Is It Rude to Speak English in Japan?

Japan, an island country in Eastern Asia, is one of the most populous countries in the world.

With a very rich culture- cuisine, music, and art, and robust economy and development, this is a country worth visiting and exploring.

However, if you don’t know how to speak Japanese but English, it’s normal to think you may not enjoy your visit. Most English speakers think it’s rude to speak English in Japan. So, is it rude to speak English in Japan?

No, it isn’t rude to speak English in Japan. Japan is an English-friendly country, with a great interest in learning English.

They’re known to be very welcoming to foreigners and tourists. In addition, there are an interesting number of Japanese in big cities who can converse in English.

However, it’d help to know a little Japanese.

Why It Isn’t Rude to Speak English in Japan?

It isn’t rude to speak English in Japan for many reasons. First, this country has an interesting interest in learning English. In the past years, however, this was not the case.

Around the 18th, 19th, and late 20th centuries, English was scarce in Japan as much as visitors were. The Japanese were very comfortable people in their country with a very bubbling economy.

Most of the people who spoke English were the highly educated, who were shy, and spoke only when necessary.

However, things took a drastic turn around the 90s and 2000s for its economy, and to better things, the then prime minister focused on English competency and tourism.

Since then English has become a regular affair for the Japanese and many Japanese can have basic conversations in the language. Below are more reasons why it isn’t rude to speak English in Japan:

The Use of English Has Become Common in Japan

As earlier discussed, the use of English has increased in Japan. First, the English language has a key role in communicating in the Japanese language.

This language is the foundation for the romanization of Japanese, i.e romaji. A language writing system that makes understanding Japanese easier, especially for western people.

So, the English language is important to the Japanese people and it can’t be disrespectful to speak the language there as a foreigner.

In addition, there is a good number of English speakers in big cities in Japan. So, you’re likely to find someone who can speak English when visiting the country.

You’ll have higher chances visiting Tokyo and other bigger cities.

English is a Compulsory Course in Junior and Senior High School

Another reason it isn’t disrespectful to speak English in Japan is that the language itself is taught in schools in Japan.

English language study in Japan began in early 1600. And in April 2011, the Japanese educational system made English instructions compulsory from as early as 5th grade.

So, for a country that prioritizes English study, people are free to converse in English in the country, citizens and foreigners alike.

Foreigners Are Welcomed

Japan is one of the countries that welcome foreigners with open arms. So, as an English visitor, you won’t be treated with disrespect for speaking English in the country.

As earlier stated, there are people with knowledge of English in the country, especially in larger cities. So, you’re likely to find a Japanese person who’ll be willing to help you if they see your struggles with their language.

However, it’ll be nice to know a little Japanese, so you can ask someone if they can speak English in their language. In this way, it’ll be much better to start a basic conversation in their language than to meet a stranger in English.

However, you can always take your English skills to hotels, tourist centers, and big cities where the percentage of English speakers is higher.

Is It Rude to Speak English in Japan

Can You Survive with English in Japan?

Yes, you can survive with English in Japan. The Japanese have an interesting connection with the English language, so you can survive with only English.

In addition, the Japanese government has provisions to cater to English visitors. So, with only English, you can get by in Japan.

However, with little or no knowledge of Japan, you won’t enjoy your stay fully as your knowledge of the county will be limited.

Below are more reasons why you can survive in Japan with only English:

Japanese Are English-friendly

The Japanese people are English-friendly. Apart from the fact that English learning is compulsory in school, other occasions that prove the Japanese have an interest in the language.

For instance, there are bilingual maps and signs in various places across the country. It’s very easy to find English translations in hotels, train stations, tourist and other public places.

This may not be the case for German, Spanish, or French. This is as a result of the Japanese government prioritizing English than these other languages.

The Japanese Government Has English Visitors in Mind

Whether you know little or no Japanese, the Japanese government, private organizations and business owners in Japan have you in mind.

There you’ll see many English translators in many places in Japan. Additionally, romaji was initiated to take care of English speakers.

So, these initiatives show the authorities in Japan are interested in making Japan conducive for visitors.

Why Do the Japanese Struggle with English?

There are many reasons why the Japanese struggle with the English language. Although these people spend a good part of their early years learning English, many of them find the language difficult to learn.

These struggles have a lot to do with their history and the fact that the English structure is very different from that of the Japanese.

History Plays a Major Role

One of the major reasons for the Japanese low ability to understand English goes far back in history. In the early days, the Japanese majored in science and technology through the English language.

But there weren’t many foreigners in the country, so the Japanese were limited in their speaking of English. As a result, many of their scholars could read English texts but couldn’t speak them.

Those who could speak were limited in number; majorly in the government agencies and international affairs.

Additionally, the Japanese were never colonized. It was the only Asian country to escape colonization from the West. As a result, their learning and speaking English became more common only decades ago.

But this is not the same for other Asian countries that had western colonization. India, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and many others, these countries have the best English proficiency in Asia.

English Structure is Different

Another interesting reason why Japanese have low proficiency in the English language is because of the difference in language structures.

In English, while verbs come after the subject in a sentence, in Japanese verbs are structured at the end of sentences.

Also, pronunciation plays a huge role in limiting the Japanese people. The Japanese vowels and words are limited, and the Japanese learn English within these limited words and syllables, which makes understanding English more difficult for them.

English Study is Superficial

Another limitation to the Japanese understanding of English has to do with their English study system. They’ve got a very superficial method of learning, which restricts the students to reading and writing skills only, majorly for the sake of passing exams.

While the students have a high proficiency in reading and writing English, there’s a great lack of speaking and communicating fluently.

These methods in a great way have hampered their learning and understanding of the English language fully. It’s just a matter of fulfilling obligations.

So, while there may be great interest in studying and reading the language in schools, generally people lack interest in communicating in the language.

The Japanese Are Shy about Speaking and Making Mistakes

Another important reason to note why the Japanese struggle to understand English has a lot to do with the people. Majority of the people who understand English are shy about speaking the language.

So, while they may study it in school, write the exam, and pass, they hardly speak the language except when necessary. This lack of interest stems largely from their fear of making mistakes.

Also, their culture frowns on making mistakes, which makes the people slower in trying the English language.

In addition, apart from the fear, many of them also lack interest in communicating in English. Since they can get by with their language, many of them, especially the locals will speak English only when necessary.

All of these account for their poor knowledge of the English language.

What Do the Japanese Think of the English Language?

The Japanese don’t think much about the English language apart from studying to pass in school.

While you may have a few with a genuine interest in studying and understanding the language fully, sadly these few are not everywhere.

However, in larger cities, Tokyo for example, you’ll find a larger number who communicate in English, even amongst themselves.

So, while you may not find many locals who think twice about the English language, in larger cities where there are many international jobs, you’d find many.

On the other hand, the authorities have a larger interest in promoting English in Japan. This stems from their wanting to boost their economy.

There’s a large stream of investments with international organizations, which increases the need to learn and understand English better.

So, while many Japanese may only be reading English because it’s compulsory in school, the Japanese generally see English as an important language.

Is It Rude to Speak English in Japan


It isn’t rude to speak English in Japan. As a foreigner, you can survive with only English in Japan. There are many English signs and maps and you can always seek help in hotels and tourist centers and larger cities.

Japan is one country with a very large promotion in the study of the language, majorly for the boost of their economy.

However, while English study is compulsory in schools, many Japanese struggle to understand the language. This is a result of the ineffective study system, the students’ lack of interest, and fear of making mistakes.

So, you can get by without English in Japan. However, do yourself a better good by knowing a little Japanese.

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