Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English? - Tokyo Forum - Tripadvisor

Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?

Singapore
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Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?
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Hi

just wondering if we are able to navigate easily around with help from the locals.. do the majority of them speak some basic English?

Chicago, Illinois
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1. Re: Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?
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Most younger people do. In major cities and train stations, many signs are in English.

Kyoto, Japan
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I have found it in Tokyo more than other cities like Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. I was surprised by how many spoke to me in English last month in Tokyo. That almost never happens to me in my area of Japan. So, to answer your question, no, I don't think that the majority of Japanese speak some English but you should be fine when you are in popular tourist areas.

Italy
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3. Re: Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?
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We didn't find many people that spoke English but it wasn't a problem as there's English at train ststions and airports and the restaurant menus all have photos or plastic copies of the dishes in the restaurant window so you just point to what you want.

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4. Re: Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?
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Like KobeKeith, I found there was much more English in Tokyo than in other cities. In Haigi even the tourist bus was only in Japanese, although I managed by counting the stops.

It is helpful if you have maps of the places your are going to that give the place names in both Japanese and English. With those and a few words of Japanese (please, where is, thank you etc.) the ever helpful Japanese will be able to help you find your way.

There is also more ability to read English than to speak it, so writing your request in clear block letters can help communication.

Also, as others have said, the signs in the railway stations are in both English script and Japanese, IME even in tiny country stations.

Even better, the signs at the tourist sites giving the history and general information are also in English,

Japan is remarkably easy to travel in, even without Japanese.

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Since WWII English has been compulsory in Junior High schools so pretty much every single person in Japan has studied English but whether or not they feel confident speaking it is another question. Most Japanese are highly educated many have studied English at University or as a hobby at language schools during the boom time of the 1980s and 90s.

My Japanese father-in-law loves practising English with tourists but mother-in-law simply gets embarrassed - sometimes it comes down to recall & confidence level.

Many people also have difficulty understanding spoken English but can read it without a problem (emphasis at school is on written grammar rather than spoken fluency)

If you are lost show someone where you want to go on a map (have it written down) as your pronunciation may not be spot on.

Also there's the psychological phenomenon of people not understanding foreigners no matter what they say - you may be fluent in Japanese yet some people can't get their head around a non-Japanese person speaking their language. It can be tiresome & frustrating & there are whole forum topics on this elsewhere. But tourists won't have to worry about that.

People are genuinely very kind & welcoming to visitors & Japan is an easy place to get around without knowing the local language.

Signs are everywhere in English, increasingly in Chinese & Korean too.

If you are having difficulty communicating always write it down.

Otherwise Japan is tourist heaven, the easiest country to travel around.

Edited: 8 years ago
Kyoto, Japan
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6. Re: Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?
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I'm pretty sure it isn't a confidence thing with the lack of English speaking but that is a totally different topic. :)

Just to add-on to the post about restaurants in Japan, not all of the restaurants have the picture menus and plastic food displays. You will find the picture menus and plastic food displays in the cheaper places or more commercialized restaurants. Those are the easy places to eat if you aren't confident with trying out the places without pictures. Department stores with restaurants on the upper floors will have the glass display cases for you to point to different menu items. Many restaurants in and around train stations will also have these things for you to fall back on as well.

However, if you end up "off the beaten path" or on the side-streets while exploring other areas of cities then the plastic food displays and picture menus dwindle. It's not only expensive restaurants either. Quaint cafes will often have menus in Japanese only. And those places have great lunch specials for around 1,000 yen. If you ask, maybe someone there will be able to explain the menu in English. These types of places often have historic character so if you see them, pop inside and give them a try.

tokyo
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As mentioned, while the *study* of English is required, Japanese people do possess basic abilities and I've met many who exhibit great ability to read/write and understand in English (very high TOEIC scores), but the main problem is, the speaking ability tends to be much much lower. Which I can totally understand because I have the same problem when it comes to other language (study of the language which great emphasis is placed on the academic side, rather than actually speaking with people).

Exam and forget is what happens for many if they really never have to use it much. (Just how I studied chemistry in school, passed the exam, nowadays I couldn't tell you anything about bonds and molecules @_@).

Any case, getting around major cities is not very difficult, as mentioned signs are in Japanese-Romaji and English. More and more new signs and displays in stations have Korean and Chinese on them as well.

At station exits, there tends to be a map of the general area, for larger / major JR stations huge translated maps exist as well.

A little pre-planning, and if you are in the major areas like Tokyo, getting around shouldn't be too difficult if you know where you want to go and from where.

I remember going to Japan for the first time with zero Japanese ability, the one time I did get lost, I wrote down in English and the trains station guy helped me (mind you this was the days before hyperdia and fancy technology we have today). Another time I got lost (back area of a neighborhood at night, a elementary school kid by themselves showed me to the address I was looking for!, that doesn't happen in most places in the world)

Edited: 8 years ago
Tokyo, Japan
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8. Re: Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?
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Another issue is accentuation of English spoken in different countries. Spoken language difficult when people are not use to it.

Most people don't expect visiting foreign tourists to speak Japanese, so I'd say people are patient and will try to understand. My advice is to keep it clear, slow, and simple when you speak in English, and don't hesitate to ask people questions, even if you are not sure whether they speak English.

The Japanese in the cities are generally shy and tend to avoid interfering with other person's private affairs, so you might think they are a bit "cold" and "unfriendly" at first, but people are willing to help when in need.

Edited: 8 years ago
Nara, Japan
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9. Re: Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?
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OP,

In this day and age, every young Japanese you’ll meet has some rudimentary knowledge of colloquial English. So in that regard, they won’t get completely tongue-tied when spoken to by you, unless they don’t understand a word you speak. In those days, people from overseas put the less-than-perfect communicability on the part of the Japanese to the cultural and thus linguistic insularity, aside from their mental frame toward things foreign. But that’s increasingly becoming a thing of the past: not a day passes now, for example, without young folks hearing English phrases/sentences aired to them from the TV/radio. So compared to ol’ fogies, they have far better ears for spoken English, which, IMO, has caused the linguistic stigma attached to the Japanese as a whole to in part fall away.

With all of that being said, what I like to emphasize here is not the thawing language barrier, but the attitude/hospitality among the Japanese toward overseas people, or should I say, toward the people in need of *help* regardless of their nationalities. So, IMO, it’s not the fluency of the language you speak that really counts. Not sure if I can illustrate, by trying to produce in verbatim what I saw there, nor do I know if it makes any sense to you, but I once saw in a Japanese TV documentary where a foreign young lady in her late 20’s got interviewed in her native tongue.

Interviewer:

So, what do you think is the most relaxing moment you have while here? Isn’t that when you speak with someone you know in English, I presume?

Interviewee:

No, that’s not the case with me. My most precious time, what I feel really relaxed, is the one I spend in my small lodging house with my obahchan (elderly) landlady, where I am always invited after work to her small cozy tatami-mat living room: she puts me into kotatsu (heating device), then pouring me green tea, offering oranges/senbei cookies put in the small chic wooden vessel. No, she doesn’t speak a word of English, yet we have fun chatting with each other almost solely in a different language to either of us. She’s a ready listener, which makes me try to be one too, but even if there’s a silence doesn’t mean we feel awkward.

Edited: 8 years ago
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10. Re: Do the majority of Japanese speak some basic English?
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My experience is most don't speak good enough English on a conversational level. The best way to get around with English is to speak simply. Instead of asking for something in a complete sentence, try short phrases or even single words with a question tone at the end. They get "XYZ?" with a facial expression much quicker than "do you know how to get to XYZ?"

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