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Lost in translation experiences (Page 2)
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OreoCookie
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Jun 23, 2008, 12:23 PM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
There are a lot of armchair sociologists/linguists in here claiming to "know" thinks about Japanese culture/language based on what sounds like at most a year or two studying abroad in Japan.
Ok, I don't claim I have lived there for 10+ years or so or that I'm someone who `understands the Japanese soul'. I don't claim that my theoretical studies of the subject (I've read a lot of books on the subject) nor the year I've spent there have given me a full picture. If you don't agree, I'd really like to know where (and why) you think I'm wrong.

But in my experience and that of others (who have lived there for several years) is that if you look Western, people will doubt your abilities to communicate and behave in a Japanese fashion. You tend to stick out more than, say, other Asians-looking foreigners.
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
This is really not true. 99% of the time, I have zero problems with people misunderstanding my Japanese. What I find to be the difference between effective communicators and the "no one understands my Japanese!" people is a) pronunciation, and b) mannerisms.

a) You can know a lot of Japanese, but still have a terrible gaijin accent. Some people just never can rid themselves of it. Even I have trouble understanding fluent-but-heavily-accented Japanese spoken by gaijins who may have been here for decades.
You're right that trying to improve your accent and adapt to their ways helps a lot. But if you're Western-looking, it was my experience that most people somehow couldn't fathom you can speak Japanese. This includes people who (unlike me) really know how to speak Japanese properly. If you look `Asian', their confidence in your Japanese abilities tends to be larger. Kind of the same way a friend (English, but with Vietnamese parents) wasn't given a job in a language school in Japan, because her looks didn't inspire confidence in her English abilities. That's what I'm referring to. Of course, you can convince people otherwise by interacting with them and getting to know them. But if your Japanese isn't that great and you ask in the store for batteries, for example, or people on the street for directions, you'd often get a blank stare or a rude reply.

Are you of Asian descent? (Just asking.)
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
With automobile accidents in Japan, legally it is never only one party's fault. It is always a percentage-split between both parties. I'm not surprised he wouldn't pay for the whole thing.
The point of the story was that he thought he was willing pay up to 49 % of the damage, because he thought he did not have the majority of the responsibility. Not that I refused to split the bill, I was willing to pay a share of the costs after 2 minutes.
The actual situation of the accident was IMO quite clear cut, he was daydreaming and had more than 20 m to stop (downhill, though) as well as plenty of sidewalk to evade me. I found the idea that a stationary target (that'd be me) is at fault here a bit offensive.
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Dakar the Fourth
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Jun 23, 2008, 12:27 PM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
There's more to language ability than simply being able to string together a sentence.
I accept the statement, but I don't wonder if the japanese seem to be more beholden to this than Americans. What would be a good example of this in American culture? (The mannerisms part)
     
analogika
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Jun 23, 2008, 12:43 PM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
There are a lot of armchair sociologists/linguists in here claiming to "know" thinks about Japanese culture/language based on what sounds like at most a year or two studying abroad in Japan. I don't have time to give my opinion on all of it, but here's an example:


This is really not true. 99% of the time, I have zero problems with people misunderstanding my Japanese. What I find to be the difference between effective communicators and the "no one understands my Japanese!" people is a) pronunciation, and b) mannerisms.

a) You can know a lot of Japanese, but still have a terrible gaijin accent. Some people just never can rid themselves of it. Even I have trouble understanding fluent-but-heavily-accented Japanese spoken by gaijins who may have been here for decades.

b) If you hesitate before speaking, or approach the conversation with mannerisms inconsistent with what the listener is expecting, he or she will probably assume you don't speak Japanese. This is especially true in touristy places where 99% of the gaijins that pass through really actually don't speak Japanese. There's more to language ability than simply being able to string together a sentence.
You speak truth.

I've also never encountered Japanese who couldn't fathom that I'd be speaking the language. On the contrary - they always either assumed I was pera-pera (on the phone; my pronounciation was always extremely good, belying my actual ability), or they were very helpful and seemed fairly honoured (if amused) that I tried.

FWIW, I spent over eight years in Japan.
     
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Jun 23, 2008, 04:52 PM
 
Originally Posted by Oisín View Post
Did you actually see it? That one’s been circling Europe (at least) for over a generation. In my experience so far, nearly everyone knows it, yet nobody has actually seen it with their own eyes.

Yup, and it would have been about 30 years ago now. I was too young to get it and my dad needed to explain what he thought was so funny.

I was young enough that I thought it was funnier I got my dad to say "urinate".

