But We Speak Japanese!

A common gripe among foreigners who have been living in Japan for a long time, and speak Japanese fluently, is that Japanese people will sometimes ignore the fact the foreigner speaks Japanese and reply in English. Worse, if there is a Japanese person with the foreigner, they will address him or her in Japanese and ignore the foreigner.

Now, my Japanese is far from being fluent (very far), so I have not encountered this problem myself. However, I have seen it happen a couple of times.

The following video is a good illustration of this phenomenon:

I wonder why this happens. I have heard people say that Japanese find it hard to believe that foreigners can master their language, so they have a barrier that prevents them from responding in Japanese to a foreigner, even if he or she are fluent. I guess this is mostly the case with the older generation?

It is important to point out that I have seen the opposite happen much more often. Many Japanese will avoid speaking in English, even if they are good at it, for fear of making mistakes. Therefore, more Japanese than not will express relief when they hear the foreigner responding in Japanese. This way, they do not need to use English and will not risk losing face…


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