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Toward Easier Japanese Conversation

text: Hisatsugi Yuko

The other day, when I was in the bath, my first-grade daughter stood outside the door and asked me “What color is Saho?”. Saho is her name. My mind went blank for a moment, and then I answered “White.”

I realized later on that only my daughter and I would have had any clue what we were talking about. What I thought in the moment before answering her question was:

  • “What color is Saho? Why would she come and ask me that...?”
  • “It’s her tooth-brushing time right now.”
  • “Yesterday, I bought new toothbrushes for the whole family.”
  • “Oh, she’s not asking about herself, she doesn’t know which toothbrush is hers and she wants to know what color hers is.”

That was my thought process.

My daughter knew when she asked that with the two facts of “Saho” and “color,” I would be able to answer her. And with that information alone, I was able to consider her situation and come up with an answer.

When teaching a Japanese class, I might have commented that it won’t make sense unless you ask “What color is Saho’s toothbrush?” or that if you don’t say at least “What color is Saho’s?”, it isn’t clear that you’re asking about an object.

But in actual communication, depending on the existing relationship, the information both people know they share can be omitted, and the words are understood with the aid of the situation and context.

In the example above, Saho and I are mother and daughter, living together and knowing a lot about each other, so I was able to understand “What color is Saho?” with the aid of all this supplementary information. This situation is not limited to families. The more information you share with the person you are talking to, the more completely they can understand you, even if your speech is limited to individual words rather than complete sentences.

In other words, conversation becomes easier when you know each other well and share various experiences.

Osaka University offers many opportunities to encounter others and build relationships while learning, such as the lunchtime Multilingual Café, offering conversation in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, German, and French; the Japanese Café, for conversation in Japanese; and the Tandem Learning Project, where students teach each other about the languages and cultures they know best.

I hope you can build relationships with the people you meet there as you share various experiences. Conversation in Japanese will grow easier and easier for you.

Hisatsugi Yuko

Born and raised in Osaka. Osaka University Graduate School of Language and Culture Doctoral Course. I like being in nature and traveling. Family campouts are a recent hobby.