1.22.2007

Proves my point

Yesterday I talked about the lack of enthusiasm I encounter when I speak Japanese to Japanese people whose English isn't great. Well, I experienced an example of that today.

I was at a Japanese store, and asked a guy, in English, where the fruit was. He was speaking Japanese with a female coworker, and I haven't seen him speak English with people before, so I didn't know if his English was good. But I used it anyway. He looked at me blankly, and so did his coworker, so I asked them in Japanese. The woman said in muddy English, "You speak Japanese" with a nervous smile, and spoke no Japanese with me, but pointed in the direction of the fruit, then told me in broken English that it was elsewhere as well.

If I had walked into a store in a Mexican neighborhood, they would've spoken Spanish once they discovered I could speak it. And a similar thing would happen in Chinatown, I'm sure. It wasn't as if I had asked the Japanese workers incorrectly where the fruit was, they just didn't want to continue in the language because, I think, I'm not Japanese, so broken English is better than me entering their language world.

So it's both ironic and convenient that such an incidence occurred the day after I had a post about it, lest anyone think I was making such an observation up.

5 comments:

Osman said...

I guess we would go on speaking in Turkish in this case. Very interesting experience. Thanks for sharing!

Mad Minerva said...

I can't speak for any Japanese situations myself, but I did recently go to Italy. In Italy also, I've found that even when my Italian skills are atrocious, locals are usually delighted to speak Italian back--and lots of it. At the same time, younger Italians are eager to speak English too, though -- they are usually delighted to practice their English skills on me too. But hey! I kind of want to practice my Italian skills -- goodness knows their English is better than my Italian!

But in the end, what happens in either case is a whole lot of happy, hand-waving communication. Regardless of English or Italian or mix of both, the good folks are all about communicating. I've never had the sense that they wanted to close me off at all.

As for the Spanish version, Metrolongua, I've found that yes, if Spanish speakers find that you speak Spanish too, they will usually start speaking in Spanish to you--a mile a minute! Unless it's younger folks who...yep...want to practice their English skills!

mj said...

It's one thing to meet people who want to practice their English--it's another to meet people who will not accept you in their language world. It's very annoying, and only the most blindly obedient Japan-worshipping Japanophiles will overlook it.

I still have to do a post about those Japanophiles--they're all dewy-eyed when encountering everything Japanese, that even when a Japanese person gives them a blank look or keeps speaking bad English or says "I don't speak English" when they're speaking Japanese to them, they just lovingly chuckle.

Lilly said...

What an interesting post! I like how you call it someone else's "language world"....it's fascinating how different people react when it comes to letting you enter their language world, or insisting on entering [or remaining within] your language world -- regarless of how poor their language skills in this world may be! Do you think it's culture specific? I know it's dangerous to generalise, but hey....what the hell!

France is an interesting case [though I can only speak from my own experiences, naturally]: I find it that you pretty much have to speak French when in Paris. Whereas if you go to Nice and you speak French, shop keepers, etc. are very likely to answer you in English -- probably because they can tell you're not a native. But still....

I love languages -- I love the different language worlds we operate in. I love translation and I truly believe that you can never transmit *everything* when you translate. No matter how good you are....

mj said...

Yeah--thanks for your comment. I think you can make certain generalizations--I get so sick of that PC attitude when you can see patterns in different groups. For instance, now I'm teaching Spanish speakers (mostly Mexicans) English, and if I spoke their language as well as I speak Japanese, they'd LOVE it! They'd be so happy and would really appreciate my efforts--which makes me want to learn how to speak it better (I took a couple classes and have translated it).