma in French and I still hate speaking it just because of the French speakers’ approach. Not everyone is like that, sure, but still - my experience is traumatic enough :wink: