Slowly Please!

Anti-corona masks are everywhere these days. Even my Japanese teacher wore one today on doctor’s recommendations. I remarked how difficult it is for me to understand Japanese when I cannot see the other person’s face. And how I always ask people to speak slowly on the phone because of that. And then my teacher said: “Did you notice that native speakers of Japanese and English speak ‘slowly’ in a different way?”

Yes indeed!

When you ask me or another Westerner/English speaker to “speak slowly”, we make longer pauses between words, phrases or sentences. At the same time, we rarely slow down the individual words themselves.

In contrast, a Japanese person will slow down the words and sentences as a whole, adjusting the pauses in between only slightly. It’s as if they literally speak in slow motion like a machine (minus the distortions, of course).

Of course, after living here since 2013, I noticed these things before, but rather unconsciously. I never really thought about why this would be the case. Now that I did, I notice that if you spoke to me in English or German in such an overly slow manner, I would think that you are retarded or at least think that of me. Either way, not a good assumption to make.

My teacher has been teaching English during his whole active career and has seen this happening in schools everywhere; and I know that it is still happening. He is right when he says that this does not help with listening comprehension in the long run, because people generally don’t speak like this.

Still, this is what Japanese people do – and expect – when “speaking slowly”. I’ll keep it in mind!

One thought on “Slowly Please!”

  1. I’ve noticed this too. However, I think, the way Japanese is structured, without any real natural breaks, it’s easier to just slow down everything. Whereas, German or English has lots of natural breaks and thus making these longer in order for your listener to have some time to ponder what came before, makes sense.

    (Just be careful: “retarded” is considered a very offensive term nowadays and might get you in trouble with native speakers.)

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