We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Language barrier

9 posts
Save Topic
Language barrier

Is there much english in japan or surrounding areas? Ive been told if from Australia it is best to attempt to learn the language otherwise may come into difficulties over there. Anyone give any advice?

Likely To Sell Out
Mt Fuji, Lake Ashi and Bullet Train...
3,827 reviews
from US$141.53*
Likely To Sell Out
Tokyo Robot Evening Cabaret Show
822 reviews
from US$65.74*
Kyoto Rail Tour by Bullet Train from...
272 reviews
from US$295.84*
Mt Fuji Day Trip including Lake Ashi...
883 reviews
from US$114.14*
Tokyo, Japan
Level Contributor
4,559 posts
Save Reply
1. Re: Language barrier

More than 12 million foreign tourists visited Japan last year, the vast majority of whom could return to their home country.

Speaking of my experience, thats not the matter of “country“.

English or other foreign languages are spoken or understood in international tourist destinations/cities within a country, but not where foreign tourists rarely visit.

Tokyo, Japan
Level Contributor
24,351 posts
123 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Language barrier

You'd be alright.

Sydney, Australia
Level Contributor
3,009 posts
8 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Language barrier

There is a moderate amount of English signage, and I have also found that a lot of Japanese know some English, especially in tourist areas and at hotels. I only learned a handful of Japanese words and I found I was able to manage.

San Francisco...
Level Contributor
4,475 posts
24 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Language barrier

There is a LOT of English signage in the train and subway systems, and in locations that attract foreign tourists. So you should be able to get around without knowing Japanese.

A few basic words in Japanese will enable you to say "excuse me," "please," "thank you," and the ever-important "excuse me, I don't understand Japanese." These are important to know to meet Japanese standards for politeness.

Hong Kong, China
Destination Expert
for Hong Kong, Osaka
Level Contributor
53,700 posts
147 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Language barrier

Train stations and train lines always have English displays. Popular tourist routes might have English announcements as well.

When trying to communicate with local people, use short phrases and simple words along with sign language. Complete and complex sentences, even if spoken slowly, doesn't get understood easily.

New Zealand
Level Contributor
5,071 posts
292 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Language barrier

I encountered no difficulties visiting Japan last year, with knowledge of only a few basic Japanese words. Japan is a safe, orderly place which is easy to travel in.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Level Contributor
246 posts
8 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Language barrier

I recently toured from mid-Honshu to around Hokkaido, driving the coastline from Tokyo north. Like people are saying, the very best thing you can do is learn the kind words and use them often (please, thank you, excuse me, etc). It shows respect & that you are trying. The Japanese are some of the most fantastic & helpful people you'll ever meet so with some basic words you'll figure it out together. In the cities you shouldn't have trouble interacting with the tips below. Signage in the cities & with transportation seemed great, & surprisingly to me road signage in English was great to the very top of Hokkaido. For me, finding more fluent English speakers was pretty hard most of the time, & almost impossible north of Tokyo. In general you'll usually be able to at least verbally piece meal what you're trying to accomplish at each location with key words like "reservation," etc. I was surprised with how many people I met that spoke no English at all, but most of those were not in the main cities...man I could tell some goofy little stories : ) (when I picked up the first rental car 150 km north of Tokyo none of the three workers there understood a single word of English : ) But again the Japanese are so sweet & so service oriented that most of the time even in the most difficult circumstances you'll all figure it out.

1 - Smile. Have fun with it all.

2 - Learn basic kind Japanese words & use them often, sincerely.

3 - Speak slowly cuz they're trying to understand you too.

4 - Remember that you have an accent to them, so it's not so easy for them to understand you either, even if they do know English.

5 - Use you hands & arms if it helps, or whatever you else might help to add to the verbal.

6 - If you want, translate some key words/phrases & print it out, and/or take a good phrase book. Sometimes it helps if they have something in Japanese to read for themselves.

7 - If you're having a tough time speaking with someone, restart by trying to find one word that you both understand, then go from there to find another word.

No worries mate ; )

I was in W.A. Oz before Japan. Beautious.

Baltimore, MD
Level Contributor
229 posts
Save Reply
8. Re: Language barrier

I would suggest, though, that you learn the proper pronunciation of cities and your destinations. When my DH said, "two express tickets to Nara," the clerk had this troubled look implying that he didn't have what my DH asked for. So I intervened and said "Nah-rah?" The he was like "ah, Nahrah." The problem was that my DH pronounced "Nara" as most of Americans would.

tokyo
Destination Expert
for Tokyo
Level Contributor
4,569 posts
6 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Language barrier

When I first traveled to Japan I spoke zero Japanese and I got around pretty easily. The trains are well signed (better than my own country in English).

With a little preplanning beforehand you should do just fine. So getting around was pretty easy in my opinion, and English was not an issue.

When speaking with train staff, it is much better to write things down on paper. Eg the example with NARA the other poster wrote about. Japanese pronunciation of words is different.

I think the issue comes when say eating at a restaurant. There are of course pictures menu and plastic displays, but not every restaurant has pictures or plastic displays (or of every item on the menu), but that's when I looked at it as an "adventure" going with the flow.

It's all part of being a world traveler.

Though now knowing Japanese much more my travels have become must easier and more comfortable. So it doesn't hurt to learn some basic phrases and food items. A phrase book helps.

Nara, Japan
Destination Expert
for Nara, Kamikochi
Level Contributor
8,381 posts
Save Reply
10. Re: Language barrier

The hardest part is pronouncing names of places or people, I gather. So would be best always keeping a memo pad and a pen close at hand, though bothersome... Yes, 'Tocky-oh,' 'Kee-oh-toh,' 'Tah-kee-yamah,' or 'Oh-zak-ah' are quite understandable, but 'Kobe' (as in Kobe Bryant) is not...

Likewise, *kara-ok* for karaoke, and for another example, *Oo-sah* for Usa when you mention one of the sub-forums to Japan Forum on TA. Talking of sub-forum names, there's one likely to invite a giggle among TA'ers: Kinki, which is actually a generic name for the Greater Kansai Area, in which I live...

As for the proficiency level in English among the people you'd converse with, you'd be better off not expecting too much of them. IMO, many are at a rudimentary-plus level when they talk; those on an exceptionally high level are far and few between in most cases. Stereotypical though this may sound, women win against men ten to one when it comes to proficiency. So I advise you pick out a lady in the younger generation or better yet a young high school girl in uniform for help. Men are sometimes too shy to talk to you, besides some ol' fogies tend to say 'yes' when they mean 'no' and vice versa, so go figure.

Lastly, even those who are well-versed in English can run a risk of reducing diphthongs to two adjacent vowels in their seemingly fluent though harsh rat-a-tat (gun-fire) sounds; needless to say, others who are not interchangeably use R's and L's, not sure why that is so. I just can't forget to this day how one of my pals made an American lady blush when he tried explaining a *national election day* in his perverted pronunciation way back when. ;) Sorry.