Japanese communication is often carried out in a variety of distinct forms and dialects. What makes communicating with Japanese people particularly tricky is not the kanji or pronunciation but the cultural aspect that lives in the art of choosing the correct word choice, gesture, and tone for the right location and context.
Cultural knowledge is best acquired through direct exposure to authentic Japanese culture and tradition. Although, and admittedly, that may be somewhat of a challenge for non-native speakers to perfect a language that is not their mother tongue.
Regardless, this language barrier does not only exist for foreigners living and interning in Japan. Many Japanese also experience some degree of difficulty when attempting to communicate to non-native speakers.
Since Japanese is already difficult for native speakers to master, it is often the case that most Japanese struggle to make time to learn a second language like English. Less so to be fluent in it. With Japanese alphabets being vastly different from English, many English words are being adapted to match with the Japanese phonetic system. Thus, creating a two-way communication problem.
Chances are that you will experience these so-called language barriers when traveling to Japan for your internships or undergoing one with Japanese teammates and supervisors. That said, we have compiled a handful of solutions for you to overcome them during your internship in Japan!
To understand Japanese or any language, you must have some cultural knowledge (we are talking real-life experiences, something you definitely cannot find in textbooks!). Finding those culture specific and niche information can be tedious and time-consuming— if you do not know where to look, that is!
There’s a whole world out there, where do you start, you ask? Japan, of course.
When you are out and about in the streets of Japan, you will most likely bump into people from Osaka, Nara, Kobe, et cetera. Your interactions with them, whether that be your attempt to try to buy a loaf of bread at a Japanese convenience store or to ask for directions from a stranger on the street.
This is an inexpensive way for you to take in their cultural cues and dialects. Bit by bit, you are filling in your cultural and language knowledge. To add on to that, you are more likely to develop a natural and authentic way to communicate in the Japanese language!
In urban Japanese cities where everything is fast-moving, it is typical for you to feel overwhelmed. With noise blasting in the background, it is common for people to rush to finish a sentence or give answers. However, as language-learners and international interns, you are recommended to not slur your words or try to match the speed of those around you.
If you can, try to repeat what you have learned in a clear and slow manner to provide enough room for the other party aka your trusty Japanese friend to fill you in with any suggestions or ways to improve what you already know. This would probably boost your self-confidence to speak your mind on matters that perplex you! Better yet, if face-to-face communication is not your style, you can always shoot them a text!
It is worth noting that you can also put your skills to the test and practice your Japanese with others whom you may interact with throughout the day! However, keep in mind that Japanese people are introverted and shy by nature. Hence, the presence of foreigners may make them feel uncomfortable in their own skin, causing them to remain silent...!
Both verbal and non-verbal communication are considered to carry the highest value and meaning in Japan despite the fact that they may significantly differ from what is normally practiced in Western culture.
The Japanese many levels of formality apply not only to the linguistic sense but also gesture and other non-verbal communication styles which can be seen in their iconic bowing gestures to give thanks; waving their hand in front of their faces and making an X with their two arms to represent “no”.
To overcome these cultural differences, it is necessary for you to observe when and where these gestures are being used and for what purposes. Such observations can be achieved through watching authentic Japanese media, this can be films, tv shows, or anime, or in your day-to-day interactions in professional settings such as business meetings with superiors and seniors!
In cases where you are unsure of how to act, imitate appropriate gestures and body languages of your peers and colleagues! You can even take a step further and consult them for future guidance, tips, and tricks!
And that is how you can break language barriers in Japan! Whether you are in Japan and have already begun your internship or are planning to go to Japan for an internship, we hope that you find this blog more or less useful in adapting to your new life abroad!
AIP offers customizable international internships in countries like Japan and many more. For more information on our internship program, please visit our website using the link here or follow us on our social media accounts for our latest updates on internship opportunities.