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Stereotypes, Language, and Culture


American, British, Chinese, Korean, Japanese. When reading these nationalities did you think of their stereotypes? Stereotypes exist because there is an element of truth in them and it’s both easy and lazy to oversimplify a person or collective. I think it’s ignorant to use sweeping statements about a person belonging to any group. I hope we acknowledge we are more than our place of birth. Prejudice and propaganda thrive with stereotypes.

Japanese people are…

Some British stereotypical views of Japanese people are, polite, courteous, considerate, precise, hard-working, honourable, and efficient. Also, cold, heartless, brutal, rude, bullies, passive-aggressive, and racist. Are all Japanese people like this? I know better than that. That’s the problem with stereotypes, they include all people. Before even meeting a Japanese, these opinions were in my mind, especially polite.

That’s not Japanese!

When studying Japanese, I came across the word, 違う (chigau) and I was instantly shocked by it’s meaning and how it was used. “You’re wrong!” was my first understanding of this word. How direct and insensitive to the person receiving this word, that’s not my Japanese stereotype. I now understand context and how you use it can soften this word.

Cultural difference

At first, I also thought the Japanese language was straightforward, black and white, it either is or isn’t. I was wrong about this too. The cultural aspects of embarrassing someone or oneself by saying no or disagreeing leads to sensing the answer in a conversation. The assumed or guessed answer is not spoken to save blushes, an unsaid understanding.

Japanese etiquette isn’t always intuitive or known to foreigners, this is something Masami explains to me, and I have learnt through making mistakes too. I would never have guessed how to act or respond to something the Japanese way. If I followed British etiquette, I would have offended, alienated, or embarrassed nice Japanese people. Although my intentions are good, I would have done the culturally wrong thing.

Cultural awareness

Language and culture go together, it’s important to know how to say what you want to say; English delivered in a Japanese way is limited and at worst the meaning is lost. Just as if my Japanese is spoken in a British way, I would be seen as rude, inconsiderate, and stupid.

This is why we help Japanese people communicate better in English; it’s not only what you say but how to say it.

ー オンライン英語コミュニケーションプログラム ー