The Causes of Inappropriate Word Choice: How Effectively Polite Language Is Taught by Japanese Textbooks Used in the United States
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People in Japan have said that the Japanese language is a unique language which has a tendency to express things indirectly or in a roundabout way. On the other hand, the English language, as they say, is quite direct. Through work experience in Japan, this writer has unexpectedly encountered bitter experiences of misunderstanding because of inappropriate word choice when communicating in English with native speakers of English. This paper explores first, why non-native speakers of English, who are Japanese, and why nonnative speakers of Japanese, American and British, choose inappropriate words in English and Japanese respectively when trying to use, in particular, polite language. This writer has found from an examination of language use that the reason seems to be rooted in differences in culture, i.e. the different conceptions of the same thing in two different cultures instead of the difference of language. In general, non-native speakers tend to translate politeness strategies from their own language; it is especially common among Japanese people when they ask a favor. They apply the Japanese polite language system to English expressions, automatically. On the other hand, native speakers of English (American and British) seem to express their will in Japanese according to their standards, which is Anglo-American culture tending to be more democratic, or to emphasize more equal relationships in language use between speaker and addressee than does the Japanese language. Thus, unexpected misunderstandings in both cases occur, unfortunately, even when good will is intended to be conveyed. Secondly, the writer examines how "keigo" is introduced or taught in main Japanese textbooks used at the college level in the United States, since "keigo," or honorific language in Japanese, has long been established as a part of social functioning in Japan and no Japanese people can talk or think about the Japanese language without "keigo." How do the Japanese textbooks, as tools of second language acquisition, explain and/ or reflect such cultural differences to let the student become aware of these social codes in Japanese language study? In order to incorporate cultural awareness into language study, what approaches can be used in teaching a Japanese language class in the United States?
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