Japanese Language Blog

I AM Speaking! Posted by on Nov 12, 2020 in Culture

We have been taught not to speak while others are talking at home and school.  It is disrespectful to (無礼な  bureina) talk while someone else is talking. However, when you grow up to become a politician, you throw that manner out of the window.  Have you watched the broadcasting of the Japanese parliament (国会 kokkai)?  I cannot help but feel so embarrassed by the low quality of heckling (ヤジ yaji). It says that “heckling is a specialty of parliament and it should be enjoyed.”  Well, clever mockery can be a joy.  But most heckling in the Japanese parliament is bullying.

Here is an example –

An opposing party (野党 yatou) is speaking about a law that requires both a husband and wife to have the same last name, and that the law discourages some women from getting married.  Then a female member of parliament (国会議員 kokkai giin) interrupted by shouting – “then don’t get married! (結婚するkekkonsuru)”

This blog is not about politics (政治 seiji). So let’s go back to the main subject. The fact that the Japanese are taught not to speak while others are talking is one of the reasons why we tend to be very quiet during a class, conference, and during discussions. Coupled with our desire to avoid embarrassment by making a mistake, or not to be regarded as a self-promoting attention seeker, we tend to avoid speaking out (遠慮なく話す enryonaku hanasu).  Then we mingle with other people from other countries, and we are shocked and impressed at the same time (同時に doujini) – how could s/he speak with so many mistakes!  Often when a teacher notices us not engaging, the teacher calls on us to answer.  While we are struggling to make a grammatically correct sentence, our classmates start answering the question.  Now we lost the floor.  The train has left us behind.

I had a great teacher – my French roommate at my grad school. We got along well and we are still friends.  When we started as roommates, I was so surprised that she started talking while I was talking, and she did not stop.  By the end of the year, I learned to speak while she was talking.  And neither of us stopped talking.

So I started to pay attention (注意を払うchuiwo harau) – when and with whom people do this. First of all (第一に daiichini), people in the US are taught to speak out.  So they may cut you off (さえぎる saegiru), or they may not stop even if you are speaking without any ill intentions (悪意 akui).  However, teaching professionals do know this and manage the interactions accordingly during a class.  But once outside the classroom, some do not exercise the same principle.  I am guilty of this.

If someone asks a question, if I and somebody else start to answer at the same time, I usually stop talking, letting the other take the floor.   The same situation happened at the meeting, and I continued to speak.  So for a good 10 seconds or so, two people were talking at the same time.  Then the other person noticed and stopped talking. The whole room went quiet – utterly awkward (気まずい kimazui) silence (静寂 seijyaku).

Either the other person or I must have committed a faux-pas big enough to make the whole room quiet.  Or was everyone surprised that I did not shut up (黙る damaru)?

So what should we do, those of us who were taught not to interrupt (さえぎる saegiru) or not to speak while others are talking?  Should we always give up the floor?

The recent Vice President debate provides a great solution (解決方法 kaiketsu houhou)!

“Mr. Vice President, I am speaking.  I AM speaking.”

“If you don’t mind letting me finish, we can have a conversation, OK?”

Remember to choose your words carefully. Use tact. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. If you have a polite phrase that you think works, please share it!

If you go to Japan, you will need to be very careful not to interrupt someone who is talking. You probably would not get an “I am speaking” reaction from the Japanese counterpart, but s/he is screaming that in his/her mind.  Your opinion matters and your Japanese teachers will really appreciate your responsiveness as Japanese classrooms tend to be very quiet.  But do not interrupt.

Tags: , , , ,
Keep learning Japanese with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. birchyboy:

    I lived in Japan for a while, not long enough, while learning some Japanese at a college.
    This blog article sounds up very nicely what nobody would tell me, but I managed to work it out myself.
    I follow local custom wherever I am – as long as I know it. 😏

    • eriko1:

      @birchyboy I believe that would be the best way to live in a foreign land. Japanese students, expatriates, and their families etc in the US, for instance, should learn to speak up, too. But the social pressure not to stand out in the community is very strong.