I'll ask him if he remembers where we were. I want to say Naples.
     
subego
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Jun 23, 2008, 05:41 PM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
This is really not true. 99% of the time, I have zero problems with people misunderstanding my Japanese. What I find to be the difference between effective communicators and the "no one understands my Japanese!" people is a) pronunciation, and b) mannerisms.

a) You can know a lot of Japanese, but still have a terrible gaijin accent. Some people just never can rid themselves of it. Even I have trouble understanding fluent-but-heavily-accented Japanese spoken by gaijins who may have been here for decades.

b) If you hesitate before speaking, or approach the conversation with mannerisms inconsistent with what the listener is expecting, he or she will probably assume you don't speak Japanese. This is especially true in touristy places where 99% of the gaijins that pass through really actually don't speak Japanese. There's more to language ability than simply being able to string together a sentence.

What is the normal response in this situation?

I'm getting the impression that this provokes a response that would be considered rude in most places.

My experience with people trying to speak English but failing is generally an attempt by the English speaker to understand by any means necessary, even if it's just gestures. If anything, the situation makes people more friendly.

The only places where I've heard consistent stories of the "cold shoulder" and/or "complete bafflement" treatment to non-natives are Japan and Paris.
     
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Jun 24, 2008, 08:37 AM
 
Originally Posted by OreoCookie View Post
Ok, I don't claim I have lived there for 10+ years or so or that I'm someone who `understands the Japanese soul'. I don't claim that my theoretical studies of the subject (I've read a lot of books on the subject) nor the year I've spent there have given me a full picture. If you don't agree, I'd really like to know where (and why) you think I'm wrong.
I don't mean to belittle or dismiss offhand your or others' experiences. What I disagree with is when people assume that their experiences are representative of all foreigners' experiences, or of all Japanese people.

But in my experience and that of others (who have lived there for several years) is that if you look Western, people will doubt your abilities to communicate and behave in a Japanese fashion. You tend to stick out more than, say, other Asians-looking foreigners.
It is true that Japanese people tend to treat Asians differently, but...

Are you of Asian descent? (Just asking.)
Sorry I forgot to mention this before. No, I'm about as white as they come, and am never mistaken for Japanese except on the phone. So I find that my experience differs from yours despite my clearly foreign appearance.

I found the idea that a stationary target (that'd be me) is at fault here a bit offensive.
I understand your feelings completely, but that's just not how it's done here. Accidents are legally defined to be shared-fault, and it doesn't matter how innocent you are, or how you feel about it.

Originally Posted by Dakar the Fourth View Post
I accept the statement, but I don't wonder if the japanese seem to be more beholden to this than Americans. What would be a good example of this in American culture? (The mannerisms part)
Americans, especially those who live in more urban, diverse settings, have to deal with more different kinds of English on a daily basis than most Japanese people do. I wouldn't say that Japanese people are more "picky" about the Japanese language; I'd say that the expectations of English speakers are lower, based on daily communication needs.
( Last edited by wataru; Jun 24, 2008 at 09:01 AM. )
     
wataru
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Jun 24, 2008, 08:54 AM
 
Going back and responding to random posts...

Originally Posted by OreoCookie View Post
Literally, `gaijin' means outsider (the word `gaikokujin' is more accurate meaning `coming from one of the `outside countries'' but it is much less frequently used). One of the Japanese concepts is that of a group: either you're in or out. In the exclusive club of `Japanese people', there is only the Japanese and the rest.
gaikokujin is not "more accurate;" it's the more formal word, which is often contracted to gaijin in daily speech. They are both used quite frequently in their respective contexts.

So for example, when the Japanese visit another country, they still use `gaijin'. In the occidental mind, this is awkward, if you're visiting another country, you call the locals `foreigners.'
analogika already said this in a much more succinct way, but I'll address it again. The problem here is that everyone assumes that there is a one-to-one relationship between gaikokujin and the English word "foreigner." This whole thing is quite simple when you realize that Japanese concepts of "in group" and "out group" are flexible in different ways than in English. I also think to some degree that the Japanese language simply hasn't changed to accommodate modern concepts of race vs. ethnicity vs. nationality vs. etc.

Ignore for a moment the etymology of the word gaikokujin and hammer this alternate translation into your head: "Non-Japanese." For the vast majority of the history of the language, "foreigner" and "non-Japanese" have been equivalent. Things are more complicated now, and as Japan comes over the coming decades to truly face a diversifying population (there has been talk of setting immigration goals to achieve a 10% "foreigner" population by 2025 or something) I'm sure we'll see the language change as well.

