Say Good Morning to the Room - The Importance of Aisatsu (Greetings) in Japan

Say Good Morning to the Room - The Importance of Aisatsu (Greetings) in Japan

By the entrance to the conference room, there was a flip chart with a message: “Please sign in here, and then go through the door and say good morning to the room”.

“OHAYO GOZAIMAAASU!” I yelled. (GOOD MORNING!)

We had practiced this yesterday. “In Japanese workplaces,” they told us, “you must greet the room enthusiastically when entering.”

As I took my seat, I noticed that some trainees had been given a piece of card by staff as they entered.

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"I treasure this pen case"

"I treasure this pen case"

“I treasure this mechanical pencil.”

(Applause)

One of the interesting things about working as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan is that you get to see the kind of English taught in Japanese state schools.

Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad; but in my opinion it’s always interesting, and you’re always learning something …

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What is Community Interpreting and Why Does it Matter?


The dentist talked for a long time, in Japanese I didn't understand, pointing and waving his hands at the X-ray on the wall. I was completely lost.

After he'd talked for about five minutes, my Japanese boss translated for me: "He says you need to fix this tooth."

That's it? I thought. The dentist had been talking for ages. He can't possibly have only said "you need to fix this tooth".

The first year I was in Japan I had a lot of dental work done.

I broke a tooth (ouch!) and then it kept breaking. It was unpleasant.

I'm very grateful that my Japanese boss came to these appointments with me. And when he couldn't come, his mum would come with me. It was really kind of them.

But I usually didn't really understand what was going on. Imagine if I'd had access to a professional interpreter instead?

I often have interpreting on the brain. My "other job" (i.e. what I do when I don't have my Step Up Japanese hat on) is working in the offices of a community interpreting service here in Brighton.

So what is Community Interpreting?

Interpreting is listening to what is said in one language, and communicating the meaning in another language. And Community Interpreting (as opposed to conference interpreting, or interpreting in business meetings etc) basically exists to enable people to access public services.

Community Interpreters attend medical, legal and housing appointments with people who have limited English, helping them to understand fully what's going on.

Using a professional interpreter guarantees that interpreting is accurate and unbiased.

The interpreter's job is to remain impartial in a three-way conversation between the person with the language need (in Japan, that was me), and the professional they're seeing (the dentist).

Ah yes, my Japanese dentist.

After a while I could understand enough to attend the appointments by myself. Sometimes, I could tell the dentist was using simple language, to ensure I understood. That was kind of him.

But some medical messages are too important to be said in simple language.

So how would my experiences in Japan have been different if I'd had access to a professional interpreter?

It would have been empowering to make decisions about my medical care, without having to ask my boss's mum. I'm sure I would have felt a little less scared of the dentist waving his hands around, too.

If you'd like to learn more about Community Interpreting from a global perspective, you should check out Madeline Vadkerty's talk "Making the World a Better Place As an Interpreter" at next week's Women in Language event.

I'm really looking forward to hearing Madeline speak about her experiences as a Community Interpreter, helping asylum seekers and survivors of torture to rebuild their lives.

(I'll be speaking too - eek!)

Your ticket for Women in Language gets you access to the entire 4-day event with over 25 awesome women speaking. Click here to get your ticket before the event begins on Thursday 8th March.


"How did you learn Japanese?"


When I tell people I'm a Japanese teacher they quite often ask: how did you learn Japanese? And I don't find this question particularly easy to answer in an honest way.

Sometimes I give a quick answer which is that I used to live there.

But you can live in Japan for years and not learn Japanese.

I've met lots of people like this (and there's nothing wrong with that, unless learning Japanese is the reason you moved to Japan).

The long and more honest answer to "how come you speak Japanese?" is that I studied a bit in university, then studied a LOT in my free time, got slightly obsessed with kanji, spent a lot of time with Japanese-speaking friends, avoided English-only situations and people who wanted to learn English from me for free, took all the JLPTs, went to Japanese language school full-time for a bit, read books and manga and newspapers (even when I couldn't read them yet), and watched a lot of Japanese TV.


You don't need to be in Japan to do any of those things. You can do all these things right here:

- listen to Japanese audio all day
- learn kanji on the bus (with Anki. Use anki. I'm going to write a blogpost about that too soon)
- find friends who speak Japanese
- watch Japanese stuff on netflix (seriously, there's loads)

Being in Japan was great motivation to learn Japanese for me because I hate not understanding things and find it incredibly frustrating. If you're in Japan and you want to know what's in your lunch or what that sign over there says or what the person next to you on the train is saying, you need to understand Japanese. That was a big push for me.


But you definitely don't need to live in Japan to get motivated.

I also started off working in English conversation school which was a good opportunity to listen to the kind of Japanese that five-year-olds speak. And one of the many good things about conversation school is you have the mornings off so I would get up and STUDY. Every day. Forever.

But I also probably have more free time now than I did in Japan.

You don't need to live in Japan to learn Japanese. There are people all over the world who learn languages without living in the country the language comes from. I've met lots of people like this and had the pleasure of teaching some of them.

(The other thing I tell people when they ask how I learned Japanese is that I didn't learn it. I'm still learning.)