The development of information and communication technology (ICT) has become faster and faster. A gadget can be easily purchased to translate your words into many languages in a flash. Those gadgets are very useful when traveling abroad, but few people would expect to use them at work, especially at a Japanese firm. Because translating machines only translate word by word, literally.
For example, think about a situation when your client inquires about a product package that you have already sent. The delivery has not reached the client.
“Hi. My purchase has not arrived yet. Could you tell me what happened?” the client might say.
How would you reply to this? Maybe something like this:
“Hi. That product was sent a week ago. I have checked that the parcel has arrived at your office, too.”
This response is very machine-like. The client would not respond, and would assess you as an arrogant, unkind and incapable clerk. A seasoned businessperson might say something like this:
“Oh, I am terribly sorry for the nuisance caused. I have personally followed up on your invoice and … .” You might think: “Hey, there was no trouble, and the product is already at the client’s office.” The apology is to be polite, show respect to the client, and present yourself as a person who works in good faith. Even if you know apologies are a thing in Japan, this is something difficult to do; especially when it’s urgent.
This sample shows you the need not only to learn the culture that looms in the background of a language (in this case, Japanese corporate culture), but to practice those expressions in the exact situations you would anticipate them to appear. This is the golden rule in speaking naturally. This is not something you can do on your own. At a Japanese language school, the lessons will give you the jargon, grammar, knowledge of Japanese corporate culture and of course, Japanese speaking and writing practices for those situations.
Learning conversational Japanese with good Japanese friends is useful, in a sense. Friends would ask you to rephrase or explain about some Japanese expression gone wrong, or tell outright what you said is “funny” on the spot. The problem is that the language becomes too casual when you talk to friends, even more if you have grown close. Joking and laughing with Japanese friends will not help your Japanese business vocabulary or teach you polite and correct expressions.
We recommend even experienced Japanese speakers, those who have finished their basic Japanese courses, to take some courses to brush up your skills before working at a local company. Anyway, in a business environment, your Japanese will be used to judge your professional attitude.
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