“How good is your Japanese?” Well, there’s only one way to find out!
This week, I met a lady selling insurance, and when she was talking to me she accidentally slipped into hougen (dialect) and I was so happy!! I was like, “Am I really that convincing?? Alright!!!!!!”
I was getting my picture taken to be put in the Waki newsletter later on with my self-introduction–and the photographer lady was like, “Oh, you speak some Japanese?” (in Japanese), and I think I answered with something like “Kind of” (まあまあです). When she heard that, she spoke to me in a stream of natural Japanese that I’m not sure I understood entirely, but I was really happy!
I had one friend in Tokyo tell me once that it felt “weird” (not bad, just unused to it) for her to speak Japanese with a foreigner, because there’s this kind of mindset that you speak Japanese with Japanese people and English with foreign-looking people. I mean, if you really think about it, that’s not necessarily an inaccurate picture in Japan. Most people who look Japanese in Japan can speak Japanese; people who look foreign may or may not know much Japanese, especially tourists, but they’ll pretty likely know English, even if their first language isn’t English. So, maybe some people think like that.
But I think that experiences like that picture-taking one are a great test of how convincing my Japanese really is. If people say, “Your Japanese is so good!” but feel like they have to slow down for me in conversation or use simpler words all the time, then that’s the level my Japanese is at. But, if they feel like I’ll understand whatever they’re saying based on my response and my way of speaking, then they’ll speak to me at a normal pace. People may have a reaction at first, like, “Wait, how do you know Japanese?!” But you can tell someone’s language level pretty fast by talking with them for 5 minutes, and in my opinion, your language level (and cultural understanding) will easily trump your appearance.