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We met Masahiro (see 'Japanese Ingenuity' on the photo with the folding racing bike), who told us that almost every Japanese person learns English at school, but only what he called the ‘administrative’ form: only writing English.
So if you talk to them, they will hardly understand you, but if you write something down, there is more chance that it will be understood.
However, they will hardly ever speak English of their own accord. The reason for this is that the Japanese don’t want to make mistakes. Losing face is no option. Something that would be embarrassing for us is a disgrace to a Japanese person.
Masa also explained that the Japanese don’t hear certain sounds or letters. Everyone knows that L is pronounced R there. But it is not only the letter L; other sounds are also a problem. Masa told us that he once didn’t dare to ask: may I sit here? He is too afraid that he would say: may I shit here. The Japanese can hardly differentiate between ‘s’ and ‘sh’. He solved the difficulty by pointing to a chair and asking: may I?
The fact that Masa spoke to us spontaneously in English was exceptional. This hardly ever occurs. Maybe a brave adolescent shouting 'Harro!'. According to Masa, it is important for the Japanese to speak English, if only to be able to have such nice conversations with tourists. And it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes, you can learn from them. We quite agreed with Masa but fear he will remain an exception for the time being.
Some examples of ‘Jenglish’ that we came across: