Lesson Content: Casual or Formal?
December 29, 2014
That’s not what my textbook says.
Some of those trying out the lessons may have some questions concerning the forms of verbs that are chosen for the phrases. Here is an excerpt from someone’s question about the Japanese lesson’s phrases.
“I tried out the demo for Japanese and was kind of off put because you
are teaching a mixture of informal with formal. Whilst some words
ended formal “-masen” some words were ending with “-nai”. (Informal)
Is there a plan for fixing that or differentiating the two? Is that a
part of the full lesson plan?
I just don’t want people going out there speaking awkward or formal
with friends and informal at inappropriate times. Or bouncing between
the two forms during one conversation.”
In answer to that question:
“We used phrases that would be useful for people traveling to or getting started in Japan. I know what textbooks teach, I myself have spent many hours memorizing them, but it’s not as cut and dry as the textbooks would have you believe.
Here in Japan, expressions are often mixed and really depend on a wide variety of variables. Those would be too numerous to list for each lesson and truthfully, don’t apply to most non Japanese people. For example, a Japanese friend of mine uses some honorific phrases when talking to taxi drivers. When I asked her why (obviously that would be completely backwards from what is in textbooks. Honorifics are used to the customers, not the other way around) she couldn’t answer. She just told me that’s the way it is. So I asked some other Japanese friends of mine and they said that they do the same thing. I wanted to know why only to taxi drivers. I still don’t know, but now I do it too. Even if I don’t, there have been no problems.
Lessons for beginners
Part of our choices also concerns the length of the phrases. Too many people were having problems with the longer phrases, and so some shorter phrases were chosen. However, all the phrases chosen are appropriate ones for non Japanese people to use. Again, this is contrary to what the textbooks state, but language in use is not so black and white.
We are continuing to refine the lessons and your concerns have been noted. Given the style of study though, we are trying not to add too much information to the sentences so students can concentrate on learning to say the phrases rather than study the grammar. If we see that it is necessary to add that information to every problem, then we will.”
No one actually says that
This is a very important point to note in any language. There is the textbook language, then there is the language in action. Despite the fact that I am an english teacher in a junior high school here in Japan, I still say things like, “Him and his friends went downtown yesterday.”
Seriously?! Him and his friends?! Of course, in my school lessons I teach the proper grammar, but when I speak to my students, I speak to them as I normally would.
In Japan, the divisions between the various levels of speaking isn’t quite so clear. Textbooks teach that there is simply a divisions of social status that decides the politeness of language. While social status is a deciding factor, there are many more. On top of that, simply changing verb ending doesn’t make a conversation polite. In Japanese, many other words (such as nouns) and even pronunciation change as well. It can be quite complicated and overwhelming.
A sigh of relief
The good news for non Japanese people is that Japanese people do not expect foreigners to speak Japanese at all, let alone speak it perfectly. Especially for those who are going to Japan for the first time.
In the Japanese lessons here at language101.com, we do not teach any rude language. The phrases taught, whether casual or formal, are ok to use in any situation that visitors to Japan may find themselves in.