Now, does that put these posts into a different perspective?
Originally Posted by analogika View Post
(Also stopped on the old bridge in Heidelberg once, pointed at a Japanese tourist group and yelled "GAIJIN!!!". They were *very* confused.)
Originally Posted by analogika View Post
yeah - it's rather...mind-boggling that Japanese will return from a trip across Europe and seriously remark on how many foreigners there were ("Gaijin ga ooi naaaa...!") and NOT mean the tourists.
I'm not at all mind-boggled about either of these. They both make perfect sense when you know a bit more about the language and culture.
( Last edited by wataru; Jun 24, 2008 at 09:08 AM. )
     
Dakar the Fourth
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Jun 24, 2008, 09:08 AM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
Americans, especially those who live in more urban, diverse settings, have to deal with more different kinds of English on a daily basis than most Japanese people do. I wouldn't say that Japanese people are more "picky" about the Japanese language; I'd say that the expectations of English speakers are lower, based on daily communication needs.
I'm not sure if expectations is the right word there. Perhaps Americans are better prepared/used to dealing with nontraditional communication?
     
wataru
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Jun 24, 2008, 09:14 AM
 
Originally Posted by Dakar the Fourth View Post
I'm not sure if expectations is the right word there. Perhaps Americans are better prepared/used to dealing with nontraditional communication?
I think we're agreeing here. When you're used to dealing with people who don't speak your language well, your expectations regarding the average non-native speaker's abilities become lower.

Originally Posted by subego View Post
What is the normal response in this situation?
I'm not sure what you're asking here. What situation do you mean?
     
subego
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Jun 24, 2008, 09:18 AM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
I'm not sure what you're asking here. What situation do you mean?

Having to deal with a foreigner speaking Japanese badly.
     
Dakar the Fourth
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Jun 24, 2008, 09:31 AM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
I think we're agreeing here. When you're used to dealing with people who don't speak your language well, your expectations regarding the average non-native speaker's abilities become lower.
I agree we're at roughly the same spot. I'm haggling over the term expectation, because I don't understand why anyone could expect a foreigner to live up to a native-person's ability.
     
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Jun 24, 2008, 09:40 AM
 
Originally Posted by subego View Post
Having to deal with a foreigner speaking Japanese badly.
That would be me. I need a Japanese translator to translate my Japanese for other Japanese people.
It is very frustrating and humiliating.

Additionally, I have yet to find an instructor who would confess or even partially admit that "Hito" is really pronounced "Shito". It's a conspiracy against gaijin. Oh, and don't get me going on the "fu" sound..

It works both ways. The English "W" sound (as in "Wood" ) sounds like "Oood", the Rs and Ls is also a classic.
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Jun 24, 2008, 09:59 AM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
analogika already said this in a much more succinct way, but I'll address it again. The problem here is that everyone assumes that there is a one-to-one relationship between gaikokujin and the English word "foreigner."
I was trying to point out the difference in attitude by example (especially when I have tried to explain the in-group/out-group concept). I don't see that we're saying something different here.
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
This whole thing is quite simple when you realize that Japanese concepts of "in group" and "out group" are flexible in different ways than in English. I also think to some degree that the Japanese language simply hasn't changed to accommodate modern concepts of race vs. ethnicity vs. nationality vs. etc.

Ignore for a moment the etymology of the word gaikokujin and hammer this alternate translation into your head: "Non-Japanese." For the vast majority of the history of the language, "foreigner" and "non-Japanese" have been equivalent.
That is the closest thing to a translation.
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
Things are more complicated now, and as Japan comes over the coming decades to truly face a diversifying population (there has been talk of setting immigration goals to achieve a 10% "foreigner" population by 2025 or something) I'm sure we'll see the language change as well.
Well, there are foreigners and `foreigners' (e. g. the second, third, fourth-generation Koreans living in Japan) … 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
Now, does that put these posts into a different perspective?
I don't see where we differ that much in the explanation … 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
I'm not at all mind-boggled about either of these. They both make perfect sense when you know a bit more about the language and culture.
I think analogika wanted to express his amusement/amazement over the difference of concepts and mentality rather than saying that `I don't understand.' (Feel free to correct me, though, analogika.)
( Last edited by OreoCookie; Jun 24, 2008 at 11:55 AM. )
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OreoCookie
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Jun 24, 2008, 12:20 PM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
I don't mean to belittle or dismiss offhand your or others' experiences. What I disagree with is when people assume that their experiences are representative of all foreigners' experiences, or of all Japanese people.
I think it was quite clear that I was not claiming my experience was universal, but that this is the impression that I have gotten from my time in Japan. Of course, the experience of others have contributed as well as my own. I've learnt things from people who have lived in Japan much longer than I have and also a few natives.

But I wouldn't want to elevate my experiences to stereotypes. The thread is about funny `Lost in translation' situations, not about stereotypes on peoples in general.
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
I understand your feelings completely, but that's just not how it's done here. Accidents are legally defined to be shared-fault, and it doesn't matter how innocent you are, or how you feel about it.
I wasn't surprised by the idea that `both of us share responsibility', but that he has `less responsibility' and he insisted on putting this into the agreement (the difference between 49 and 50 % of the costs was only a few ¥).
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
I wouldn't say that Japanese people are more "picky" about the Japanese language; I'd say that the expectations of English speakers are lower, based on daily communication needs.
I don't think it's about being picky, it's more of an `unexpected occurrence,' they don't expect foreigners (especially non-Asian foreigners) to speak any Japanese. For example, if you want to say `I don't know.' and you use `wakaranai.', Japanese people tend to understand `I don't understand.' and repeat what they've said (in funny English or Japanese). You're right that `non-Japanese behavior' lowers the expectations to be `really' understood.

I don't think the expectations of English speakers is lower, it's that English is (for Westerners) a rather simple language (in terms of grammar) and a rather similar culture (because we share religious roots, for example). Many idioms carry over almost literally (e. g. `Break a leg.' and `Hals- und Beinbruch.'). This is not the case with Japanese or Chinese.
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Jun 24, 2008, 12:26 PM
 
Originally Posted by Dakar the Fourth View Post
I'm not sure if expectations is the right word there. Perhaps Americans are better prepared/used to dealing with nontraditional communication?
I wouldn't say so. English native speakers benefit tremendously from the fact that English has since become the lingua franca of modern times. If you learn the language, you learn an important part of the culture, so, in a sense, the rest of the world has gained some natural understanding to American `culture' by studying the language.

Not many Americans do not really speak another language (unless they've been raised bilingually or so), so I would even say that they are less prepared for intercultural communication.
Originally Posted by Dakar the Fourth View Post
I agree we're at roughly the same spot. I'm haggling over the term expectation, because I don't understand why anyone could expect a foreigner to live up to a native-person's ability.
That's a very difficult one. Expectations are a `local thing'. My English has been thoroughly Americanized. When I was on a trip with a British friend, she used the word manky. I asked her what it meant and she replied: `oh, it's ok, you're not a native speaker.' Before she could continue, I asked the Americans what it meant and they didn't know either. Turns out it was English slang.
( Last edited by OreoCookie; Jun 24, 2008 at 01:09 PM. )
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Jun 24, 2008, 12:56 PM
 
fanny pack

Our Irish acquaintance struggled hard to try to understand what these were. He thought we might be talking about tampons, but then wondered why the men had them too.
     
Tiresias
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Jun 24, 2008, 01:20 PM
 
I've had too many to count.

One of the funnier ones involved my employer telling me her husband was: "So hard, so very, very hard." This was followed by a very moist and soulful gaze. "So hard."

It turned out she was trying to tell me he was going through a hard time. I didn't even laugh, but it was really hard not to.
( Last edited by Tiresias; Jun 24, 2008 at 01:30 PM. )
     
analogika
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Jun 24, 2008, 03:40 PM
 
Originally Posted by wataru View Post
analogika already said this in a much more succinct way, but I'll address it again. The problem here is that everyone assumes that there is a one-to-one relationship between gaikokujin and the English word "foreigner." This whole thing is quite simple when you realize that Japanese concepts of "in group" and "out group" are flexible in different ways than in English. I also think to some degree that the Japanese language simply hasn't changed to accommodate modern concepts of race vs. ethnicity vs. nationality vs. etc.
You speak of "concepts", but then claim that the language hasn't changed to accomodate modern concepts. A concept doesn't exist if it cannot be described.

What you're reluctant to state, but imply in so many words, is that the MINDSET is completely different.

Of course it's completely understandable given the history of seclusion and the simple fact that Japan is an island culture.

But the fact that this mindset still prevails presents a real problem in/with the modern world.

Apparently, though, things have been changing over the past fifteen years, if this is true:
Things are more complicated now, and as Japan comes over the coming decades to truly face a diversifying population (there has been talk of setting immigration goals to achieve a 10% "foreigner" population by 2025 or something) I'm sure we'll see the language change as well.
That would be a Good Thing™ - but as it is, I'm still seeing active prime ministers visiting Yasukuni Shrine during Obon Matsuri...
     
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Jun 25, 2008, 05:12 AM
 
Originally Posted by analogika View Post
You speak of "concepts", but then claim that the language hasn't changed to accomodate modern concepts. A concept doesn't exist if it cannot be described.

What you're reluctant to state, but imply in so many words, is that the MINDSET is completely different.
Right. I think this uchi-soto (inside-outside) partition of groups transcends citizenship.
For example, people not living in the dorm are ryogaisei. When I was on the RC (ryo committee), I was in charge of translating all the proposals into sensible English. There were long discussions on this, because there were some proposed new `rules' that were to apply to `ryogaisei.' They were (seemingly) indiscriminately bunching together strangers with friends who happen to live somewhere else. But instead of `shiranai hito' (stranger) they were using `ryogaisei.' (The gaijin parties were making the Japanese uncomfortable, they were in the minority at times. This motivated new, flexible rules …)
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