I stopped by a Lawson’s in Omotesando for a few items before I took the train home. The cashier welcomed me to his register with a “Good morning”, which caught me off guard, as my experience is cashiers have often consistently spoken in Japanese regardless of who was in front of them. I sensed this cashier in particular wanted to practice his English, so I obliged. And you know what? It wasn’t a big deal. This was a far cry from how I used to react.
「日本語喋ってるけど」(But I’m speaking in Japanese), I’d whine to myself, when my Japanese would be met with English. I used to get annoyed when I would encounter a Japanese person who seemingly steamrolled over my attempts to communicate in Japanese. Was my Japanese not good enough? Was my Japanese being undermined? Could they just not process that a non-Japanese person could possibly speak Japanese? I would watch the “But we’re speaking Japanese!” video on YouTube and emphatically agree: Yes. This has happened to me. Just accept my Japanese. I’ve worked so hard to get it “right”.
But living in Japan (and just maturing in general) has caused me to reconsider past perspectives. When I think about the interactions I have with Japanese people in Japan, the majority of them are in Japanese. Considering that I rarely use English with Japanese people that I don’t teach or know personally, is it really a big deal if a cashier wants to process my order in English? Is it really a big deal if, after offering my seat, I am thanked in English? Maybe it provides them an opportunity to practice their English for a change. Maybe they want me to feel more comfortable. These interactions are short and don’t cost me anything. From what I’ve heard, a lot of Japanese people are nervous about using English, so I respect the attempts. Why not just let them have it?
Dear language learner, you have nothing to prove. Someone wanting to speak to you in your native language is not necessarily a dismissal of your efforts. Language is about communication, not getting something “right”. A few interactions in your native language won’t derail your goals. There will be plenty of people to speak with in the language you are studying. Just let these few instances go.