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Informal or Formal with other students?

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Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby MFoogle » Sat 08.18.2007 9:54 am

In my Japanese class, we have a foreign exchange student from Japan, and I haven't gotten the chance to talk to her yet (I have been studying for about 2 years now and even though I'm in Japanese I this year, I want to try to at least be able to make a bit of small talk with her in Japanese). But I was wondering--do you use formal or informal words with students you don't really know yet? Should I use the plain form of verbs or the -masu stem, and things like that?
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 08.18.2007 11:10 am

This is not an easy question to answer. My personal recommendation would be to speak in whatever style you are most comfortable with.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby MFoogle » Sat 08.18.2007 11:37 am

so theres not really any right or wrong way to talk to her? She wouldn't be offended if I talked to her informally and she wouldn't feel a bit awkward if I talked to her formally?
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Dehitay » Sat 08.18.2007 12:12 pm

There's a game Japanese people like to play where they design their sentences to where you can't figure out if they're speaking formally or informally. Then they wait and figure out which way the other person will talk to them and follow suit. You can try that with her but chances are she'll start playing the same game, and since she speaks Japanese as a native tongue, you'll be at a disadvantage.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby RpgN » Sat 08.18.2007 12:12 pm

As long as you don't use slang and shortcuts, I think it's oke to speak with her without the -imasu form.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 08.18.2007 1:01 pm

MFoogle wrote:
so theres not really any right or wrong way to talk to her? She wouldn't be offended if I talked to her informally and she wouldn't feel a bit awkward if I talked to her formally?


Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to say. Because you are not Japanese, Japanese people will often not know how they should speak to you -- you do not fit into the societal structure that dictates the terms of the language use. This is further complicated by the perception many Japanese have that foreigners only know informal language (this is because children speak informally at first and only learn -masu later).

You could ask her, I guess.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Shirasagi » Sat 08.18.2007 1:36 pm

Remember that polite-direct speech in Japanese is not so much a matter of levels, but rather a spectrum. You don't have to choose one and stick with it. For example, you could use desu with nouns (since "da" is pretty strong), but not tack it on to adjectives/keiyoushi. Use "-masu" when referring to her, e.g., "Ikimasu ka?", but not for yourself, "Boku/watashi wa ikanai." Basically start out neutrally polite at first, just as you would with an American girl, pay attention, then modify your speech according to hers, taking into account your own age, gender, status.

I think what you'll find with an exchange student polite (but not formal) is a good start (especially for small talk), and you'll probably move to casual speech relatively quickly. One trick you might want to try is to master Japanese speech fillers. For example, "Nante iu ka", when you're grasping for a word you can't quite remember (be careful it doesn't become a bad habit). Be sure to use dictionary forms in all non-final clauses, and particularly when quoting your own thoughts and words. This will indicate to her that while you may use "-masu/desu" with her, you are capable of operating in a casual mode as well, and she may then relax her own speech.

All that said, probably really the best thing to do right now is just talk to her, and not really worry about all this stuff. If you're a false beginner, what you really need to do is throw caution to the wind and practice getting the words from your brain to your tongue. Speak whatever way is most expedient for you to communicate; she'll quickly ascertain your level and adjust her Japanese accordingly. Don't worry about being too rude -- the rules don't exactly apply if you're speaking haltingly in a thick accent. As you get more comfortable with words and phrases, you'll have the wherewithal to modify your speech appropriately.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby MFoogle » Sat 08.18.2007 1:51 pm

Shirasagi wrote: Don't worry about being too rude -- the rules don't exactly apply if you're speaking haltingly in a thick accent.


eh, well I can pick up and it's a habit to only speak in a Japanese accent, so my American accent wouldn't be in there very much.
Anyway, thank you. I'll try talking to her Monday.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Shirasagi » Sat 08.18.2007 5:19 pm

MFoogle wrote:
Shirasagi wrote: Don't worry about being too rude -- the rules don't exactly apply if you're speaking haltingly in a thick accent.


eh, well I can pick up and it's a habit to only speak in a Japanese accent, so my American accent wouldn't be in there very much.


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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 08.18.2007 7:42 pm

Or more likely, have an inflated opinion of your pronunciation.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Mike Cash » Sat 08.18.2007 7:50 pm

Inflated self-assessment is par for the course with just about every Japanese learner I have ever encountered. Fortunately, for most it is a phase which passes.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby UpHand » Sat 08.18.2007 7:54 pm

I always found people think the direct opposite of the truth regarding their pronounciation.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Duncan » Mon 08.20.2007 6:43 am

MFoogle wrote:
In my Japanese class, we have a foreign exchange student from Japan, and I haven't gotten the chance to talk to her yet (I have been studying for about 2 years now and even though I'm in Japanese I this year, I want to try to at least be able to make a bit of small talk with her in Japanese). But I was wondering--do you use formal or informal words with students you don't really know yet? Should I use the plain form of verbs or the -masu stem, and things like that?


I'd use the teinei forms unless/until you get to know her really well. If you watch how actual Japanese people speak to each other you'll notice that they have to be quite close before they completely drop the moderately polite forms- really close in some cases.

But it's not an switch that is either on or off- I think someone else pointed out that levels of formality are often mixed. And I am a bit older than you- it does seem to me that younger people are a bit quicker to go to plain forms. But I'd stick with the masu forms until you have reason to believe you shouldn't.
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Supaiku » Tue 08.21.2007 10:09 pm

MFoogle wrote:
Shirasagi wrote: Don't worry about being too rude -- the rules don't exactly apply if you're speaking haltingly in a thick accent.


eh, well I can pick up and it's a habit to only speak in a Japanese accent, so my American accent wouldn't be in there very much.
Anyway, thank you. I'll try talking to her Monday.


You're so lucky. I'm so not confident in my accent that I have actually avoided talking to any Japanese people (Of fear of being embarassed or laughed at, and most of all fear of making dumb mistakes)
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RE: Informal or Formal with other students?

Postby Shirasagi » Wed 08.22.2007 8:27 am

Supaiku wrote:
MFoogle wrote:
Shirasagi wrote: Don't worry about being too rude -- the rules don't exactly apply if you're speaking haltingly in a thick accent.


eh, well I can pick up and it's a habit to only speak in a Japanese accent, so my American accent wouldn't be in there very much.
Anyway, thank you. I'll try talking to her Monday.


You're so lucky. I'm so not confident in my accent that I have actually avoided talking to any Japanese people (Of fear of being embarassed or laughed at, and most of all fear of making dumb mistakes)


Holy God, let me disabuse you of that notion right away. It will never, ever happen. Well, the laughing anyway. No doubt you'll make mistakes. It doesn't matter how bad your grammar is, how think your accent is, nor how little vocab you know. If you speak the least bit of Japanese, however badly, the Japanese people will, and I believe I can say this with utmost certainty, they will fawn over your Japanese ability, praising you and it to the high heavens.

Japanese is the kindest language for beginners. The French and Germans have reputations for being snobby and mean to people who can't speak their languages well, and in reality even they are for the most part forgiving of foreign speakers giving an honest effort. But they don't even compare with the Japanese. It's like some weird nationwide indoctrination, so that any foreigner speaking any Japanese, no matter how low level, will invariably be responded to with 「すごい!日本語上手ですね!」

So, buck up and speak that Japanese! You're only hurting yourself by not doing so, and missing opportunities to turn your low level skills into some real communication ability.
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